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Monday, August 22, 2022

Decoding Neil: "The Musical Transcendence of Neil Young" by author Martin Halliwell


Here is a rather excellent essay by author Martin Halliwell which explores Neil Young’s long-running fascination with dreams.

From The Musical Transcendence of Neil Young by author Martin Halliwell:

Dreams for Young are sometimes a puzzle to solve and at other times a new geography to explore, corresponding to the two dominant dream theories of the 1960s: the Freudian theory in which dreams are a working through of repressed psychic matter; and the existential humanist view of dreams as an alternative topography. 

Dreaming is rarely a doorway to the state of lost innocence for which Young yearns in “Sugar Mountain,” but it has the capacity to transport the singer and the listener elsewhere. Through the act of dreaming Young can drift purposefully, pulling together sounds, images and colours in creative ways, and can explore the twists and turns of the unconscious where one image blurs with the next. The nature of dreams means that their shape keeps morphing. This can lead the dreamer towards deeper meaning, but can also drift away into impressions and noise. At times Young searches for direction–such as the quest on his 2007 track “Spirit Road” to discover the “long highway” within — and at other times escapes from meaning into a play of imagery and sound.

We can identify this second trend in one of Young’s early dream songs, “Broken Arrow.” This six-minute coda to the second Buffalo Springfield album Buffalo Springfield Again seems to be inspired by the early-summer release of The Beatles’ concept album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, leading Young to incorporate crowd noises from a Beatles concert and the opening distorted snippet of a live performance of “Mr Soul,” sung by drummer Dewey Martin. Despite its musical variety there is little input from the band, except for backing vocals by Richie Furay, added after Young had recorded the song in September 1967. Its power stems from Young’s sound experiments and the visually arresting figure of a Native American standing alone on a riverbank with an empty quiver. This image of the ‘vanishing Indian’ with a broken arrow suggests either surrender to an unstoppable force or an offering of peace. 

What makes this a mysterious image is that there is no discernible enemy in sight; instead the verses describe a triad of social pressures (fame, adolescence and marriage) as if modern social organization has defeated the nobility of the Native American.


Full excerpt at The Musical Transcendence of Neil Young by author Martin Halliwell.

Also, Martin Halliwell's new book is titled Neil Young: American Traveller (Reverb).

For more on Neil Young's dreams, also see:

‘The Visitor’
by Neil Young + Promise of the Real


"All in a dream, all in a dream
The loading had begun
Flying mother nature's silver seed
To a new home in the sun
Flying mother nature's silver seed
To a new home"

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At 8/23/2022 12:42:00 PM, Blogger Abner Snopes said...

I am not much on transcendence. I think it actually goes the other way, directly down into the reality of human life.

Although transcendence may have a place as art reveals ourselves to ourselves and is thereby liberating: returning to Expecting to Fly, the song allows us to experience sadness and explore it without succumbing to it. Sadness is a great human possibility, it opens the doors to redemption and renewal.

I have endeavored to scrape most of Freud from my brain, with the exception of "Future of an Illusion" and "Civilization and Its Discontents." Of course dreams can have a causal origin in repressed memories, emotions, thoughts but we don't need Freud for that truth.

Consider that dreams in the literal sense might just be brain sludge, synapses firing, and whatever meaning that is made is not intrinsic to the dream but constructed wholly and arbitrarily by the dreamer (when awake). Honestly, I think what we want here is dream as "vision" or "envision"- intentional acts and not mere happenings.

We should do whatever we can to demystify cognition and meaning.

At 8/23/2022 01:54:00 PM, Blogger thrasher said...

Thanks, as always, Abner.

"We should do whatever we can to demystify cognition and meaning."

totally agree. and to some extent, we here @ TW do try to do more than just straight Neil news.

Maybe we're trying too hard to demystify? By doing so, does the music lose its magic?

We always felt that understanding leads to greater insight/wisdom.

well, must say, some of these discussions have really gone way deep -- even for the most hard core rust type.

so how about it folks? More Deep Neil? Or keep it simple?

At 8/24/2022 11:55:00 AM, Blogger Alan said...

@ Thrasher : Both, yes please. Deep and less deep. Maybe we’ll just avoid the paddle boarding Neil photos in the Enquirer.
Bring it on. Thank you. Your brother Alan in Seattle

At 8/24/2022 12:31:00 PM, Blogger Dan Swan said...

Only A Dream

In the morning when I wake up and listen to the sound
Of the birds outside on the roof
I try to ignore what the paper says
And I try not to read all the news
And I'll hold you if you had a bad dream
And I hope it never comes true
'Cause you and I been through so many things together
And the sun starts climbing the roof
It's a dream
Only a dream
And it's fading now
Fading away
It's only a dream
Just a memory without anywhere to stay
The Red River still flows through my home town
Rollin' and tumblin' on its way
Swirling around the old bridge pylons
Where a boy fishes the morning away
His bicycle leans on an oak tree
While the cars rumble over his head
An aeroplane leaves a trail in an empty blue sky
And the young birds call out to be fed
It's a dream
Only a dream
And it's fading now
Fading away
It's only a dream
Just a memory without anywhere to stay
An old man walks along on the sidewalk
Sunglasses and an old Stetson hat
The four winds blow the back of his overcoat away
As he stops with the policeman to chat
And a train rolls out of the station
That was really somethin' in its day
Picking up speed on the straight prairie rails
As it carries the passengers away
It's gone
It's only a dream
And it's fading now
Fading away
Only a dream
Just a memory without anywhere to stay

Neil Young

Peace 🙏

At 8/24/2022 03:28:00 PM, Blogger thrasher said...

@ our brother Alan - thanks for feedback. and in the less deep category, this post's for you!

A Hip Hop Fan's First Reaction To Neil Young's Music - "Cortez The Killer"

these 1st reaction videos are pretty interesting, surprising and amusing if you haven;'t tried before. it's like this huge genre of folks going way outside their comfort zone of music.

Maybe you could do one on Mark Lanegan or someone??!

@ Dan - so perfect. the music is timeless

future generations will thank you for recognizing the talent in his lifetime.

fast fwd 100 years to someone doing a reaction video as mentioned above. They'll probably have folks just breaking down in tears and sobbing w/ joy simultaneously.


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