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Thursday, July 09, 2020

The Mystery of Neil Young's "Florida" Finally Solved

"Tonight's the Night" Album Liner Notes w/ "Florida" Story
w/ "On The Beach" Overlay + Roy Orbison Photo

Now, with the recent release of Neil Young's "lost '70's" album "Homegrown", one of the biggest mysteries of it's replacement -- "Tonight's the Night" -- is beginning to finally be resolved with the "Florida" track.

"Homegrown: Never Known to Fail" by Neil Young
(See reviews @ 1st THOUGHTS: Neil Young's New Album 'Homegrown')

Neil Young's Ditch Trilogy -- consisting of the mid 1970's albums "Time Fades Away", "Tonight’s the Night" & "On the Beach" -- is well documented as containing the "missing link" to the Rosetta Stone of understanding his entire body of work over the decades.

And now -- at long last -- Neil Young's unreleased album "Homegrown" -- which was recorded in 1974 and 1975 -- is the "one that got away", Neil writes on NYA. At the time, Neil considered "Homegrown" to be "too personal and frank" to be released and chose to release the album "Tonight's The Night", instead.

"Florida" Lyrics by Neil Young

First, one of the most bizarre aspects of the "Tonight's the Night" album is the liner insert (see top image). The cryptically strange "On The Beach" album overlay has the story of a Florida town - presumably Miami Beach - and some odd happenings. Along with a photo of Roy Orbison, the meaning and significance of the story has long remained a mystery to Neil fans -- and the subject of much idle speculation. (Here is a transcription of the "Tonight's The Night" album liner notes.)

1st Edition of Tonight's the Night 
Photo from Bill White Collection


"Florida" is like a stream of consciousness fever dream/nightmare. And after reading the TTN liner notes for 45 years now, we had no idea what was going on other than "Man, Neil must've been really stoned. Or he's a very vivid dreamer. Or both."

Tall buildings?
A couple?
A baby in a red blanket?
A photo of Roy Orbinson?

Roy Orbinson
Detail of "Tonight's the Night" Album Liner Notes w/ "Florida" Story

But "Florida" all now makes sense in the context of its placement between the songs "Mexico" and "Kansas" on the album "Homegrown". Essentially, the song's lyrics analysis of "Florida" is that the song/poem/spoken word track is indirectly about Neil, Carrie Snodgress, and their son Zeke.

carrie snodgress
Carrie Snodgress
(See more on Carrie & Neil)

Snodgress was perhaps best-known for her role as a frustrated homemaker caught between a domineering husband and a self-absorbed lover in 1970's "Diary of a Mad Housewife." She was nominated for an Academy Award and won two Golden Globe awards for best leading actress and new star of the year.

Despite critical acclaim for her role in "Housewife," Snodgress turned her back on Hollywood in 1971 to live with boyfriend Neil Young on his northern California 15,000-acre ranch called "Broken Arrow" and care for their son, Zeke, who was born with cerebral palsy.

Neil Young recorded several songs which reference Snodgress. The most well song is "A Man Needs A Maid" from the album "Harvest" containing the lines:

    "I fell in love with the actress She was playing a part I could understand"

Back to the "Florida"/"Tonight's the Night" album liner notes mystery. Again, the couple with the baby are Carrie and Neil with Zeke. And Carrie wants custody of Zeke so she takes the baby and says "he's mine". And Neil protests.

In the context of "Florida"'s placement between the songs "Mexico" and "Kansas" on the album "Homegrown", Neil sings "Daddy is a travelin' man" as the coda on song "Mexico" as a response to Zeke being better off with his mother rather than a musician on the road.

Then we look at the lyrics for the song "Kansas":

"I feel like I just woke up
From a bad dream


Hold on, baby, hold on
We can go gliding through the air
Far from the tears you've cried"

In "Kansas", Neil wakes up from a "bad dream". Then, the lyrics of "gliding" references back to the glider soaring around between buildings, plus the 'baby'.

So, we'll stop here without digging any deeper in the symbolism and metaphors and leave that for another day.

Carrie Snodgress - Vogue Magazine, ~1971
(Also, see more on Carrie, Neil:& Zeke - Interview in People Weekly, Sept 26, 1983)

Also, see the Dutch translation of the other liner notes on the "Tonight's The Night" album.


via Letters To Editor| NYA

In yet another one of those stunning synchronicities that have followed us all our lifetimes, no sooner than we posted this analysis last night then a comment appears below letting us know that the above letter was just published on "Florida" where Neil confirms our dream thesis analysis. (Thanks Greyrider!)

boom, drop the mic. well, future proves past, yet again ... just sayin' ...

