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Friday, November 12, 2010

239. "Revolution Blues" by Neil Young


A song I've wanted to cover since just about the first time I heard it, at which time it was probably slightly more obscure than it is now (if not by much): it had been out of print along with the whole On the Beach LP for at least a decade and wouldn't be issued on CD for another decade or more still. At that time, around 1989, I had no notion of actually singing it; I just found it very eerily prescient and a fantastically terrifying lyric, one of Neil's best. Over the years following that, events like the Oklahoma City bombing, the rise and fall of the Unabomber, and the Branch Davidian siege made it seem even more so... in 1971, talking about "revolution" in reactionary instead of radical and Luddite terms would have been seriously discordant, or so it seemed to me, whereas by the '80s and '90s it was becoming, disturbingly and surprisingly, the American norm.

For some reason, all of this and its relationship to the song unfolded for years in my mind without my ever hearing the crucial piece of apparently common knowledge about the song: that it was specifically based on the Manson Family. And learning that was a disappointment to me, a sort of magnified version of the thing that happens when you find out that an individual line in a song isn't what you'd thought it was, and you think your version is way better. It made me feel a bit stupid for not having worked it out on my own, but after living with it for a while I started to feel like the details and changes Neil had made to the Manson mythos still seemed startlingly clairvoyant. And I applied the old Dylan "A song is anything that walks around on its own" tenet to the whole thing, making my initial evaluation of it just as valid as the "true" Mansonian one. I never really doubted that it was just a brilliant, brilliantly scary song anyway.

Personnel: Rex

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