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Bound for Glory - Neil Young

Just as he left for the airport to take that doomed plane flight in 1959 (see post Feb 3rd and following), Buddy Holly joshed in farewell with his bassist Waylon Jennings saying "Hope your ass freezes on the bus" to which Jennings joshed back "yeah, well I hope your ol' plane crashes". Jennings was only nineteen at the time, and these words haunted him for the rest of his life.

In 1984 Neil Young recorded a country and western album, "Old Ways", and enlisted "outlaw" veterans Jennings and Willie Nelson to help out as well as various members of Merle Haggard's backing band "the Strangers". Here, Waylon more than just assists, sharing the lead vocal with Young, as they cite the title of Woody Guthrie's autobiography "Bound for Glory", in turn a lift from Guthrie's song "This Train is Bound for Glory", in this tale of two disparate Americans who've lost their way and found temporary shelter in each other's arms.

Woody Guthrie was the grandfather of America folk music, firmly anchoring the genre on the political left, in contrast to country and western which has much more conservative tendencies. It's significant that on "Old Ways" Young chose to work with two members of country music's "new wave" "outlaws" whose politics were much more liberal and independent than their Nashville precursors.

Savour the wonderful band behind the duo, the laconic harmonica of Terry MacMillan, the superb piano playing of Hargus "Pig" Robbins and the harmonising violins of Gordon Terry and Rufus Thibodeaux that make your neckhairs tingle.

The whole recording is shot through with a feeling of inevitable tragedy that never happens, at least not within the narrative of the song. But the trucker and the hitchhiker are rendered in the past tense by Waylon in his solo verse in such a way as to make you feel that maybe they died on the road, that maybe they crashed because the trucker fell asleep:

"He had everything he wanted

'til it all turned out to be a job

one fallen asleep trucker

and a girl hitchhiking with her dog"

What lingers in the memory, though, is the sad beauty of their encounter mirrored in the image of the opening lines:

"Out on the trans-Canada highway

there was a girl hitchhiking with her dog,

fireflies buzzin' round her head

like candles in the fog......"


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