Letter to the Vatican

by
Steve Rostkoski

An Online Collection of Writings & Musings

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NEIL
YOUNG
BARSTOOL BLUES
CHICAGO 1976
AMSTERDAM 1989
 RUST NEVER SLEEPS
THE COMPLEX SESSIONS
SEATTLE 1999
GREENDALE
LIVE ON SUGAR MOUNTAIN
Life-long music fan STEVE ROSTKOSKI studied recording engineering and library technology, and has worked as a library technician, archival cataloger,  freelance journalist and publisher. His essays and reviews have appeared in Crawdaddy!, No Depression ,  The Rocket and other periodicals. Letter to the Vatican  began in 1991 as a self-published zine created for the writers' group APA Centauri. This online edition archives both past and present work.
This site would not exist without Paul Williams.  He started  the first rock music magazine, Crawdaddy!, in 1966, which I discovered in its  later 1990s  incarnation. I found Crawdaddy! so inspirational, I wrote Paul and sent him my zine about the book Glimpses.  He liked my essay so much that he invited me to be the first outside writer published in the new edition of his magazine.  I was honored. Paul's encouragement and support of my writing literally changed my life and I am forever grateful.  Thank you, Paul!

In 1995, Paul Williams suffered a traumatic brain injury in a bicycle accident, leading to early onset of dementia, and a steady decline to the point where he now requires full-time care. His friends and family have set up a website for donations to assist with Paul's care and medical expenses.  The site also provides examples of his work and information about his many accomplishments.

http://paulwilliams.com/index.html

Also read Cindy Lee Berryhill's blog:

http://cindyleeberryhill.blogspot.com/

MR. CELL PHONE

Maybe I'm getting cranky in my old age but concerts seem to be more of a trial every time I go to one these days.  It's not because of the quality of on-stage performances.  No, it's the quality of the audiences that gets to me.  At the March 6 Neil Young show at Seattle's Paramount Theater, along with the usual yelled song requests, shouts of "CRAZY HORSE!!" (the name of Young's band) and "PLUG IT IN, NEIL!!!" echoed around the theater all evening.  Rather inappropriate for a concert billed as "A Solo Acoustic Evening with Neil Young."  Perhaps these loud audience members can't read what's printed on their tickets.  On the plus side, Neil's response to one of these loudmouths provided a concert highlight when he told one "PLUG IT IN" demander, "Go plug yourself" or something to that effect.

Worse yet were two characters sitting near me.  Two rows down from me, a fellow wore a hat throughout the whole show, effectively blocking my view of the stage.  Just as I was about to ask him to remove the offending headgear, I noticed two tiny microphones stuck in the hatband on each side.  He was illicitly recording the show, of course.  I then resigned myself that this was my punishment for my years of collecting such tapes, scrunched my coat underneath me and managed to peer over and around the guy in order to catch a glimpse of Neil.   But the man next to me was really unbelievable.  He spent two-thirds of the show on his cell phone giving his buddy a blow-by-blow account of the event.  ("Neil's telling a story about his dog now..."  "Yeah, he's doing some new songs...")  I guess this guy could afford the $80 ticket price to sit and talk on the phone all night.  I'll take Neil Young without the running commentary, thank you very much.  He does a fine job of communicating from the stage all by himself.

Yes, Mr. Young was in good form. Using an arsenal of a half dozen acoustic guitars, plus his "Guitjo" (a six-string banjo), and various keyboard instruments, he presented two 50-minute sets of favorites with a few rarities and brand new songs thrown in.  I especially liked "Albuquerque" and "World On a String," two dark, brooding songs from Tonight's the Night, one of my favorite albums.  "War of Man" featured some great ominous guitar picking, while Neil went to the piano for the beautiful new ballad "Out of Control" and the mournful "Philadelphia." Occasionally, I found the proceedings a little too familiar sounding.  Many of the songs from the Harvest Moon album are now Young concert standards and I'm getting a bit weary of them.  Some of the new tunes also sounded too similar to the Harvest Moon material, only adding to the feeling of sameness.  A little more variety and a few more surprises would have been nice.  Still, as Neil played "After the Goldrush" on his old pump organ, I couldn't deny I was glad to be in the same room with him.

If I get to see Neil Young the next time he comes around (by my estimation, tickets should be going for around $200 by then) and Mr. Cell Phone sits by me again, I'm going to wrest the implement out of his hand and stomp on it.  And if I encounter the Stealth Taper with his chapeau, at the very least I'm going to ask for a copy of his tape.

JUNE 1999

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LEAVING THERE TOO SOON…

The first volume of Neil Young’s long-awaited Archives project was scheduled for release late last year.  Young has talked about Archives for more than twenty years and announced its release then pulled it back at the last minute several times over the past few decades.  The career-spanning series of box sets will contain virtually all of Young’s released and unreleased recordings, with the first set covering his 1960s and early 1970s output.  In other words, a treasure trove for fans.  The end of 2008 came and went.  Still no Archives.


In its place a one-disc glimpse at Neil’s distant past appeared instead.  Sugar Mountain: Live at Canterbury House 1968 captures one of the singer-songwriter’s very first solo concerts, just after he left the group Buffalo Springfield and prior to the release of his first album.  Apparently, the Canterbury House in Ann Arbor, Michigan, recorded many of the shows held there and often gave copies of the tapes to the performers.  For a tape of such vintage, the recording is pristine with only minimal audible tape hiss.  More importantly, it presents a side of Young rarely heard on any of his later recordings.  In between stellar acoustic renditions of Buffalo Springfield material such as “Mr. Soul” and “Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing” and “The Loner” and “The Old Laughing Lady” from his debut album, he chats with the audience at length.  Perhaps a slight case of nerves prompts Young to spin tales of the old cars he’s bought, his songwriting and his hilarious short-lived bookstore job, among other subjects.  Even long-time fans will be surprised at how verbose he is, making the recording all the more charming and fascinating. 

It’s fitting that the album is titled after the previously released “Sugar Mountain,” a song about leaving childhood behind.  Only a few short years after this intimate show, Young would join the supergroup Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, as well as continue one of the most successful and unpredictable solo careers in music history.  He would never sound quite so innocent again as he does here on Sugar Mountain.

Oh yes.  The Archives is now slated for release on June 2.  Sugar Mountain apparently is NOT going to be included in the first volume, probably because it’s similar to another concert from the same era that’s in the set.  We’ll see.  Or maybe we won’t.  You never know with Neil.

MARCH 2009

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