Young and Getting Younger

Pine Knob Music Theatre, Clarkston, MI, September 1978.

by Susan Whitall


Clarkston, MI: The sign outside the open air theatre said "Rrust Never Sleeps... An Evening With Neil Young And Crazy Horse" . My companion mumbled something about him being "at it again, sending his signals." The crowd waiting outside were getting a mite restless, drinking and throwing their debris under the car of yours truly, which was already smoking. (don't ask). Was this a Led Zeppelin concert really? Answers were to follow. As we sat down the roadies were going about their duty dressed as Star War's Sand People; every placement of a guitar pick suddenly invested with deep, forbidden, meaning... Then the next signal; The roadies work song, The Beatles, "A Day In The Life", faded down to the last big crescendo... the top of one of the gigantic packing cases began to rise, to reveal the wolf himself, dressed in white, curled up in a fetal position (ahhh) next to his acoustic guitar. He got up and sniffed around, turning the scarier portions of his profile , left then right... couldn't tell if the world checked out with him ok or not. Some preliminary thumps on the guitars he woke up the "Sugar Mountain" sung on his knees ("You can't be twen-tee on Sugar Mountain') then "I Am A Child".

Dolly Parton was dropped from the show because Neil wanted to do a longer set, half acoustic, half electric, with Crazy Horse. And a good thing: the thought of those long red fingernails twangin that banjo amidst all of this would have been to much to bear. Young paced the stage hungrily in long wolf strides, sometimes coming dangerously close to row J ("Who needs to be this close" my companion whined. "You want to scare yourself with your eyes or something? "What's he going to do?" I retorted, "Lunge over the crowd for us? He doesn't know where the press tickets are.")

Between songs he hoists a sign spelling "DEVO" and flashes it to the crowd with a weary wolf grin. Have you got it yet? His hippie fans shake their ponytails and stoke their pipes, pondering... Several men in lab smocks roam the stage, musing and taking notes. Have they seen Neil? Two wizard cone head types sit at the control board: the standing one, as it turns out, is a wooden Indian. At least we hope so when Neil shakes his hand (heyyy) then knocks his head off (whoaaaa).

Just when my companion decides its time to check the stash for disturbing, possibly hallucinogenic particles, Neil lies down in a long flat sleeping bag type thing, back to the fetal position and is carried off by the Sand People. "Time for a break", says the voice over the speakers, who goes on in Woodstock talk (stuff about medic tents, your wifes having a baby, etc). "He's bummed that he wasn't in CSN when they played Woodstock" is the theory proffered by the cowboy hat in front of us.

Second part of the show is Electric Neil and Crazy Horse - my co-editor down the row scoffs that he is hiding behind all of his wah pedal/feedback stuff so he won't really have to play guitar, and be sure it's a powerful, sonic reducer set of ear destroying power chords ("Tonights The Night" as heavy metal thunder), but I demur. Why, he can play walking down his ladder. Even the most painful moments of his guitar solo in "Like A Hurricane" - and it was intense (fellow in front of us was whimpering) - were pleasureful. (To be sure, an audience exposed to that kind of metallurgic bombast was transformed into a beast that screamed "Smash it!" when Mr. Young's guitar went nuts, and kind of wailed as they trailed out into the parking lot. Over the broken bottles, and scattered groups of hopheads and drunk juveniles, this wail would be picked up by the wind, float through the pine woods surrounding the arena, die for a while, then start up again.)

I must admit that he played the Ballad Of Johnny Rotten twice: acoustically, then electrically. If it was only good to prompt a flannel shirted man of the Michigan woods to croon on the way out, "he is gone but not forgotten, this is the story of Johnny Rotten" to his titian-haired tundra princess, it was a thing worth doing.

But answers... we sought answers (from our illicities supplier as well). Then, in the midst of "Like A Hurricane"... hair flapping in the breeze of a fan operated by a foot-stomping Sand Person. Neil changes the words. "I am just a dreamer, and YOU are just a dream..." he drones out at Row J. A dreamer counting sheep flopping across a fence... wait! He's chasing them - no, they're lambs! Now we get it...


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