Cinnamon Girl / Everybody Knows This is Nowhere / Round and Round (It Won't Be Long) / Down By the River / The Losing End (When You're On) / Running Dry (Requiem for the Rockets) / Cowgirl in the Sand
by Lise R. Zawlocki
The year is 1969. The year of Woodstock, and of Neil Young's classic second album, "Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere." The album marked Neil's first of many collaborations with a group that calls itself Crazy Horse, and that featured a guitar player named Danny Whitten. Whitten's drug-overdose death would later inspire Young's "The Needle and the Damage Done," featured on the 1972 release Harvest. The next Crazy Horse project wouldn't be until 1975's Zuma, with Frank San Pedro replacing Whitten on guitar. Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere has a stripped production sound; its beauty lies in the guitar solos in "Down By The River," or in the childlike vocals in the title track. The album's lyrics are simple and soulful, yet not fully understood, even after listening to this album for over twenty years. But Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere has clearly withstood the test of time, and has produced some favorites that often get played live when one sees Neil Young perform. The first selection on the album is one such standard at many of Young's shows - "Cinnamon Girl." But what does this song speak of? On this, and many of the songs on this album, the lyrics are almost an afterthought. It is the music - the lead guitar, the rhythm guitar, the drums, that make the song a classic performance piece. In the second track Neil complains that he wants to go home, but does he really? Is it complacency that keeps him from going home or is he telling us sarcastically that "Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere"?:
"Everybody seems to wonder / What it's like down here / I gotta get away / From this day-to-day runnin' around / Everybody knows this is nowhere / (la la la, la la la la)"
That sweet, boyish harmony on the "la la la"'s send me reeling and wondering what he's really trying to tell me. The third track is "Round and Round (It Won't Be Long)," with a slow, lulling pace and more angelic harmony vocals. Like the spider who comes out every evening to patiently repair its web, this song evokes a feeling of time drifting by, of death approaching. The lyrics are uncomplicated and intoxicating:
"It won't be long.../ How slow and slow and slow it goes / To mend the tear that always shows / It won't be long / It won't be long..."
Then, just as you are ready to drift off to never-never land, the last and longest song of side one hits you right between the ears. "Down By The River," another brilliant vehicle for Neil's awesome guitar playing abilities, explodes with unadulterated energy. A long, raw guitar solo is restrained only by the steady backdrop of the rhythm guitar and bass line. The drums beat a machine gun staccato in between each phrase of the chorus:
"Down by the river / I shot my baby / Down by the river/ Dead (shot her dead)..."
"The Losing End (When You're On)" is one of Young's most obvious early forays into country music, with a simple tune and earthy charm. He writes about abandonment and self pity:
"It's so hard to make love pay / When you're on the losing end / And I feel that way again... / It's so hard for me now / But I'll make it somehow / Though I know I'll never be the same / Won't you ever change your ways?"
It's easy to dismiss this little ditty, but it wears on you just the same, like a shabby old coat that you just can't toss. Throughout Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, Neil Young is feeling sorry for himself, confessing some dark crime, or simply a secret wish he harbors in his heart. By the time we get to "Running Dry (Requiem For The Rockets)," it's not difficult to notice that his apologies sound more like unrepentant, even proud, declarations. The chorus is one massive rationalization:
"I'm sorry for the things I've done / I've shamed myself with lies / But soon these things are overcome / And can't be recognized."
Yet the lilting, plaintive melody and woeful violin solo reflect the artist's inner torture at having deserted his lover:
"Oh please help me, oh please help me / I need someone to comfort me / My cruelty has punctured me / And now I'm running dry"
The truly fitting finale of this album is its longest song as well, "Cowgirl In the Sand," a beautiful, lyrical, rocking and raw piece with long, unrestrained guitar solos and soulful musicianship throughout. The song may have additional significance for its mention of Neil's favorite state of deterioration: RUST! Careful listening will reveal this lyric:
"Hello Ruby in the dust / Has your band begun to... "
You know the rest. Blow the cobwebs off *your* copy and give it a listen. It's a great album, and after a quarter of a century, still holds up for its powerful music, evocative lyrics, and historic significance as the first Neil Young / Crazy Horse collaboration.