Performer: Neil Young
Songwriter: Neil Young
Original Release: Last Time Around (Buffalo Springfield)
Definitive Version: Live Rust, 1979
When we left our intrepid explorers, they were heading to the big, well medium, city near the Great Salt Lake. But I’m going to jump ahead to after San Francisco. I have a specific reason for making this time warp, so bear with me.
Dad and I camped out for the third and final time along Highway 1 just north of San Simeon and the Hearst Castle, which we planned to visit first thing in the morning on the way to L.A. There’s nothing like being lulled to sleep by the ocean, which was maybe 100 yards away from our tent. It sure beats the winds whipping your tent in the middle of nowhere in Colorado, but I guess that goes without saying.
Anyway, close to San Simeon, Highway 1 flattens out, so we weren’t far from the beach. The next morning, it was very foggy, and we hiked the beach alone for a while. It was the first time I had been to the Pacific Ocean, and it was remarkable how different it was from the Atlantic. The sand was different, the shells—what few there were on a beach devoid of other humans, were different—even the surf was different.
And the Atlantic, at least in New Smyrna Beach, sure didn’t have any kelp, which was strewn about everywhere on this beach. I’d never seen anything like it—strings of wilted yellow spinach that felt like hard plastic.
After a while, we put on somewhat decent shirts and headed to the Hearst Castle, which was memorable for an entirely different reason. The servants’ quarters alone were bigger than most houses I’d seen. The castle was opulent to the point of ridiculousness. I mean, who builds a dining room solely to fit the dimensions of the ceiling imported from Europe? It was crazy.
After sufficient gawking, we finished the journey to L.A. to stay with Dad’s cousin Jane, who lived in Santa Monica. We didn’t stay long there: I was more interested in seeing the country, not Hollywood or any of the other tourist trappings, so Dad constructed the trip thusly.
And we were going to stay only one night anyway, because I wanted to see a ballgame in San Diego. I had my choice of Dodgers or Padres, and I chose San Diego because I liked the Padres better. They had a bunch of decent young players, and it seemed they needed more support than the Dodgers. Truth be told, I also liked the funky uniforms they wore at the time, and I had to have a Taco Bell batting helmet to add to my collection.
As it turned out, we saw the Braves for the second time on that trip. We went to a Giants game in San Francisco, and the Braves were the opponent. The Braves were in the midst of blowing a 9-game division lead almost entirely during our trip, and the Padres’ game was particularly telling of how bad it was going.
With the Braves clinging to a one-run lead in the fourth inning, the Padres put runners on second and third with one out. The No. 8 batter was up and the pitcher on deck. Braves manager Joe Torre came out and ordered the intentional walk, so he could face the pitcher. My Dad and I looked knowingly at each other.
The pitcher came up and promptly ripped a single up the middle on the first pitch. Two runs scored, the top of the order came up and soon the Braves were headed to a blowout loss.
This was laughable, because we had seen EXACTLY the same thing happen not one week earlier in San Francisco. I mean, it couldn’t have been more identical unless the teams were the same: Braves up one in the fourth, the pitcher on deck, the No. 8 batter intentionally walked, the pitcher ripping a two-run single up the middle and the Braves on their way to a blowout loss. I’m sure Torre believed that lightning couldn’t strike twice in a week, but it did.
So where does this song fit into all of this? While we stayed with cousin Jane, her sons were home for the summer from college, and one of them—Doug, I think—was a big guitar player. That night, he played this song and Comes a Time, which I had been listening to Live Rust a lot on my Walkman during the trip. His baritone was at least one octave, maybe two, lower than Neil’s, but it still sounded good.
The West trip was the last thing I did before I headed off to Wabash for the first time. So, Doug’s voice on this song is the sound of taking my first step to no longer being a child.