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Thursday, May 11, 2023

An Artistic Comparison of Bill Callahan and Neil Young: Trains, Horses, & Moons

 Night scene on the New York Central Railroad
American Express company’s special express train. , ca. 1884. Apr. 11.
 (Click photo to enlarge)

Here is "An Artistic Comparison of Bill Callahan and Neil Young: Trains, Horses, & Moons" from Recliner Notes by Scott Bunn:

The third song on Bill Callahan’s 2020 album Gold Record is called “35”: 

Callahan and his band move on to the bridge that continues exploring the theme of maturity and finding one’s self:

Tired eyes wander
Into their own sight
Leaving a body unscripted
And forced to improvise.

Here, Callahan is describing the feeling of an older person — one with “tired eyes” — who is still pushing themselves to create art. After the word “improvise,” Callahan’s acoustic guitar moves into the forefront of the song and he ad-libs a neat little guitar passage. Callahan uses the phrase “tired eyes” as poetic shorthand to refer to an older person who grows weary of reading the books of a younger person. It’s also the title of a song by Neil Young from the 1975 album Tonight’s the Night (through recorded in 1973 as any good Neil Young freak will tell you):

The song opens with Young woozily and wearily reciting words that sound as if they are the ramblings of a guy at a bar who is half talking to himself and half talking to the other patrons:

Well he shot four men in a cocaine deal
And they left them lyin’ in an open field
Full of old cars with bullet holes in the mirrors
He tried to do his best but he could not.

Later in the song, the song’s narrator appears to be talking to himself more than anyone else:

Well tell me more, tell me more, tell me more
I mean was he a heavy doper or
Was he just a loser?
He was a friend of yours.

In between verses, Young and the assembled band plead, “Please take my advice / Open up the tired eyes.” It could be an appeal to the four men shot in the drug deal, hoping beyond hope that they aren’t truly dead. Or, the words of the chorus could be the song’s narrator talking to himself again, attempting to jar himself out of a self-imposed haze of booze and drugs to try to comprehend the actions of a friend. Another interpretation is that Young and his band are singing directly to the listener, beseeching them to truly look at the state of the country around them and our collective desperation and deep need of compassion and love. “Tired Eyes” is an intense and forlorn cry for help by Neil Young.

In the lyrics of “35” and in the quote above, Callahan refers to works of literature from his youth that he is not able to connect with anymore. He doesn’t mention music. Inserting the phrase “tired eyes” could be a gesture to the Neil Young song, a nod to a song that, in Callahan’s youth, was powerful and spoke directly to him, but now cannot feel its significance anymore. Not only is Callahan older, he’s married and a father, and it’s difficult to put himself into the position of the song’s narrator, distraught over a friend’s participation in a failed cocaine deal that left four dead. 

Thanks so much Scott for sending our way!

We did come across Bill Callahan awhile back and enjoyed thoroughly, so thanks for refresher and reminder.

Full article @ "An Artistic Comparison of Bill Callahan and Neil Young: Trains, Horses, & Moons" from Recliner Notes by Scott Bunn.

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