I love Neil Young. And I hate him. The man is responsible for some of my favorite music. Some incredible, great tunes. Several dozen of them. Down by the River, Cowgirl in the Sand, Cinnamon Girl, Razor Love, his solo acoustic versions of just about any song he has ever done. Don’t believe me? Fine. Listen to this.
Yes, I would give a thousand pelts to sleep with Pocahontas to see how she feels. But besides that, the guitar, the haunting quality of his voice, the grand story told in the lyrics, and the harmonica riffs embedded throughout the song. I can listen to this song non-stop and hear something new and meaningful in it each time. And he has a lot of songs like this.
Sadly, he also is responsible for some of the most horrible music I have ever heard. So horrible, I’ve blocked the songs from my memory and couldn’t tell you the names of those songs. Let’s just say I have bought more than a couple of Neil Young CDs, listened to them once, cursed myself and him at the noise that came out of the ol’ stereo and pretty much never listened to them again. As a result, I’m hesitant to spend money on his new music — which seems to come out really frequently. The man is nothing if not prolific.
Which leads me to Cormac McCarthy and Outer Dark. At the top of my list of favorite books is The Road, McCarthy’s apocalyptic tale of a man and a boy trying to survive the end of the world. It is so spare and despairing and stark and beautiful. Another book of his, No Country for Old Men, was well told as well. A read I enjoyed.
But, then there was All the Pretty Horses, a book I didn’t get more than ten or twelve pages into before tossing it to the side.
This past week I was in Oregon on a college trip with my younger son, who was accepted to Oregon State. I ended up in Portland for a few hours and made a point of visiting Powell’s City of Books — and a city it is. Four floors of books and shelves and books and shelves. It was a thing of beauty. I bought two books. The Fight Club and Outer Dark. Here’s what the blurb on the book said:
Outer Dark is a novel at once fabular and starkly evocative, set is an unspecified place in Appalachia, sometime around the turn of the century. A woman bears her brother’s child, a boy; he leaves the baby in the woods and tells her he died of natural causes. Discovering her brother’s lie, she sets forth alone to find her son. Both brother and sister wander separately through a countryside being scourged by three terrifying and elusive strangers, headlong toward an eerie, apocalyptic resolution.
Ooooh. It said “eerie, apocalyptic.” Call me a fool, but I bought the book based solely on that. I thought that I might have in my hands something that would bring back the pleasure of reading The Road. Well, I was wrong. And I have confirmed something in the reading of the book. There are writers who are like Neil Young and one of them is Cormac McCarthy. Equally capable of writing beautiful stories that touch and thrill me and horrible stories that leave me wondering how the same guy could have written both. Here’s what happened in my reading of Outer Dark. I read it and read it and read it and in the final pages, it became such a shambling, disjointed, horrible mess that I stopped reading about 15 or 20 pages before the end. I didn’t see the point. It had deteriorated into something that was unreadable and I didn’t give a damn how it ended.
So, there you go. Outer Dark by Cormac McCarthy. It may be a long time before I spend money on him again.