Neil Young – Zuma

zumaContext is the key to filling out Young’s sketch melodies. In this way, the band Crazy Horse — prosaic foil mates in pithy lockstep — educe then bail out the quixotic, Cali-coastal man-child (i.e., the yo-yo compression chamber of innocence and experience akin to Buffalo Springfield’s “I Am A Child”).

On Zuma, his a) “Cortez”-bong liberalness1, b) inexact, arbitrary ‘feel,’ and c) variegated reach (Time Fades Away though Rust Never Sleeps), forever sloughing ‘gainst the tide of the world, are soberly compacted, thus compromised, by the lopin’ beat, cracklin’ licks, and saddlesheath guitars. All of it converges on a slow-rolling, cymbal-based inevitability that anticipates itself (`a la latter-day Pink Floyd) and stalls Young’s offhand escapiss with an essential earthiness. Only the barblessly unblemished final track sounds more C.S.N. than Y., flattening and betraying his innate dualism. (Due to their slipshod self-containment, almost every Young collection has no clear-cut beginning or end, each consequently but one magnified segment of his patchily larger, day-by-day mosaic.)

Young’s material often reflects the folk sense, because he’s notably dependent on mood, tone, texture, and atmosphere — the found, instinctive blues or gesture; the raw, immediate, elliptical, trivial throwaway; the unrefined, unadorned, unresolved gem. Every last incorporation of falsity and fact goes beyond a clean or easy finality because his is a haphazardness, a whim always on the brittle brink of discovering what and how it is he wants to say or do something, anything. At once mythic and dirgeful, “Cortez The Killer” consummates Young’s cynicism/idealism paradox because it maintains and subjugates his fatalism. (“Ambulance Blues” from On The Beach uses President Nixon in a similar way.) And Young is as fascinatingly contradictory, and fascinated with his own contradictions, as David Bowie: Both exercise a postmodern revisioning to achieve a direct confessionalism, (but Bowie’s is more attached to multimedia thrill-seeking). Consider “Cortez,” then, a meditative, worthy vision ‘about’ something the same way that director Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now is about the Vietnam War: it is and it isn’t. Next contemplate that Coppola’s film has no denouement — it, too, just stops.

1Which cobbles the epic symbolism, generality, allegory, and metaphor of apathet-regret’s obsessive fear and (self-) loathing into a chimera — a cataclysm prism; Young’s Zuma Beach (where he lived and recorded the album) as Kublei Khan’s Xanadu — fantasy, or the diversion of illusion, as a means to catharsis.
Rating: A-

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