Living as I do next door to the middle of nowhere, I spend a lot of time driving, and sometimes I get the odd look at creatures you don’t see in the city — especially birds, which of course don’t avoid people as the local ground-bound desert wildlife tend to. There are hawks, much bigger than the redtails you can see almost anywhere in the West; they circle in pairs over the open spaces, but also over apartment blocks and strip malls. Sometimes there are ducks on the Colorado River, and there are roadrunners to be seen dashing across the quieter roads (appropriately, I suppose), stalking small snakes and lizards. And yesterday I saw a pair of quails, of all things, racing along near the abandoned golf course.
Living in a new place does make one think about one’s surroundings — one’s environment, so to speak — and with that in mind, we continue through the Gates of Edam, or our walk through the wasteland of apocalyptic rock. Here’s a sample from 1970, when environmentalism was still ecology and the greens weren’t quite so bitter.
After the e-mail link.
Neil Young’s “After the Gold Rush,” from 1970, is such a lovely and delicate song that I’m hesitant to be too literal-minded with it. It’s all visions in a dream, apparently of past, present, and future, but there are enough related images to add up to an environmental message — not without a sideways sort of hopefulness.
At the end of the first verse, after lines evocative of a lost past:
There were peasants singing and
And the archer split the tree.
There was a fanfare blowing
To the sun
That was floating on the breeze
The point is as clear as it’s going to be: “Look at Mother Nature on the run in the 1970s.” (Young now sings “In the 21st century.”)
The second verse is bleaker, a pause after some sort of war or disaster, perhaps, with the image of “lying in a burned-out basement/With the full moon in my eyes.” The sun bursts through the darkness, but there’s bad news to come: “I was thinking about what a friend had said/I was hoping it was a lie.”
But it is of course the last verse that sticks with you, the verse everyone remembers:
Well, I dreamed I saw the silver
Space ships flying
In the yellow haze of the sun,
There were children crying
And colors flying
All around the chosen ones.
All in a dream, all in a dream
The loading had begun.
They were flying Mother Nature’s
Silver seed to a new home in the sun.
The sun, revered by the knights and archers with their fanfare, and a sign that life will go on to the lost soul staring up at the moon, is now perhaps the last hope of a people who have overwhelmed their world.
As I said, I don’t want to be too literal here, but that message seems to be at least part of what Young was getting at. (There is an “alien invasion” theory, but whatever it’s about, it’s not that; the rocketeers in verse three are plainly departing, not arriving, and they are “Mother Nature’s silver seed,” which is to say human.)
But isn’t it lovely? Neil Young’s voice is so strange, a high tenor that wavers but never sounds uncertain in itself, and with a melody as beautiful as this, it can be powerful and moving. “After the Gold Rush” has been often covered — it’s a great temptation to a singer — but it is such a natural fit for the man who wrote it that I’m not sure anyone else could do it quite so well.