Today’s song, January 2nd, is Neil Young’s “Time Fades Away” from the LP of the same name, released in 1973. It's a live album of unreleased songs—which is a way of saying that Young chose to record a new album live, in front of an audience. The album has a very ramshackle feel, coming after the Top 40 gold of 1972’s Harvest, and that's very deliberate. TFA’s loose unprofessionalism heralds Tonight’s the Night, recorded later that year but not released til 1975. The big commercial success of Harvest was enabling much substance abuse for Young and his circle, and it shows on this album.
No matter. Or maybe that is the matter. For whatever the reason, my heart or my shoes, I played both Time and Tonight on New Year’s Day, 2014. Maybe it was due to seeing the shambling Neilby singing and playing “Helpless” with The Band in The Last Waltz. In any case, the refrain of this song—“Son, don’t be home too late / Try to get back by eight / Son, don’t wait til the break of day / ’Cause you know how time fades away”—speaks to me of those teen years when one starts staying out late, and all those times being up til the dawn in some altered state or other. “I was hand-cuffed, I was born and raised.”
I can’t say for sure why I would want to think about those days these days, except that it could have something to do with that “Romance du Roman” thread I’ve started and want to get back to, but the song is relevant only to the extent that my personal romance with the novel involves a lengthy limbo spent composing “Between Days.” “Time Fades Away” is definitely a song that speaks loud about what that substance abuse aspect of the Seventies was like (“thirteen junkies too weak to work”). As a rock’n’roll hero, Neil Young was a maverick. Such a weird singing voice, his persona was a generally wasted miscreant—or misanthrope—with a dark romantic edge, not at all cloying lyrically, and a mordant sense of humor. Guitar hero too, though not so much on this record.
Mainly, I think the phrase “time fades away” suits the start of a new year because I’m resisting (so far) the urge to do some kind of retrospect on 2013. I’ll probably say something about it, around Twelfth Night. But for now, I find myself thinking that the past is past. The only reason I paid it so much attention was because, as Mallarmé says, “All the world exists to end up in a book.” Which is the start of my next reflection on the “romance du roman,” actually, so . . . Suffice to say, “Time Fades Away” is both cautionary and exemplary “in my book.” Put that in your pipe and smoke it. “Take this, brother, may it serve you well . . .”