Performer: Neil Young
Songwriter: Neil Young
Original Release: Zuma
Definitive Version: Allstate Arena, 12-08-08, 2008.
When Eddie Vedder inducted Neil into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995, he told a story about Neil and his sound guy trying to organize a massive collection of tapes in anticipation of creating a long-delayed box set. Finally, Vedder said, the sound guy organized them by song, so he had the best 54 versions of Tonight’s the Night and the best 46 versions of Cortez the Killer.
I’ve heard only a few versions of Cortez, so I understand the naivety behind the following statement, but I honestly believe that the version Neil unleashed Dec. 8, 2008, in the Barn Formerly Known as the Rosemont Horizon was the greatest version of this epic song that he ever played. Taste is subjective, of course, but I can’t imagine a better version.
As I mentioned (good ol’ No. 400), Cortez the Killer was 15 minutes long that night. It started out like most versions, fairly straight-forward if a bit slower than usual. Then Neil launched into the solo after the second verse: Oh … my … God …
It was the greatest guitar solo I’ve heard live. It had elements of jazz and blues in it, but it was all Neil. It was epic and sorrowful, like the tale of Cortez coming over and wiping out the Aztecs. When he came out of it after three minutes plus with the repeated lyrics, “Dancing across the water,” the place just blew up. By this time, the band behind Neil was blasting through the song … as much as you could blaze through a dirge.
Then … after the first singing of “What a killer!” Neil stepped out a few paces and ripped out a final solo that started with his signature machine-gun staccato. I was jumping up and down—fortunately, Laurie and I had a whole row to ourselves, so I wasn’t bothering anyone. Neil finally wound up the song with a drawn-out feedback-laden conclusion.
As I mentioned a year ago, the barn was more than half-empty due to bad weather and the Greendale debacle, but everyone who didn’t show up that night missed something. Hearing Neil do Cortez the Killer that night was one of my absolute musical highlights.
Thanks to the YouTube, soon after, I found that someone had the videocam going during Cortez, and I made a recording for my iTunes. The sound quality is pretty good even though the guy was fairly far from the stage. Unfortunately, it ends at the 10-minute mark just before Neil gunned down the audience, so I had to get a little creative with my editing to build a more or less complete version. It’s a bit bastardized, I admit, but it serves its purpose, and I listened to it nonstop through 2009.
After the tumult of 2008, when Laurie finally recovered fully in February (she’s been fine ever since, by the way), I was looking forward to a year off from medical issues. I should have known that such a respite would be too good to be true.
As I mentioned not as long ago (good ol’ No. 187), Laurie ended up in the hospital again in August 2009 for a far less spooky but potentially far more dangerous issue—blood clots in her lungs. After she left the hospital three days later, she had to get on a blood-thinning medication, which concerned her for a couple reasons.
One concern was that blood-thinning medications can be dangerous. Dad had been on Coumadin for some time awhile before, so I told Laurie to call him and talk to him about it.
Would he mind, she asked a bit apprehensively. Nah. You’re more or less part of the family. Just to make sure, I checked ahead with Dad, and, as expected, he said to have Laurie call him right up. Laurie did and had a lot of her apprehensions eased. That was fortunate, because Laurie was prescribed Coumadin, just like Dad.
Unfortunately, no phone call could assuage her larger and more immediate concern. Before she could go on Coumadin, Laurie had to take a so-called ramp-up medication. Unlike Coumadin, however, this drug didn’t come in a pill. It came in a shot.
Laurie can’t stand needles as is. Before we went to Mexico, we both got hepatitis A shots, and I had to be in the same room with Laurie to hold her hand to help her get through it. But these shots had to be administered daily, which meant a nurse wouldn’t be giving it.
In the hospital, the nurse showed Laurie how to do it herself and—to her immense credit—she gave herself the shot one day as a test run. It freaked her out, as I imagine it would anyone who isn’t used to giving him or herself a shot. So I volunteered to play nurse.
I had a bit of experience in this regard. When I lived at Torch Lake in Fall 2004, I had to administer a shot to Maile every day. I can’t remember her ailment, but I had to do the whole deal—draw the medicine out of a bottle into the syringe, push some out to make sure no air bubbles remained and give the shot before disposing of the needle.
Actually, it was pretty easy. More than anything in the world, Maile loved to eat. Dad and Laura told me ahead of time that all I had to do was tell Maile she would get a treat, and she’d pretty much let me do whatever I wanted.
I didn’t believe she’d just sit there and let me shoot her up—I just had to get it in her lower flank, not in any particular location—but that’s exactly what happened. Maile! Wanna treat?! Maile would come right over, sit on the kitchen floor as I’d give her her shot—never barely moving let alone yelping in pain—before I’d give her some cheese.
Well, cheese wasn’t going to work with Laurie. Although I didn’t have to target a particular location, like with Maile, the area I had to administer the shot was her stomach. Yikes!
Each dose was in a single-use syringe. I just had to push a little medicine out, give Laurie a quick stab, push out the medicine and—boom—we’re done.
The first one was the hardest, almost to the point where I couldn’t do it at all. I mean, it’s one thing to administer a shot to a dog, no matter how much you might love it, but to your significant other? I had visions of John Travolta and Uma Thurman dancing in my head.
But it had to be done, and after the previous year when Laurie was at Evanston Northwestern, a shot would be a cakewalk. OK, shut your eyes—Laurie, I mean, not me. 1 … 2 … 2 and a half … 2 and three-quarters … 3!
Laurie said it stung only for a second and was over. She said I did a good job, although I felt like a basket case. Great, now I just have to do it every day for the next two weeks.
So I did, every night before bed. It got easier from a logistical standpoint, almost to the point where the procedure itself was routine, but the act itself never got easier even though I knew it was crucial. Man, was I glad when those two weeks were over.