As the notoriously chaotic, honey slip-powered On the Beach sessions that preceded it, the tale of Homegrown’s genesis, as the chronicle by McDonough, is a kind of history of rock’n’roll excess. After having discovered that his wife had fled to Hawaii, over a period of five days of travel by boat with a man in the book “Captain Crunch,” a heart-broken Youth on a mammoth 24-city tour with Crosby, Stills and Nash, who had not released a new studio album together in four years. Nicknamed “the Doom Tour” by David Crosby, it has come to be the most successful tour in history to this day, with a procession of delights, which included hotel pillowcases, and plates stamped with the band’s tour logo, limousines, hired and never used, and a giant of the feast of the display panel to a final stop in Long Island. (The group later said that the tour was not particularly lucrative, because of the expenses.)
As the relationships within the group grew tense, She writes, Young people have chosen to travel to a stopping point on its own, in a GMC motorhome it has called the Mobile-Obil, often with his son Zeke, and their dog-of-the-Art in tow. If the vehicle is fell down in the middle of the tour, the decision feels like the perfect point of entry for the songs of the Young would be to write during this period, on and off the road, even as he was playing blown-out, not particularly inspired renditions of CSNY hits on stage: sober, simple, basic, and full of conflicting emotions that come from finding oneself suddenly torn out of a serious partnership. “I will not apologize/The line radiates in your eyes/It is not gone, he will return soon,” he announces on the beautiful, loping “Separate Ways,” the opening of the album on what feels like a note of acceptance: He and his ex-partner still have the “little boy”; they will simply be more and more outside. By the next song, “Try”, he pleads for a second chance: “Darlin’, the door is open/my heart, and I’ve been hoping/That you will not be alone/To the control with the key.”
If he has recorded Homegrown with a revolving cast of players that included some of the biggest stars of the era (an ethereal EmmyLou Harris appears on two tracks, and the Band Levon Helm and Robbie Robertson smart on drums and guitar, respectively), are absent from the orchestra swells and jammy dirges that fact On the Beach feel like a giddy foray into the nether regions of a top. And if a few tracks recall the angle, nail-biting strain of amplified rock he had hit on Tonight is the Night—in particular, “Vacancy”, a crescendo of anger that described the look in his soon-to-be ex-partner in the eyes, and a song called “We Don’t Smoke No More”—the dominant mode here is restraint, and resolutely “endogenous” – sounding palette of instrumentation-acoustic and slide guitar. It allows Young people to idiosyncratically straightforward approach to the songwriting to take centre stage.
“I came to you when I need a rest/You took my love and put it to the test,” he sings over a simple plucked guitar solo on “White Line”, which has the album’s most painfully delicate melody. If the song’s chorus,“That old white line is a friend to me”—an allusion to the road it describes, or a euphemism for drugs, ambiguity, combined with the bare-bones treatment, only reinforces the feeling that we are getting a glimpse of Young at his most naked and ruthless.
In some respects, Homegrown is difficult to count with the cohesion of art. Although seven of its 12 tracks—among them, “Separate Ways,” “Try,” and a sweet ballad called “Kansas”—have never been published in any official form, he is taken near each of them on stage at various points over the course of several decades. Some, such as “Love Is a Rose” and the dreaming child “Little Wing”—have even appeared on other albums over the years, as have alternate recordings of “White Line”, “Star of Bethlehem” and the title song. There are also some deeply weird moments, like the two-minute spoken-word number “Florida”, where, on the sound of a finger rubbing the ring of a glass, it tells a surreal story of the life of a baby in the street after his parents perish in a hang glider accent.
But most importantly, the Youth that we have here looks like the Young we already know: the one that we first encountered on his roots-yet-metaphysical 1972 breakout album, The harvest, and then again later Comes a Time, in 1978. It is the Young person who feels most at home expressing himself with a simple piano or guitar chords, some lonesome harmonica notes, and the ragged ridges of her nasal, warbling voice—taking what can be read as the surface-level observations on the paper, or even straight-up shots, and making them feel like the illuminations of a distant and elusive truth.
It is a reminder of the qualities that make him an excellent songwriter, and also, in some respects, an icon of the 1970s, post-hippie masculinity: A laconic young anti-hero who is content to present us with brief flashes of his interiority as a stand-in for all of them, but who likes to remind us that he is most comfortable on the road. Perhaps it is the weakness of the nature of these poignant confessionals, which rarely clock in over three minutes, but when all is said and done, you want more.
Buy: Rough Trade
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