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  • Rich Kassirer

Lyrically Speaking: Neil Young's 'For the Turnstiles'

Neil Young
Neil Young

I’m not sure how I ended up with the album “Decade.” I think I bought it from a used record store on one of the many excursions into Cambridge as a teen. My friends and I, or even sometimes me on my own, would drive into Harvard Square and spend hours walking the streets from used record store to used record store looking for cool albums or even just checking out the album covers… something today’s teens probably don’t get to experience. That album cover, with Neil’s arms and head sticking out from his guitar case, is one of the classics.

Sure, I had heard of Neil Young, and knew all his hits: “Hurricane,” “Southern Man,” etc. And of course had followed him into Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young territory. I think “Rust Never Sleeps” had just come out, which may have propeled me into a search for older, more obscure Neil. The best thing about “Decade” is that it isn’t so much a greatest hits album as a look back at a young career, mixing the hits with cool songs that hadn’t made the radio. When I first heard “For the Turnstiles,” which was originally released on the album “On the Beach,” it wasn’t like anything I had heard before. Neil plucks out a haunting, almost sad bluegrassy melody on banjo and Ben Keith adds nifty Dobro over the pair’s harmonizing. Being a big baseball fan, the lyrics “All the bushleague batters/Are left to die on the diamond/In the stands the home crowd scatters/For the turnstiles” really threw me as I tried to figure out what was going on.

To this day, the sailors, the explorers and the ballplayers kind of haunt me. What is Neil trying to say? Here is one explanation, though I do not know its origin: The song was “inspired by the stadium tour he had just completed with Crosby, Stills & Nash. Mr. Young was clearly disturbed by the fact that big business was starting to take over rock and roll and art was suffering for commerce. The song foretells of the selling out of musicians and the forming of corporate rock.”

OK, I guess if you dig really deeply into the lyrics you can come up with that. I’d also say this is what’s missing from Neil’s music today… a little subtlety, mystery. In the past couple of years there have been some nifty covers of the song: The Be Good Tanyas do a great version on their album, “Hello Love” and Redbird recently released a slowed-down version on their album “Live at Cafe Carpe.” Check them out.

For the Turnstiles by Neil Young All the sailors with their seasick mamas Hear the sirens on the shore, Singin’ songs for pimps with tailors Who charge ten dollars at the door.

You can really learn a lot that way It will change you in the middle of the day. Though your confidence may be shattered, It doesn’t matter.

All the great explorers Are now in granite laid, Under white sheets for the great unveiling At the big parade.

You can really learn a lot that way It will change you in the middle of the day. Though your confidence may be shattered, It doesn’t matter.

All the bushleague batters Are left to die on the diamond. In the stands the home crowd scatters

For the turnstiles, For the turnstiles, For the turnstiles.

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