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Radio Baxter, Session 4 Harvest Moon

A moonlit reflection on middle age – Neil Young’s Harvest Moon

Welcome to Radio Baxter, a tribute to the FM tradition of the classic album hour. The only difference is you bring your own music. The following was originally live-tweeted on Saturday 9 August 2014 at #RadioBaxter. Thanks to everyone who joined me. 

When the world gets too much and nothing makes sense, there’s still the night sky, a full moon and Neil Young.

One of my favourite albums is Young’s Harvest but tonight we’re spinning the album which many regard as a sequel to that seminal work. Harvest Moon was released way back in 1992 when it was named Album of the Year, in spite of its decidedly ‘retro’ mood of the time. It was a year after Nirvana’s Nevermind and it seemed that the Granddaddy of Grunge was handing the torch over to the kids and heading for the back porch. Perhaps that was the intention.

It’s said all that raw, distorted, burning guitar work of his Ragged Glory tour the year before had left Young with tinnitus and that’s why he ditched the electrics and went back to Nashville. But he was always an ornery old hippie so maybe he was also just being contrary. I like to think so. Whatever his intentions, he reassembled the old Harvest team and got back in touch with his acoustic side for one of the loveliest albums of middle-aged reflection ever made.

So now, with a yellow moon on the rise, let’s go out and feel the night.

Play

00:00     T1 Unknown Legend

Young’s ‘middle-aged’ album opens with a hymn to the single mum. When you’re dressing two kids and looking for a magic kiss it can be hard to remember your younger self and the dreams that drove you.

So Young puts us on a desert highway, on a Harley-Davidson no less, and reminds us that freedom is a state of mind.

The chrome and steel she rides colliding with the very air she breathes, the air she breathes

04:34     T2 From Hank to Hendrix

Rust Never Sleeps drew an arc from Elvis Presley to Johnny Rotten. Here Young takes us on another musical ride but this time in the context of divorce.

When my father tried to explain the falling apart of his marriage he used music. “In the beginning we both liked Peter, Paul and Mary,” he said.

“I still like them, but I’m listening to so much other music now and your mother still just likes Peter, Paul and Mary.”

I’m sure it was way more complicated than that but in my own divorce the splitting of the record collection was a bitter thing.

It might not be the most important thing when a relationship falls apart, but it’s a pretty good metaphor.

The same thing that makes you live can kill you in the end

Isn’t this a gorgeous reminder in the midst of a break-up of the beauty you once shared?

Sometime it’s distorted, not clear to you. Sometimes the beauty of love just comes ringin’ through 

09:51 T3 You and Me

The most direct link with Harvest, when Young compared himself to the old man. Now he is the old man, thinking about you and me and the times we had.

It’s a beautiful, sparse retrospective and that lovely harmonising is from Nicolette Larson. Her presence only seems to emphasise the solitude of Young and his acoustic guitar.

Old man sittin’ there, touch of grey, but he don’t care when he hears his children call

12:97 T4 Harvest Moon

Now I hope you’re enjoying this album by moonlight because here is the most romantic ballad ever written, in my humble opinion.

Grab your lover if you’ve got one handy or surrender yourself to the embrace of the music but either way, it’s time to dance.

But now it’s getting late and the moon is climbing high

I want to celebrate, see it shining in your eye

Because I’m still in love with you…. On this harvest moon

Love and moonlight. Tonight they really do conquer all.

18:41 T5 War of Man

Or they would, if we could just stop all this fighting.

War of Man is the first signal on this album that Young can still see the horrors of the world from the comfort of his back porch. It’s the heaviest song on the album, with a whiff of rock that’s largely lacking from the rest. Great reminder that the old man still has a fire in his belly.

That thumping drum line just makes the harmonies even sweeter.

A reminder that the best we can hope for on a moonlit night is a little time off.  But even as we dance under the beauty of the moon, pity the little creatures caught in a war of man.

No one wins.

22:99 T6 One of These Days

A song for procrastinators everywhere. One of these days, my friends, I will write that long letter. One of these days…

Above all, this is an album about love – and here it’s love for all the good friends we’ve known.

And to Absent Friends, the ones to whom I didn’t write that letter in time.

To the friends still standing, I will write… one of these days.

27:57 T7 Such a Woman

And when I do, I might say something like this. Such a simple little love song, perfect for an evening under the stars.

Love is a healer and I love you – Neil Young

No one else can fill me like you do, no one else can kill me like you do and I love you – Neil Young

31:95 T8 Old King

And while we’re thinking of good friends we’ve lost, let’s not forget our pets. This is a tribute to a dog. A number of reviewers have dismissed Old King as the weakest song on the album, but it’s a good rollicking tribute to a good rollicking dog.

I’m a cat person, as you’d expect, and they’re not quite as accommodating as our canine friends when it comes to listening to our troubles.

But I did have a cat once and his name was Fred, and he sure meant a lot to me. I never knew a cat that was half as fine. #missyoufred

I may find one, you never do know ‘cause I still got a long way to go – Neil Young

34:52 T9 Dreamin’ Man

The mood of this one takes us back to Harvest. The lonely boy out on the weekend, the lonely man who just needs a maid to keep his house clean and go away.

Here he is, older but not much wiser, still yearning for something to make this life complete. This time round, there’s a bit of middle-aged acceptance. Maybe that’s the best any of us can hope for.

I’ll always be a dreamin’ man, I don’t have to understand… I know it’s alright – Neil Young

And the chorus delightfully disagrees…

Dreamin’ man… he’s got a problem…

38:89 T10 Natural Beauty

The last and longest track on the album and Young turns his gaze outward again, once more to the environment we’re so busily destroying.

A natural beauty should be preserved, like a monument – Neil Young

But a monument becomes something we want to visit, and that can be just as destructive. Maybe we could learn to just leave things alone. #hippiedreaming

What a lucky man to see the earth before it touched his hand – Neil Young

One more night to go, one more sleep upon your burning banks – Neil Young 

A greedy man never knows what he’s done – Neil Young

And we’re done, to the sound of audience applause, but wait… there’s more. Tonight, with a full moon and memories of the many ways we humans love, a single cricket chirps us to the end.

A little reminder perhaps, before we head back into this tired old world we’ve made, to make a wish upon a silent star. It might not do any good, but it won’t do any harm.

STOP

Roll credits:

The Stray Gators: Neil Young – producer, lead vocals, guitars, piano, banjo Ben Keith – producer, pedal steel, marimba Spooner Oldham – piano, keyboards Tim Drummand – bass Kenny Buttrey– drums. Guest vocals: Astrid Young, James Taylor, Linda Ronstadt, Nicolette Larson.

LINKS:

Harvest Moon – Rolling Stone’ review November 1992

And another review – this one from Sputnik Music by BasementMovies

Want more Neil Young? Of course you do:

Neil Young Centrestage 1992 – Part 2  

© Sally Baxter 2014 

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About Sally Baxter

Once I was a girl reporter. Now I'm an interested observer covering the past, present and future of journalism and whatever else takes my fancy. All views my own.

Discussion

2 thoughts on “A moonlit reflection on middle age – Neil Young’s Harvest Moon

  1. Great post.

    Like

    Posted by Tammi Kale | September 9, 2014, 10:47 pm

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Pingback: MUSIC REVIEW | ***CSNY WEEK*** Neil Young – Harvest Moon (1992) – Bored and Dangerous - May 6, 2016

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