Don’t make a habit of lengthy text posts on here so that might reflect how much I enjoyed this write-up of my favourite Neil song..
Neil Young- The Last Trip to Tulsa
Neil Young is often written off quickly as a forgettable debut of psychedelic folk-rock that did little to display the future career of the auteur which bears its name. It was critiqued for doing little to separate itself from the rest of the Californian folk scene the year between the summer of love and Woodstock, and Neil’s future greatest work would be predicated on existence in a post-Woodstock America. To this day whispers of “mulligan” hover over Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere. However history shouldn’t be measuring this record in such black and white terms. For one Neil was always far grimmer than sunny sixties SoCal, you weren’t going to hear the Byrds or Mamas & the Papas singing “The Loner” or breathing out anything as frightened and suspicious as “Here We Are In The Years”, and Neil Young still displays a maturation in songwriting from his Buffalo Springfield work in further detailed lyricism and more evocative melodic turns.
The album’s crowning point comes on its closing track, “The Last Trip to Tulsa” where Neil paints a surrealist narrative complete with Native Americans, men eating pennies, and green gasoline. There are a lot of different things I love about this song like the supremely hilarious irony of a feminist pilot who lets a man fly her plane because, “it looked good for his pride,” closing sardonically, “I wonder what it’s like to be so far over my head” to the juxtaposition of regionalist and surrealist imagery as a reflection of hippie America. Unaccompanied acoustic songs traditionally function on melody and direct emotional exchange but “The Last Trip to Tulsa” unorthodoxly succeeds on mood centered instrumental vamping and lyrical abstraction, two traits that would come to define some of the best work he made in his career.
Neil’s peculiar and cryptic use of lyrical abstraction has always been one of the primary traits of his songwriting, using metaphor or allegory to comment on personal and social subjects. “The Last Trip to Tulsa” ends with an anecdote that seems to comment on Neil’s stubborn and often unmerciful dedication to following his artistic path despite what consequences it may place on his friends’ or his own career trajectory:
I was chopping down a palm tree when a friend dropped by to ask, if I would feel less lonely if he helped me swing the axe. I said, “no it’s not a case of being lonely we have here, I’ve been working on this palm tree for eighty-seven years.” He said, “go get lost!” and walked towards his Cadillac. I chopped down the palm tree and it landed on his back.
And in this way Neil is both paradoxically extremely self aware and also simultaneously distant and removed, avoiding all the usual cliche pitfalls of singer-songwriter music. For the rest of his career he would continue in this idiosyncratic struggle to chop down the palm tree, taking artistic risks and suffering both commercial and critical backlash. Neil Young is the Platonic ideal of the artist as an unaffected entity self driven by a primordial need within to create, comment, reflect, and express.
I’d like to thank Hendrik for having me on the blog this week and I’d also like to thank all of you who followed along with all my ramblings. In the future be sure to remember what we’ve learned, “only love can break your heart,” and “it’s better to burn out than to fade away.” But above all remember to keep on rocking in the free world. Goodbye Waterface.