Neil Young Wayne Robins - Essay

Wayne Robins

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Tonight's the Night] is an album of resolute drugginess and obsession with death…. But mostly, it is about Neil Young and his nightride into devastation.

The atmosphere Young creates is that of a solitary figure riding through this album like a bad luck John Wesley Harding: a rootless, drug saturated hippie, cruising the west in search of the ultimate burnout….

This is not the work of a detached, millionaire pop star. Young has assimilated the collective unconscious of the knife wielding, gun toting, dope burning street people who populate western towns like Boulder or Santa Fe, the acid casualties of the counter-culture who'll call you brother but kill you for some spare change. Perhaps it's the life Neil's been living all along….

In On the Beach …, Neil Young came to grips with the Southern California of Charles Manson, the horror of the Dune Buggy Night. But the terror of Tonight's the Night is more immediate; the worst lies just around the corner. It's the difference between mass murder and private murder. To escape his own violent impulses, the drifter keeps moving, a compulsive seeker who finds nothing but disillusionment. (p. 64)

Tonight's the Night is so dark, so personal, so filled with needles that go bump in the night, that one can only wonder how long Neil Young could survive if he didn't have a time warp to give his natural life a little distance from the real blade that he insists on teasing against his own throat. (p. 65)

Wayne Robins, "Neil Young Out on the Mainline," in Creem (© copyright 1975 by Creem Magazine, Inc.), Vol. 7, No. 4, September, 1975, pp. 64-5.