after his third beer, the old records came out. all the best are worn thin from late night listening sessions years ago, eleven college kids crammed in a small room, cigarette smoke, empty beer cans, loud conversations about politics, breakfast cereal, and music: pulling out “after the gold rush” to prove that neil young’s voice is more expressive than nilsson’s.
the once obsessive application of cleaning solution has left the track almost unlistenable, but neil fights through the static. and though it sounds like it might skip at any minute, the needle miraculously holds on till the end.
but there’s no resolution.
like the key changes and just hangs there…
mary has the kids at her mother’s. it’s a rare night alone. the plan was to do some writing, or try. maybe call a friend. but the temptation was too great, and after a quick run to the liquor store, he is more than halfway through the twelve pack of sierra nevada, and just scratching the surface of the vinyl.
it’s always been one of his favorite songs, and this is the canonical version: live on ‘four way street.’ it’s a mind blower. neil solo. playing it for the first time and it’s already perfect. “here’s a new song, it’s guaranteed to bring you right down, it’s called ‘don’t let it bring you down.’ it sorta starts off real slow and then fizzles out altogether.” and then three minutes of heaven.
but the original captures the mood in a way only a studio album can. spare. intimate. and a whole lot of space.
once when he was losing his mind, he went to the movies to see “american beauty.” a most uncomfortable bliss. like someone had snuck into his files, stolen disparate pieces of his writing, and filmed the results. lines lifted from a short story. a scene from a play. and then the climax arrives and annie lennox sings. ‘don’t let it bring you down.’ perfection. the 90s production lending it a certain inorganic quality, the backing track for a depressed stripper, or a love letter to the ghost in the machine. cracked his nervous breakdown wide open.
when he was well again, he went out and bought ‘medusa,’ but the rest of the album felt like filler. should of just bought the soundtrack.
the song ends, he cues it up a second time.
it’s like a movie without the screen. whispers in the dark. woven images.
is it the opening of a detective story? the final sequence of a melodrama? it doesn’t matter. it’s a mood. a chilling recommendation to stay out of the cold. and yet so much heart. and longing. melting ice. as the song spirals to an end.
his wife is miles away. his kids asleep under another roof.
and as he cracks open his ninth beer, he reaches for ‘nilsson sings newman.’
the needle crackles in the groove, catching the fading bars of the song before. a hundred harry nilssons. and ‘caroline.’
then a haunting voice.
he shakes his head. rapt. the cold beauty.
he was so certain years ago. but here, in his living room, more than two decades later, he hasn’t a clue.
nilsson or neil?
he chuckles, unable to recall what side he fought for way back then.