Art Encounters | Life’s a Beach / Time-Lapse

September, 1997

The Estuary, Enniscrone Beach, Co. Sligo.

‘We’ll stop and go back now.’

‘Can we just wait here for a minute; there’s no rush?’

‘Sure, of course.’


‘I don’t want to go in, Mam. I can stick it out.’

‘It’s just an assessment. Nobody’s going to make you stay there.’

‘But I’ll freak out. It’s a hospital; it’s not for me. I can stay here… In Enniscrone… near the sea.’

‘Look Dara, it’s a place to convalesce. You can come and go. Your friends and cousins can come and go.’

‘But I don’t want to come and go. I don’t want to go. I want to stay here.’

‘You can’t stay here. Be realistic. You know how things have been. This hasn’t just happened now… it’s ongoing. It was masked when you were in England, when you were doing the MA.’

‘I’m scared Mam. I don’t want to go there.’

‘That’s why you need help… that I can’t provide.’   

‘Can we stay here, at the estuary. I feel calm here… on the beach.’

‘We can stay, but the tide will be coming in soon, and I don’t want to walk along the soft sand. My ankles are sore.’

‘Can we just stay a little longer? Look, I’ll do the assessment. I’ll go. Maybe we can stay in the Curragh tomorrow night?

‘We can stay in Kildare. Give it a go. See the hospital as a sanctuary; a place to get away. To find yourself again?’

‘Ok, I’ll go.’  

March, 2017

Murroe-Limerick Road (Co. Limerick)… (morning school run).

‘Why do we have to listen to this album every morning?’

‘It’s my idea to educate you. It’s going to be Neil Young for a month. Karl calls him ‘Nial’ Young… the great Neil Young. You must have heard of him?’

‘Ok, but he sounds like Ed Sheeran, before Ed Sheeran.’

‘He doesn’t sound anything like Ed Sheeran. For God’s sake.’

‘But why can’t you play something else?’

‘It’s Neil Young and nothing else for a month. All the old albums reappeared on Spotify again last week, so it’s an education of sorts for you guys as well as me. Karl’s just started playing the guitar, and he’s a great. Remember Cortez the Killer, the song I played last week?’


‘That’s Neil Young.’

‘Oh, that guy.’

‘What do you mean, that guy. It’s one of the great guitar solos. And he wrote it when he was nineteen. I love the transition, from a story about Cortez, this Spanish guy brutalizing Mexico, to personal stuff. He personalizes history, collapses it into his own story.’

‘Can we play it again?’

‘I want to hear this album right through.’

‘What’s it called?’

On the Beach.’

‘What’s it about?’

‘It’s about being on the beach, a place for having fun but feeling the opposite. He’s despondent… appears to have everything but feels empty.’

‘Not exactly lifting the mood going to school. How did you find it?’

‘I heard it ten years ago on CD but it was released in 1974, the year after I was born. Neil Young hated CDs, and didn’t want it coming out on a CD. He hates streaming sites even more apparently. He’s a cranky fecker…’


‘Maybe. But he has very high standards. It’s even more weird that he thinks his greatest stuff is crap. He hates Time Fades Away, which is one of my personal favourites.’

‘Maybe it’s just too dreary? The streaming thing is just an excuse.’

‘I don’t think so. Anyway you shouldn’t equate dreariness with a lack of quality. He writes about that in his memoir. Two of his friends died before he made it, he was famous and divorced, and he sort of hated where he was in life.’

‘Sounds pretty shit. Where was he?’

‘Where was he literally?

‘No, like, where’s the beach?’

‘It’s doesn’t matter where it is really. He was ‘on the beach’ metaphorically. And he felt lost. He was at a crossroads.’

‘He was pissed off… big deal?’

‘I thought I told you that the album is the second in what’s called ‘the Ditch Trilogy,’ made up of Times Fades Away, On the Beach and Tonight’s the Night. I’m a member of a Ditch Trilogy appreciation page on Facebook. It’s real old man’s stuff; full of ranch cowboys. Even Granddad loved Neil Young.’

‘Ditch, as in the side of a road?’

‘Yeah, look there. Look at the little falling away of earth beside the road. It’s a country word. When you’re in the ditch, you’re in trouble. You’ve fallen off the road.’

‘Alright. But why didn’t he want it to come out again? We’re told at school that the dreary stuff is ok. Not to hold it in. We shouldn’t be ashamed of ‘being in the ditch.’’

‘It’s not so much that he felt ashamed. I think it’s to do with the effort he put into it; the imagery as well. It’s not just the music but the whole vinyl package. You can spend hours deciphering the cover. But you have to see the cover big… on an LP scale. Scroll down to the cover image on my phone. See the way the car is submerged in the sand? A Caddy – a sign of success in America. To drive a caddy… google it.’

