Saturday, August 11, 2018

Certain Songs #1288: Neil Young & Crazy Horse – “Big Time” | Medialoper

Album: Broken Arrow
Year: 1996

Recorded at Plywood Digital on March 25, 1996

Since 1989, Neil Young had been on a roll: five studio albums and two live albums, not to mention TV appearances, sold-out tours, and an overall acknowledgement that he deserved the lifetime pass he’d already earned by the time the 1980s rolled around.

And while it’s not surprising that all of that critical and commercial goodwill would eventually dry up, what’s weird is that it dried up on the occasion of the occasion of his third Crazy Horse album of the decade; an album that was made up of many of the same ingredients — especially the long, loose jams — that people loved about Ragged Glory & Sleeps With Angels.

As for me, I liked Broken Arrow just fine at the time — definitely more than Sleeps With Angels, definitely less than Mirror Ball, nowhere near Ragged Glory, Harvest Moon or Freedom — but that was because within the long slow jams that made up the bulk of the record it had three undeniably great songs: “Slip Away,” “Music Arcade” and “Big Time.”

Going to leave the pain behind
Going to leave the fools in line
Going to take the magic potion
Getting in an old black car
Going to take a ride so far
To the land of sun tan lotion
Going to take it state by state
Til I hit the golden gate
Get my feet wet in the ocean

“Big Time” was clearly an elegy for Neil’s long-time producer, David Briggs, who had passed away from cancer in November, 1995, a passing that left both a huge hole in both Neil’s heart and his music.

I’m still living the dream we had
For me, it’s not over
I’m still living the dream we had
For me, it’s not over

There is no doubt that “we” was Briggs, and by extension, the long-lost Danny Whitten, and for that matter Frank “Poncho” Sampedro, Billy Talbot and Ralph Molina, who were still right there in the middle of everything with Neil, all the while pushing or surpassing the ripe young age of 50.

Walking on the bridge on day
Looking out across the bay
I saw a rippling in the water
Once a big ship had passed
I borrowed a traveller’s glass
And focused on
The ocean’s daughter
Kind of like a wave confused
Dancing in the Sunset hews
She waved to me
And called me over

Part of what I liked about “Big Time” was the obvious San Francisco references. I had moved to the Bay Area in the summer of 1994, and by the time Broken Arrow came out was working in the South Park area of San Francisco, fully ensconced in what y’all call the dot-com era, living with Rox in a one-bedroom apartment in Oakland from which you could just catch a glimpse of the boats out on the San Francisco Bay.

We were dirt poor at the time: the gold rush was still a couple of years away, but there was also a feeling that we’d somehow come to the right place at the right time; that I was going to be part of something huge and world-changing, even while I was helping to build websites for evil multinational corporations like Nike, McDonalds and Sony.

Talking bout a friend of mine
Talking bout a gold mine
Richest vein in any mountain
Talking bout the enemy
Inside of me
Talking bout
That youthful fountain
Talking bout you and me
Talking bout eternity
Talking bout the big time

All that said, I can still see the problems with Broken Arrow, especially when compared with its predecessors: there’s like a thin layer of gauze over the whole record; it lacks the clearness and immediacy of Ragged Glory or Sleeps With Angels, and there isn’t even a medium-speed song on it, much less an uptempo song like “Over and Over” or “Throw Your Hatred Down.” Hell, in Shakey, Neil confides to biographer Jimmy McDonough that it was “purposely vulnerable and unfinished,” almost as a cock-eyed tribute to what Briggs brought to his previous records.

Still, though, Neil’s guitar was the one thing that cut through the gauze, and each of the solos in “Big Time” jump out of the speaker like the days of yore, massive waves of squiggly lighting bolts that always take off in unexpected directions.

And that said, Neil still likes “Big Time” enough for it to be the opener of the first two nights of NYCH in Fresno, and along with “Scattered (Let’s Think About Living),” — also from Broken Arrow — the most recent song from his catalog he played on that mini-tour.

“Big Time”

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