Decade, Neil Young
Reprise, October 28, 1977
Track Listing: Disc One: 1. Down to the Wire, 2. Burned, 3. Mr. Soul, 4. Broken Arrow, 5. Expecting to Fly, 6. Sugar Mountain, 7. I Am a Child, 8. The Loner, 9. The Old Laughing Lady, 10. Cinnamon Girl, 11. Down by the River, 12. Cowgirl in the Sand, 13. I Believe in You, 14. After the Gold Rush, 15. Southern Man, 16. Helpless, Disc Two: 1. Ohio, 2. Soldier, 3. Old Man, 4. A Man Needs a Maid, 5. Harvest, 6. Heart of Gold, 7. Star of Bethlehem, 8. The Needle and the Damage Done, 9. Tonight’s the Night (Part 1), 10. Tired Eyes, 11. Walk On, 12. For the Turnstiles, 13. Winterlong, 14. Deep Forbidden Lake, 15. Like a Hurricane, 16. Love is a Rose, 17. Cortez the Killer, 18. Campaigner, 19. Long May You Run
“You can’t be twenty on Sugar Mountain
Though you’re thinking that you’re leaving there too soon”
-from “Sugar Mountain”
When I was 17 I spent my summer after high school in San Carlos, California. I drove from Reno, Nevada in a ‘69 Austin-Healey Sprite convertible that my dad had rebuilt from scratch. It was my first car. We bought it together at a junkyard for $250 and it was missing a front fender and hood. It needed a new engine. I bought a new top for it saving up money working part-time as a busboy in a hotel-casino. We painted it bright blood-orange. I bought new tires and rims. Black Naugahyde seats. A sporty new steering wheel. A new cassette player, power booster and huge megawatt speakers. A black leather cassette case lined with gold felt for all my tapes. Unashamedly these included: Cheap Trick at Budokan, Breakfast in America, The Stranger, Endless Summer, Highway to Hell, The Wall, Sticky Fingers, Led Zeppelin II, Weird Scenes Inside the Gold Mine, The Kids Are Alright, Boston. An average tape collection for an average kid. Then I discovered Neil Young.
“The sky is blue and so is the sea
What is the color when black is burned?
What is the color?’’
-from “I Am a Child”
I bought Decade after seeing the film Rust Never Sleeps. Something captivated me. The soft wavering voice, the forsaken acoustic guitar, the lonely harmonica whining across the dark. The flurry of electric-hurricane feedback. Haunting lyrics that spoke openly and innocently about the world around me. The whisper and fury coming from one scraggly, solitary man. That summer I worked at the San Francisco Airport. Each day I drove at 6 a.m. from San Carlos to San Bruno. Each day I’d play Decade. Each morning I was staggered by the same bleeding riff from “Cinnamon Girl.” The same hurtful, tender strings from “Expecting to Fly.” The quavering, voice-breaking sadness of “The Needle and the Damage Done.” The words actually had something to say. The music felt like I did. Sometimes sad. Sometimes different and alone. Sometimes raging. Sometimes questioning the meaning of myself. Each day felt like my first day waking up to an incredible new world.
“Baby can you hear me now?
The chains are locked and tied across the door
Baby, sing with me somehow”
On my days off I drove over the San Carlos hills to Half Moon Bay. I then motored along the coastline. I slowly meandered up Highway 1 to San Francisco. Sometimes down to Santa Cruz. The fog slithered through the hills and green bluff scrubs above the coast like a giant white lizard. I stopped the car along the road and hiked down the headlands to the sandy beaches that were hidden below. I went swimming—sometimes naked—and waited for the chilly fog to break at noon and let the sun warm me as I watched the surfers and sea lions rise out of the thick foam of the Pacific. Each week my skin turned darker. My hair grew longer. I was reading Demian and No One Here Gets Out Alive. I was writing poetry and going up to the City discovering new things with my guru cum cat-mom-host, Kathy, not really thinking much about the autumn and college and anything to do with life or the future thereafter. It was only the coastline and the car and Neil Young and Decade. New books and ideas and the long mad strip of ocean and sunlight that connected me to the most western part of the world: the endless blue threshold that seemed to stretch out forever.
“A dreamer of pictures
I run in the night
You see us together
Chasing the moonlight’’
-from “Cinnamon Girl”
The road went on. A woman whose face I can’t remember rammed my Sprite into a truck off San Mateo Road. The car was totaled. No one believed me when I said “Long May You Run” was playing as my car folded up like an accordion. It was over. The car. The coastal excursions. The ominous cassette player. It was the end of summer and I went back to Reno and then off to college. There were more books and albums and people and cars and roads and bigger places along the way. It took a long time to realize that it would never be the same. There was no going back. Not on this mountain. The plaintive voice rolled on like a great silver wave. A quick swell. Rising. Cresting. Then gone.
“You keep me searching for a heart of gold
And I’m getting old”
-from “Heart of Gold”