‘I can make it out. There’s a song called ‘On the Beach’ as well.’

‘That’s coming on now. That’s the one I wanted us to hear. It’s my favourite song on the album. Every time I listen to it, it brings out something, what some call the ‘affect.’’

‘The thing you were on about in those articles?’

‘Yeah. The stuff I’m writing about for HeadStuff. Good man… you remember. When something hits us and we’re curious to know why. I can’t believe you remember.’

‘Is he depressed? That line ‘I need a crowd of people, but I can’t face them day to day.’

‘Maybe fame isn’t all that?’

‘He was pissed off he was famous?’

‘Along with other things Anton. He’s also grieving friends that died from heroin.’

‘What makes you think that?’

‘I read about it. And I connect with the line. Wanting to be with others, surrounded and safe, but then when we are we feel more alone.’

‘Seagulls out of reach? What’s that about?’

‘Slow down.’

‘Can we change it?’

‘No, I want to hear the whole thing. That line is a metaphor. No matter how much fame or fortune we have, some things are always out of reach. That’s what the trilogy is about.’

‘Ok. That’s a bit random.’

‘I don’t expect you to get it. It’s about life… getting out of the ditch.’

‘Oh right. But what’s that got to do with the beach.’

‘A lot.’

‘Look, I can see the lads. I might get out at these lights coming up. You can tell me later.’

‘Just wait until we get to the school. You’ll be with the gang all day. I want to finish the conversation.’

‘Oh… ok. You were on about writing another blog entry or something… one of those articles.’

‘Yea… each one is about a trigger. The first was about hanging pictures in the house. Now, funnily enough, this song is about them falling down. I think it’s a trigger to write about Neil Young. Just looking at the cover I think of Enniscrone, and old paintings… lots of stuff. Remind me to show you a painting called The Monk at Sea later?’

‘You’re not going to write another one about us?’

‘I don’t know… maybe. I want to write about On the Beach, and what it does. It reminds me of when I traveled to Enniscrone with Nana; twenty years ago. Maybe I’ll write one about driving to school with you when listening to the album.’

‘Oh alright, but can you just pull in? I can wait while you get a coffee.’

‘Just wait a minute. I want to play one last song. It’s the last song on a later album  called Zuma, ‘Through My Sails.’ I have a theory about Zuma.’

‘Not another theory Dad, I don’t have time.’

‘You see. I think there’s a link between Zuma and On the Beach that people haven’t spotted.’

‘Or you haven’t spotted? Dad, I’m in a hurry. I have to get to my locker at 8.40.’

‘It’s only two minutes. Listen to the words ‘confusion, disillusion,’ and see how calm he seems now? Now listen to the drawn out punch of the line after, ‘new things I’m knowin’.’

‘What? I don’t get it.’

‘It’s the contrast with ‘On the Beach.’

‘What’s the big deal? Things change. Look I have to go.’

‘That’s the big deal. No more despair. When he’s on the beach, metaphorically, he can’t find solutions. But now he sets sails in his head. That’s the solution.’

‘Dad, I have to go.’

‘But you do see the link?’

‘What link. I have to go?

‘My theory. The link between ‘On the Beach’ and ‘Through My Sails’?’

‘Not, really.

‘Ok, well I’ll see you at three.’

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Coda: the last song….

‘Through My Sails’ is the last song on Neil Young’s Zuma, coming after one of his most famous songs: ‘Cortez the Killer.’ Young had spent the previous two years in something of a crisis, mourning the death of his immensely talented friend and Crazy Horse stalwart, Danny Whitten, and feeling immeasurable guilt on his passing. As he would declare in a later interview, he spent a number of years in the ditch, recording three albums in the process. The Ditch Trilogy, Time Fades Away (1973), On the Beach (1974) and Tonight’s the Night (1975), is generally discussed in relation to each album’s release over a three-year timeline. Yet, although Tonight’s the Night came out after On the Beach, the recording sessions for the album took place before On the Beach. There is, therefore, an anomaly in the timeline that has been accredited to the trilogy, and a case that Zuma, as opposed to Tonight’s The Night, is the real successor – in theme and mood – to On the Beach. Whitten’s death was just one of the crises that defined the mood of On the Beach, but the album captures a real sense of Young’s existential despair when in the ditch (expressed in the cover image’s subtle reference to Friederich’s masterpiece of preeminent existential despair, The Monk At Sea (1809)). A halting of this despair, as opposed to its prolonged continuation in Tonight’s the Night, as is generally understood, is expressed in the last song of Zuma: ‘Through My Sails.’ Young returns to the beach, now more specifically a shore, as a launching pad to set sail out to sea. The sea is now a metaphor for the possible: an art of the possible from which the beach becomes a shore.

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