Sade Sundays

Part One: Joshua Rampage

This thing could write itself; last weekend Mike and I went to find Neil Young’s house. It was a little too easy to track down the latitude and longitude coordinates of his compound, but with no GPS device we’d have to do it like gentlemen. Using a crumpled Google map I assumed the role of navigator as Mike steered us into the dark blue beyond of the Santa Cruz mountains.

Rounding the steep switchbacks and overgrown hillsides of the Land That Time Forgot, it occurred to me that this might be the last and only place on earth where Neil Young would dig in and stake his rock + roll camp of unrequited love. Besides, where else would he have this much room to set up all his model trains?

As we passed an imaginary waterfall of natural spring water, Mike says he’d love to palm some into his mouth, maybe even take a bath; and with this bizarre imagery in mind, I began to contemplate Neil Young as an artist. Personally, I feel his defining moment came when he was sued by his record label for not sounding like himself. God bless that rickety old hatchet of a man, I think I’d like to shake his hand.

When Mike first told me about Le Noise, Young’s new solo record featuring the production of sound manipulator Daniel Lanois, it seemed as if it was to be the heir apparent to Trans, Neil’s 1982 electronic album that buzzed with vocoders and digital trickery. However, when I sat down for a first listen I got bummed – it was as if he and Lanois got high, but not high enough to make the far-out statement they really wanted – or did they? Shit man, I don’t know – we were lost in the woods and Neil Young’s house was beginning to feel like a figment of our damaged imaginations.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3r-H0rJDQjY&feature=related

After a groovy, wood-burned ruse and another dead-end, we zeroed in on the 2200 block of Bear Gulch Road. A self-proclaimed hitchhiker like Young never thought twice about which way to go, but as Mike and I approached the gates of SMIP Ranch, the air reeked of trepidation; what did we think we were doing? I wondered how we would explain ourselves to the gun-toting natives we would inevitably encounter. We played the roles of two lost maniacs trying to find Neil Young’s house in a Subaru Forrester to a tee. They’d skin us for sure. Risking getting drawn down on, we drove past the very prominent NO TRESPASSING sign and up into the ether.

I began to relax when Mike pointed out a whimsical sign that read Time Stops Here. Perfect. They’ll welcome us with potato salad and charming anecdotes from the countryside! Wrong. As we reached the crest of the hill large ominous letters spelling NOT HERE came into focus, painted traffic white on the gray asphalt. What the fuck? Back up back up back up back up Mike put the car in reverse…

In this moment of abject terror I chose to focus on what Le Noise eventually meant to me. Like most great records, it has a latency in which to slowly pull you in. There is a predominance of familial tone throughout, Young’s precise acoustic strums and electric gorilla riffing with heartfelt meat and potato lyrics, a-rose-is-a-flower-and-that’s-love sort of thing. And the sonic treatments that initially underwhelmed the songs became almost satisfying  – though I still think they could have smoked a little bit more and stretched out the results of Lanois’ sonic treatments even further.

All said, it’s not a horrible soundtrack to die to – and since we were two seconds away from being shot, skinned, or arrested I felt there was a certain immediacy to recognize and respect within Le Noise and coincidently, this moment in time. Ah yes, staring into the empty eyelets of the grim reaper’s skull sockets. We pressed on nervously, convinced that this was It, but instead It was only an art school tucked away in the rolling wilderness.

The last driveway we came to had a rusty railroad trespassing sign from the late 1800’s that more or less promised permanent disfigurement should we proceed any further. At that point we turned around, our nerves too jangled to continue. Crestfallen that we weren’t able to knock on Neil’s front door, we grew even more depressed passing shuttered mountain top dining halls that didn’t open ‘til 5:30pm (for cocktails – dinner at 7pm), so we stopped at a golf course off the 280 to rest and reflect in the clubhouse.

Over burgers and dogs, we decided that if our wild goose chase proved anything, it was that a man shouldn’t necessarily ignore the signposts along the way; but instead consider them and their ramifications and advance with an honest and open heart, one that has plenty to bleed, the kind needed to effortlessly cultivate a legend as mythical as Neil Young’s.

(End Note: It turns out that last driveway was in fact Neil Young’s residence, and perhaps one day we’ll climb the walls and see those model trains once and for all.)

Part Two: Michael Tapscott

Le Noise record itself.

The pairing of Daniel Lanois and Neil Young is pretty much a dream get together for me as a reverential fan of Shakey and a great admirer of the swampy production touches Lanois has given to some of the best singer-songwriters of rock’s third era (i.e. Teatro by Willie Nelson or Time Out of Mind and Oh Mercy by Bob Dylan). In other words, the pairing makes sense and seems inspired given the weak output Young has given the world in the past decade or so (with some sentimental exceptions as always).

It’s always important to remember though, if you think you’ve gone too far you probably have not gone far enough and Le Noise is a soft thud against a rotted plywood wall to me. Again, there are sentimental moments to put aside such as the epic pioneer landscape laid out in “Peaceful Valley Boulevard” and the unapologetic drug gigography in “Hitchhiker.” For Neil to throw a couple of sweet tunes on a bad album is kind of a given at this point and something I’ve come to accept.

The big idea behind this record is that Neil would record solo versions of some dark tunes on a guitar Lanois constructed for him and then Lanois would take these songs into the studio and trick them out with some cracked knob-twiddling.

The big bummer is that this theoretical turn is not seen through. There is some epic studio tinkering and moments of beatific ambient noise, but these are extremely brief and subtle to the point of marginality. If this is step one then we shouldn’t fear, but if it’s merely a side step in Young’s catalog it’s just another road not taken. I guess I was hoping for a combo of his Dead Man soundtrack and Harvest Moon or Dolphins into the Future and the Papercuts.

I’m happy Joshua got into the vibe a little bit though because I don’t think he ever really understood my living by the creed “What Would Neil Young Do?” Journeying to Neil’s home was like finding a wrinkle in time or Sleepy Hollow fault line a perfect dreamland for a folk hero or a rock star. It’s only about a half hour from the city and the vast amount of nature and threat of mountain lions doesn’t really make sense in this modern world.

I will say it was a special trip cerebrally if not specifically, I felt closer to an inspiration I’ve been trying to understand for ten years now. The SMIP ranch Joshua was referencing stood for the Latin phrase – Sic manebimus in pace – Thus We’ll Remain in Peace, perhaps as I mentioned that day a more apropos phrase would have been Sic Transit Gloria Mundi. There is a vision to be won in Le Noise and if Neil doesn’t get there I guess then I’ll have to do it myself.

About Sade Sundays: Sade Sundays is a two-part monthly column written by Michael Tapscott and Joshua Rampage. A profundity has never slipped past the lips of a man who lives a life of quiet desperation. He has time for no such subtleties. So basically, Joshua and Michael have time on their hands. They spend it together one Sunday a month, dispensing boozy wisdom and violent, undefended revelries. You may listen, but you may also render their words as a call of the wild, a spear from St. George into the side of the dragon beast, or a meaningless squabble. Contact us: Sade.Sundays@thebaybridged.com