Saturday, December 11, 2010
Pssst: Neil Young's northern lights really shine
The icy sky at night
Paddles cut the water
In a long and hurried flight
From the white man
to the fields of green
And the homeland
we've never seen
Neil Young is such a brilliant, prolific and ever-evolving artist that it's not easy to keep his entire catalog in the front of the brain, even if we have most of the music within arm's reach. So it's always a treat to go back and renew our acquaintance with gems like Rust Never Sleeps, an acoustic rock meets grudge sneak attack that belongs in every audio collection.
Now back to "Pocahontas" and that opening passage. Maybe you've never seen the aurora borealis, or northern lights. If you grew up or now live in the upper reaches of this country you've probably had opportunities to be awed by the polar light display. And it's true they have been viewed at times on brutal, icy winter nights when you wouldn't consider stepping outside for any other reason.
The first noted occurrence in North America came on this day in 1719, although it was nothing new at the time to Native Americans like those depicted in "Pocahontas." The phenomenon got its name back in 1621 from French scientific observer Pierre Gassendi, who combined the words Aurora, the Roman goddess of dawn, with Boreas, a Greek name for the north wind. To the Cree it was known as the "Dance of the Spirits."
By any name it is, like the Neil Young passage, song and album, a wonder to behold. We might as well put Rust Never Sleeps on the PSSST (Personal Six String Sanctuary Tout) list right now. Is it possible this is Neil Young's first time on the big board? Shame on us.