Some of you may recall that I took considerable heat right about this time last year for stating over the public airwaves of NPR that I'd abandoned giving music as a gift. The Streaming Age, I argued, had made obsolete the physical gifting of music. And I'm still aggrieved that my dream of giving my son every classic Rolling Stones album upon his becoming a Bar Mitzvah will go unrealized.
But there's at least one album out there that can't be streamed on Spotify and yet must be heard by every classic rock fan. It's Neil Young and Crazy Horse’s 1970 performance from the Fillmore East. The CD, creatively titled Live at the Fillmore East, was officially released in 2006. Somehow it escaped my ears these past nine years. And somehow I've survived without it. No longer. It's a revelation. The 12-plus-minute version of “Down by the River” is what drew me in. I stood staring up at the ceiling speaker for all twelve minutes, incredulous, my neck hurting, my mouth agape. I had to be physically snapped-out of the trance it put me under. But it's the 16-plus-minute version of “Cowgirl in the Sand” that has changed my life. I’m not sure I can play anything else at the gym ever again. You can climb a lot of stairs in 16 minutes with that blazing guitar work firing your quads.
I've always been a Neil Young fan, but this record, which also includes excellent versions of “Everybody Knows This is Nowhere” and “Wonderin’,” gave me an entirely new appreciation of his artistry and place in the rock canon. In fact, I'm in the midst of putting together a “Classic R ‘n’ R Primer” playlist for my son (I guess I'm still gifting music in a way), and before discovering “Live at the Fillmore East,” the playlist was devoid of Neil Young. Not any more.
So this is my long-winded way of suggesting that if you have any classic rock fans on your holiday list, you might want to consider giving the gift of music after all. Thanks to Neil Young’s boycott of streaming services (due, Neil says, to their poor sound quality: “AM radio kicked streaming’s ass. Analog Cassettes and 8 tracks also kicked streaming’s ass”), his music can only be accessed via a financial transaction. Because fans have to pay money to hear Live at the Fillmore East, and because it's a precious time capsule of a brilliant musical era, it makes the perfect holiday gift.