Sunday, January 25, 2009

Neil Young: Sugar Mountain



My memories of the day are necessarily hazy, but back in the 1990s I attended the Phoenix Festival at at Long Marston Airfield near Stratford-upon-Avon. Thanks to the wonders of the net, I can tell you that it was on 19 July 1996.

Around that time a lot of people took Alanis Morissette very seriously. It wasn't until later that it became widely known that she used to be a child star - Canada's answer to Bonnie Langford - but when she opened her set that day by marching on to the stage blowing a mouth organ, she was obviously someone playing a rocker rather than the real thing. But you had to be careful whom you said that to in those days.

I wasn't too impressed with the Foo Fighters either: they were just loud. In fact, I wouldn't have been sorry if the foos had won.

But Dodgy - a band that was everywhere that summer but disappeared soon afterwards - were impossible to dislike (here is Good Enough from the festival) and of, course, the Manic Street Preachers were great (try Design for Life, again live from the day).

The band most of my companions had gone to see was Neil Young and Crazy Horse. They obviously appealed to a certain demographic - which is a way of saying that all the young people streamed away from the stage after Alanis Morissette had finished and it was possible to get embarrassingly near the front.

A review the next day said that a Crazy Horse guitar solo was like an oil tanker: it took 30 minutes to turn round. (See what I mean?) But my chief memory of their set is Neil Young singing "Sugar Mountain", accompanying himself on an acoustic guitar and harmonica.

Wikipedia quotes Joni Mitchell as saying:

In 1965 I was up in Canada, and there was a friend of mine up there who had just left a rock'n'roll band ... he had just newly turned 21, and that meant he was no longer allowed into his favorite hangout, which was kind of a teeny-bopper club and once you're over 21 you couldn't get in there anymore; so he was really feeling terrible because his girlfriends and everybody that he wanted to hang out with, his band could still go there, you know, but it's one of the things that drove him to become a folk singer was that he couldn't play in this club anymore.

But he was over the hill. So he wrote this song that was called "Oh to live on sugar mountain" which was a lament for his lost youth...

And I thought, God, you know, if we get to 21 and there's nothing after that, that's a pretty bleak future, so I wrote a song for him, and for myself just to give me some hope. It's called The Circle Game."

But I read "Sugar Mountain" differently. To me it is a unique thing: a pop song about the necessity of growing up.

I was going to show you a video of the young Young performing the song, but it has just disappeared from Youtube. So this one from another festival somewhere will have to do.

1 comment:

Simon Titley said...

And here is why Alanis Morissette should not be taken seriously:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nT1TVSTkAXg