Labels: , , , ,


At 7/09/2020 08:59:00 PM, Blogger The Metamorphic Rocker said...

@thrasher, So glad to see this content coming! Speaking for myself, I hesitate to perform an close reading/listening of Florida at the moment. I will say that I think Homegrown would be missing a key part of its atmosphere and feeling without this track.

I'm quite interested in the thoughts of others here, as I suspect this one has the potential to cause polarized responses, intriguing some folks and really turning off others with its seemingly improvised, stumbling spoken word structure interlaced with an otherworldly, atonal soundscape said to have been made with wineglasses. A bit like Neil's experiments with electric noise music, or "sonic sludge", via Crazy Horse, I suspect that some will hear this one as "not music" and just a bridge too far.

I get that, but I think Florida has enough going on with it to be worth including and worth listening to. In much the same, I thought the coda of Walk Like a Giant was fantastic in every sense of the word (still do), and I know it left some cold, bored, or irritated.

At 7/09/2020 10:57:00 PM, Blogger Dan Swan said...

@ Ian : I think your reference to Walk Like a Giant is really appropriate here. When my wife and I saw the Alchemy tour at Red Rocks, I remember as we headed out after the show this guy came up and asked me what I thought of the coda of Giant. I said “I thought it was brilliant”, and he says, “don’t you think it went on too long?”, and I said, “no, I think it was just long enough “. He just shook his head and walked away. We all have our own ideas of what makes something special, and I genuinely thought it was beautiful. Just like when Jimi Hendrix played the Star Spangled Banner at Woodstock. Some people were actually offended by it, yet others (like myself) were truly moved by its beauty.

When I heard Florida the first time I knew it was going to make some heads spin, but taken in context with the other songs around it, it’s clear to me just how important it is to the flow of the record. I also don’t think Florida is a big departure for Neil. There are many similar elements just like it on the soundtrack for Journey Through The Past. Arc is also a great example of using sound in a specific way to create something greater than the sum of its parts. Arc really freaked out a lot of people because its really hard to dance to.

Frank Zappa believed that anything that moves the air molecules around is music. Not everyone is willing to go there, but for those who can, they will be rewarded with a unique listing experience and a opportunity to explore the possibilities that are not found in more conventional music. The sequencing of Homegrown is exactly how it was set up back when it was finished, it represents the times in which it was created.
Just like every album Neil has ever made. He creates musical time capsules, and Homegrown is a perfect example.

I hope that makes sense.

Peace 🙏

At 7/10/2020 03:25:00 AM, Blogger Greying Rider said...

From yesterday's batch of Letters to the Editor on NYA we have Neil's own timely take on this discussion:

"Hi Neil,
Is Florida the bad dream you just woke up from in Kansas?

yes it was.
love n
be well"

So this all fits nicely.

Florida reminds me of the intro to Songs For Judy. Neil utterly boxed recounting a dream/hallucination. It adds to the otherworldliness / magical realism of his work.

Friday = Rust Bucket. Highlight of the week. Sedan delivery is a job I know I'll keep, it sure was hard to find.....

At 7/10/2020 07:13:00 AM, Blogger Thos said...

Interesting discussion.

I wonder if there is anything significant about the melody for Kansas morphing into the melody for Powerderfinger a few years later. The lyrics of Powderfinger also sound like a (very) bad dream!

At 7/10/2020 11:37:00 AM, Blogger thrasher said...

@ Meta Rocker - gotcha. understood.

when you get to it, is this stream of consciousness fever dream/nightmare a song or poem or spoken word track? Presumably the Ben's wine glass effects were added to mix to make more of a song?

Definitely would've been considered a sonic experiment back in the 70s

@ Dan - the WLAG reference is intriguing and interested in Meta Rocker's thoughts as well as others.

WLAG @ Red Rocks must've been totally mind blowing in the open air.

All of the WLAG that we caught were indoor areans. In particular, WLAG in Hmaburg as we recall went totally out of control where the volume exceed venues acoustics and the mix went into this totally out of control reverberating echo until , the volume was brought down to zero and then gradually restored to just below threshold.

We mean it was crazy insane. We've never heard anything like that after 1000s of concerts. Folks were nearly diving under their seats. Definitely not for everyone but we thought that was pretty cool and summed up WLAG perfectly.

ps always nice to have a FZ ref!

Peace be with you, our friend we've never seen ...

