Neil Young has released a recording on his website of what we assume is a recent jam session with his longtime backing band, Crazy Horse. The track is 37 minutes long. What are the odds you're going to listen to the whole thing? Small! So we listened for you. Here's what happens:
0:01 to 4:21 Over Ralph Molina's deliberate, thumping drum beat and Billy Talbot's simple, repetitive bass-part, rhythm guitarist Frank Sampedro plays slow, crackling chords while Young ventures forth some furtive lead lines. It's pretty much your standard middle-of-"Cowgirl-In-the-Sand" explora-jam. If you were tripping, you'd be seeing vast sun-baked vistas, soaring eagles, the wise visage of a coyote, and so on and so forth.
4:22 to 6:04 As if he realized lead guitar is supposed to, you know, lead, Young plays some forceful lines in that distinctive herky-jerky style of his. He's moving forward rather than in circle. Crazy Horse sounds like a mildly perturbed pack mule right now. (Also, did you know that there is a sanctuary for abused Donkeys? Pretty cool, huh? I ordered a T-shirt from them maybe, like, three weeks ago. It hasn't come yet.)
6:04 to 7:53 Time to check e-mail.
7:54 to 9:44 The jam is picking up! Young starts to kick up dust with a craggy, shaking double-stop riff. Also, I believe Billy Talbot has also switched to a second note.
9:45 to 13:46 Bathroom break.
13:47 to 15:38 Molina is spurring things on with some insistent hi-hat. He is trying to lead the Horse to water. Will it drink?
15:39 to 16:20 No.
16:21 to 16:44 Talbot explores the value of a third note. I will say though, that given as free-form and drifting as Young's playing can be, he kinda needs a rhythm section like Talbot and Molina. If everyone in the band was doing Neil's go-where-the-great-spirit-takes-me thing, they'd be playing free jazz.
16:45 to 18:49 The foundations of the jam start to shake. The band plays with something approaching urgency. I've been making a bit of fun so far, but there's something deeply idiosyncratic and hypnotic about Neil's playing. You will never mistake his sound for another player. Tons of dude rip-off Hendrix, and do it pretty well. Hardly anyone apes Neil Young. He's too weird. He just plays these shards of notes. His is a totally unpredictable, wholly inimitable style.
18:50 to 20:40 Sampedro plays the familiar minor-chord opening to "Cortez the Killer." This song is so good. It's nice to hear some structure.
20:41 to 23:23 Neil plays a winding, sinuous line that hints at the song's main melody. I try and remember if I have any salvia left at home.
23:24 to 25:18 Neil starts singing "Cortez the Killer." I once read this thing by the mythologist Joseph Campbell where he classified certain artists as performing the function of shamans. Neil is such a shaman. There's this ancient sense of mystery to his lyrics and vocals like he's passing on knowledge that's he's intuitively come to understand. That's super-cheesy, I know. But, like, Springsteen isn't a shaman — he's too plainspoken, too demotic. Neil just taps into this other, unseen thing. Also, this jam is way too long.
25:19 to 26:23 Neil Young plays notes that sound like someone trying to stifle farts.
26:24 to 27:06 Neil starts to sing the song's second verse, about the Aztec's architectural prowess. "But they built up with their bare hands / What we still can't do today." Not strictly true, but I always liked the idea. It's spooky.
27:07 to 29:12 I am enjoying this song fine, enough, I guess. But I also wouldn't mind if it were over so I could get on to other things.
29:13 to 30:00 Check my e-mail again. Nothing new. So I start to ponder concepts like nothingness and the void.
30:01 to 31:04 This song is like a rock version of those trippy visual cosmos-being-born parts of Tree of Life. Pretty pleased with myself for coming up with that comparison.
31:05 to 32:17 Neil sings, in a fragile lovely voice, "He came dancing across the water." He repeats this phrase nine times while the tempo rises by maybe 4 BPM.
32:18 to 33:07Another guitar solo. Jesus Christ.
33:08 to 34:09 Neil hits these trebly chords and then shakes his Les Paul's Bigsby vibrato bar so that the sound seems to shimmer in mid-air. It's gorgeous. He does this a lot.
34:10 to 35:41 Things pick up another couple of BPM. You can imagine Neil stomping his foot on the stage right about now. Molina is hitting the drums harder.
35:42 to 35:47 Molina slams his cymbals as the band climaxes. The jam is over. That was abrupt.
35:43 to 37:00 The band wrings the last reverberations from their instruments. I'm going to go listen to "Cinnamon Girl" now. That song is three minutes of awesomeness.