So many of my early musical experiences were overshadowed by the War in Vietnam ... I used to envy those who discovered this album while in college, or on the road, sunk deeply into some overstuffed chair, a head full of weed, candles flickering in the darkness, wrapped in the arms of a lover or a friend. After The Gold Rush was first played for me by another Nurse who’d just returned from R&R. It was in the wee small hours of the morning, in one of many Evac Hospitals that dotted Southeast Asia, and she stood quietly, arms filled with new records, as I sat lost in needlework, patching the ripped uniforms and darning the socks of my boys. “This is for you,” I remember her saying, and I laughed seeing the album jacket, with the patches sewed onto Neil’s jeans. But the album did quickly become my personal record, especially side two, laced with lo-fi songs of distant places, double meanings, heartache, and change ... yet through it all, Neil cracked the door, leaving room for a breath of hope ... something that was in short supply in my corner of the world.
After all these years, I know exactly what these songs are actually about. I know that most were inspired by the Dean Stockwell and Herb Berman screenplay by the same name ... I also know that each song was personally written just for me, and the place I was in. They were daring dramatic songs, they were songs as good as anything I’d heard from Bob Dylan or The Beatles, because while The Beatles wrote introspective personal songs, and Dylan was creating surrealistic visions, Neil Young captured my heart with an honest voice, delivering songs that I could sing, songs that belonged to me.
As emotional as this album is, especially “Birds,” “Tell Me Why” is incredibly cheery, and resoundingly uplifting, as is “Till The Morning Comes,” which like all wonderful things, is far too brief with that catchy horn arrangement. Yet with both of these songs, as pleasant as they are, if one reads between the lines, there are veiled threats of misfortune, suggesting the notion of the protagonist having no control over his problems wandering through nearly all of the tracks, but through it all Neil seems to infer, if unwilling to admit, that we are actually in control of our own collective destiny.
I’m not a religious person, matter of fact, I’m an Atheist, but I truly feel blessed in my way, that this album ebbed its way into my life in the manner it did. I still see the faces, I still get the chills, and I still swallow with a deep sense of satisfaction each time this bit of plastic finds its way onto my turntable.
*** The photo was taken by Joel Bernstein, on the northwest corner of Sullivan and West 3rd Street in Greenwich Village, New York, with Gram Nash being edited from the original.
- Jenell Kesler
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