@ Greyrider - so cool, thanks! updated above. nice

right, we've got Rust Bucket update on SD! Billy goes nuts as Neil says. whoa?! Billy The Bass Player.

TW is a job I know I'll keep, it sure was hard to find.....

@ Thos - thanks. Yes, interesting the melody for Kansas & PF. what else???

At 7/10/2020 11:51:00 AM, Blogger thrasher said...

so another thought here on the Florida dream that we didn't get a chance to put down originally.

So the whole glider business flying around tall buildings and crashing into the street.

That would be a metaphor for Neil's career, we speculate.

Neil was flying high with #1 hit HoG from Harvest. He was at the top of his game and flying high above it all.

But then Neil crashed. The fame and fortune were too much and he retreated to Broken Arrow ranch. He deliberately crashed his career and recording anti-Harvest songs like TTN & OTB.

This can all now be clearly seen layed out on the NYA timeline song sequence.

At 7/10/2020 09:46:00 PM, Blogger The Metamorphic Rocker said...

So many interesting points here... @thos, hadn’t picked up the connection between Kansas and Powderfinger until now. Other instances of this kind of melodic evolution can be found from Neil’s earliest recordings: elements of I Wonder and Ballad of Peggy Grover, heard on NYA1, melded into Don’t Cry No Tears. Half of the demo Down Down Down morphed into Broken Arrow, while the other half joined Whiskey Boot Hill for CSNY’s Country Girl suite.

Old Man/You and Me/Distant Camera seem cut from the same cloth; Dance Dance Dance begat Love is a Rose; Will to Love/Lotta Love/Slowpoke have a common ancestor. Here, Kansas and Powderfinger could easily have been in gestation simultaneously, as the latter was clearly complete by the time Neil recorded Hitchhiker in mid ‘76. Hard to say whether the compositions were linked or parallel.

@Dan and thrash on the noise factor, I’d pinpoint She Showed Me Love as another boundary tester. The Horse is a great vehicle for this sort of sound experimentation, and again, really admired the boldness and honesty of SSML, in both its surrealistically stark lyric and musical construction/deconstruction. Sleeps with Angels, although much of the album is actually quite gentle and melodic, may be the purest example on record of the Horse creating immersive soundscapes as opposed to “just” music. Maybe that’s why it’s one of my all-time favorites—I feel the potential of the Horse as an entity of sound most fully realized on mid ‘90s cuts like Blue Eden, Change Your Mind, and Slip Away. Check out Year of The Horse to bathe in this indescribable atmosphere. There’s so much more to the Horse post-Ragged Glory than some give credit for.

At 7/11/2020 11:57:00 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

Neil Young pulls me out of my ideo stupidities I feel like a giant and thank you

At 7/11/2020 11:58:00 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

Oh by the way, I think Jimi hendrix's Star Spangled Banner was beautiful!

At 7/11/2020 02:56:00 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

I been listening to Neil Young practically every day since the Buffalo Springfield. I have all my original LP’s, my original cassette of “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere” is front of my TV permanently. I read Waging Heavy Peace, joined NYA when it debuted in December 2017. I have seen the man perform solo, and with his various bands. Love the recent concerts on the porch, barnyard and by the fireplace. The article above fills in a lot of the blanks. Loved that he called out the President for using “Rockin’ In The Free World”. And finally I am an alumni of Kent State, subject of one of his most famous songs. My favorite musician keeps on giving...

At 7/11/2020 05:22:00 PM, Blogger The Metamorphic Rocker said...

Point of clarity: the liner notes/credits for Homegrown specify that Florida features narration, wineglass, and piano strings, and credits all parts to both NY and Ben Keith. I don't actually hear Ben's voice on the recording, but then, don't forget how long it took me to pick out his harmony on Star of Bethlehem.

Would hesitate to describe it as a poem, in that the words don't sound like they were scripted (though they could have been for all I know), and there's not really any consistent meter, rhyme, etc. In other words, the spoken part sounds quite. I imagine the feeling is somewhat by design, but if there was much "arranging" done for this track, they did a very good job of making it sound loose and off-the-cuff.

The melange of sounds is musical to me, in that it has some structure and is quite evocative of a mental sound picture (if that makes sense), so I would call it music in this sense. Who says spoken words can't be part of a musical setting?

At 7/11/2020 05:24:00 PM, Blogger The Metamorphic Rocker said...

Edit: Meant to say in paragraph 2 that the spoken part sounds quite unstructured. I wish there was the capability of editing comments on this platform. My thoughts and fingers tend to trip over each other, and while I try to proofread, it's impossible to catch 'em all before you hit send.


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