Forget your weak music and worse drink, all dead taste and restraint soulless of force
Life is a fifth of Yukon Jack,
-Neil Young and the eternal Crazy Horse
It was a well past midnight on a Tuesday night in the early/almost spring of 1996. I was peacefully slumbering away when I was rudely awakened by the brazen ring of my newly installed, immediately hated telephone. Not opening my eyes or lifting my head from my pillow, I readied myself for the delivery of a first-class ass chewing when that great, timeless no-quite-in-time THUMP and THROB hammered through the phone and into my ear and rabidly waking, excited brain. The reedy, quaking voice on top with some simultaneously choking and swinging guitar all at 120 decibels sealed the deal: this was live Neil Young with the greatest garage band in the history of the universe, the one and only Crazy Horse, destroying some brain cells in the early morning air right now. I was immediately awake and absolutely crushed that I wasn’t there.
“Three more nights, Liam,” Pierre, my Quebec refugee friend said in the always grating French Canadian accent of his. “I’ll never forgive your Limey ass if don’t make for the last two, and you won’t forgive yourself either. Half Moon Bay on the coast south of San Francisco.”
Pierre then held up the phone for another 15 minutes, allowing the heavenly cacophony to empower and awaken me before hanging up. I was more than awake, I was flying. This was very good and more than necessary since I had a 2,400+ mile non-stop drive ahead of me. I set out from my haven outside of Lexington, Kentucky at 2:30 that morning for the most hell bent trip of my life. I was going to the see the Horse with its master in the best possible setting: a small bar right up close to all the stupefying grandeur.
I could go on and on about how great Neil Young is. There are exceptions to every rule so my rule of loathing hippies and wishing to shoot each and every one of them on sight is tempered by my undying respect for Young, who can definitely be classified in the Hippie Sapien phylum. He may be full of shit a good deal of the time, but the man always owns whatever shit he’s putting out at the time; you’ve got to respect his sincerity. His acoustic, reflective stuff is ok as far that sort of thing goes, and I understand that the man has a need to change things up often and go the pseudo-mellow, quiet route at times. But I’ll be in the cold, cold ground before I’ll ever concede that his electric persona in not what the Almighty created him to do. When he plugs in that black guitar of his and starts overloading amps, it’s suddenly like Picasso’s heir is at work, only using a guitar instead of a paint brush. It’s one of the most inspiring things in any art form I’ve ever been around; if anyone can get away with 25-minute songs with 5 minutes guitar solos splattered throughout, it’s Mr. Young.
And nothing brings out Young’s greatness like the Horse. He’s been playing with them for 45 years and when they lock in together perfectly it’s like they’ve been playing for 145 years. That piece of southern California excrement, David Crosby, absolutely hates Crazy Horse; I can’t think of a higher compliment of a band than that absolute waste of a collection of flesh, whines and sanctimonious chickenshit loathing them. It’s been said that Crazy Horse is great often and good never; I understand that sentiment with their admittedly rudimentary technical skills and often mistake-prone, chemical addled ways. For me even the mistakes sound so perfect and in tune with the immortal force the band conjures that to me the Horse is great always and transcendent often.
As I drove westward out of Lexington that wonderful early morning in March 1996, I resisted the urge to listen to all of my Young and Horse over and over and over. I managed to limit it to Zuma, Everyone Knows and the Horse’s “solo” (i.e. no Young) Crazy Horse. I listened to my usual Van Morisson, J.L. Hooker and various blues/ old r&b artists as the miles quickly passed by. I can honestly say I made the driver in just under 34 hours with relatively minimal non-musical aids. It was mid-morning when I pulled up outside the venue and passed out in a deeply peaceful slumber.
I was very rudely awoken less than 3 hours later by some horribly unrthymic banging on my car door. I opened one bleary eye to see the swarthy, cheese eating smirk of the one and only Pierre Depardieu , the possibly only decent human being from the snottiest province in the most laid-back country in the world. I meet Pierre 3 years before on a 600-mile kayak race into far northern Canada. Normally, I don’t care what sort of accent English (an inferior, imperialist language at any rate) is spoken with; hell, even the ruling class scuzz-bucket British wankers don’t bug me too much. But something about Pierre’s frenchified English mangling really got to me. (His parents were immigrants to Quebec from Nice, France so his English had that extra-haughty, maddening air to it). Plus, he was kicking my ass pretty handily too. I was prepared to hate the pseudo-frog when I found myself in the same saloon in Whitehorse after the race was over. He was really too much; smoking a cigarette fairly effeminately, wearing a beret and wooing the only halfway decent woman in the place. I could see myself starting some ill-advised shit with this frog after several whiskeys. And what does Pierre do to screw up my growing disdain for him but put on “Cowgirl in the Sand” on the jukebox, three times in a row. I was loving the 30-minutes of majesty, but the rest of the saloon was pretty ticked; Pierre, good Gaul that he is, didn’t give a shit. We bonded then and forever when I proceeded to program all Ragged Glory.
It was then that Pierre introduced me to a definite revelatory inspiration, Yukon Jack. It’s actually made in Quebec and somehow is a valid, very good blend of Canadian whiskey and French liqueur. It shouldn’t work, but, like Pierre, it does. We polished off a good portion of that saloon’s bottle of the YJ that night while earning the eventual thanks of the aged bar maid for turning her on to the greatness of Young and Horse.
Now here we were 3 years later finally about to see the Horse. We’d both tried to independently numerous times over the years but a combination of relentless Mounties in his case and ill-advised career choices in mine had prevented us from partaking of the sonic bliss which is the Horse. Pierre, ever resourceful and fortuitously living very close by in Santa Clara, had gotten wind of the 4 secret Young and Horse dates in Half Moon Bay at the small club, tickets priced that same as any other night and no damn V.I.P.; first come, first serve like any other night. Pierre pulled out a fresh flask of Yukon J for me to go along with his and off we went. The shows were everything we could hope for, including the crowd, a great mix of regulars and Horse ’n Young fanatics who were almost as nutty as Pierre and I. There was a little bit of ear bleedin’, but it was a minor inconvenience to stand 30 feet from the sound of true freedom.
Pierre couldn’t outrun his inner-frog so he’s back in Quebec now so I’ll probably never see him again. However, we still trade Horse bootlegs now and again, reminding us that some things are far above and beyond any national, cultural differences. Cha chòir an t-each glan a chur uige!
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