Neil Young Essays

“He was better than me,” Young version, the song never catches fire. He’s easing his way into the great unknown, in real time.

For Davis, that development has been posthumous: the trumpeter died in 1991, just as the compact-disc reissue boom was getting under way.

His music has since been endlessly repackaged and repurposed, and in some instances — like , a 10-DVD or Blu-Ray set consisting of obscurities, rarities and assorted other flotsam from a roughly half-century career.

But there something to his assertion of anti-virtuosity.

Long before Crazy Horse, he was a skinny kid with a nervous voice, the embodiment of vulnerability.

At that time, he was on tour with Crazy Horse: Danny Whitten on guitar, Billy Talbot on bass and Ralph Molina on drums.

Not quite a year earlier they had released their first album, would be issued within a week of Young’s Fillmore East shows, delivering what Billboard hailed as “a skill and sensitivity bound to be the measure of excellence in rock for 1970.” Whatever he thought of such proclamations, Young felt the call to work with musicians who upheld what you might call different aesthetic aspirations than CSN. Young himself has said: “With Crazy Horse it’s such a special thing, because none of us can really play. Fuck, we’d get it in the first take every time, and it was never right — but we could never do it better.” That’s overstating the case a bit, as his own solos at the Fillmore would demonstrate.In the loosely related fields of planetary science and apocalyptic fiction, the phrase “minimum orbit intersection distance,” or MOID, describes the closest point of contact between the paths of two orbiting objects.Most vividly invoked whenever an asteroid encroaches on our corner of the solar system, that bit of jargon also has its aesthetic uses.It also happened that they were each in the midst of creative transition as they took the Fillmore stage.Few musicians of any era have outdone Davis or Young when it comes to catalog savvy.Consider the coordinates of Neil Young and Miles Davis on the evenings of March 6 and 7, 1970, at the juncture of East Sixth Street and Second Avenue in Manhattan.That setting, cosmic only in culturally suggestive terms, was the Fillmore East, a New York outpost of Bill Graham’s hippie empire. As far as we know, there was no particular spark of friction or connection between the two.Among its bounty is the concert recording that was also released, in more standard form, as on Reprise in 2006.The material was assembled with active participation from Young, who had ample reason to reflect fondly on the Fillmore shows.Somewhere in America, a coffeehouse singer is fingerpicking “Old Man.” But I assure you it doesn’t sound like the version here, sung by a wealthy 27-year-old with a couple of screws loose, facing down loss too young, his entire life ahead of him. —Nate Chinen You can also download and read this story as a PDF.


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