Neil Young Lyrics Analysis

Tonight's the Night

Neil Young News

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Wed, 30 Jul 1997 19:40:05 +0100
From: Anne & Wolfgang <;
Cc: "William C. Hay" <bhay@>
Subject: Re: HH: Tonight's the Night

On 28 Jul 97 at 11:30, William C. Hay wrote:
> Listening to TTN yesterday, a question occurred to me. What exactly
> does Neil mean with the phrase "Tonight's the night."? Listening to
> the first verse leading into the refrain, it almost sounds like
> "Tonight's the night" is from Bruce Berry. Otherwise, I don't see much
> connection to the rest of the song.
> Late at night, when the people were gone, he used to pick up my
> guitar and sing a song in a shaky voice that was real as the day was
> long. Tonight's the night, ad infinitum
> Does anyone know the story behind this (the phrase, not the Bruce
> Berry story). Is this a question for our historians (Shakey, John,
> etc.) or for our lyrical analysts (Wolfgang, Anne, etc.)?

My ... it is obviously time for Wolfgang and me to start taking our
song interpration roles very MUCH more seriously. =:~@ When seeing
this posting which once again has put us two in the honorable role of
being Valued Lyrical Analysts, Wolfgang & I immediately confided.
Wherafter Mr. Deimel grabbed the very first airplane to Oslo; where I
picked him up and immediately drove him to my island house on the
Southern Norwegian Coast. Here we have been densely discussing this
subject for the past 24 hours, holding what I expect may be the world's
first TTN Conferance.

[Note from Wolfgang: Bill, I hope you will at least cover a part of my
expenses! Contact me privately and I'll give you my bank account.]

As for the story-part of these lyrics this has not been included
in our discussions (biographical info is not available at the
moment) and would be far best to leave to our expert group of NY
Uh, all I remember off hand is what lots of Rusties/HHer's would know:
according to the official 'story' a combination of 2 drug deaths of
good friends (first Danny Whitten of CH and appr a year later roadie
Chuck Berry) provoked a set of sudden and extreme reactions of
emotional chaos & distress. The Berry incident might presumably have
opened valves towards pented-up emotions after losing a friend which NY
had related even much more intensely to.

When it comes to the interp part of this line in TTN Wolfgang and I
have not entirely agreed (which we seldom do within lyrics analysis

[She's exaggerating!]

... which is also what makes it so fun discussing these kinds of
topics!!!). So we will convey our views separately.

My idea of the quote "Tonight's The Night" is seeing this as a
basic turning-point kind of event/state of mind that anyone might
experience once or several times in their life. It's a reaction of
knowing that *NOW* something has got to change, *NOW* reactions have
got to be met & confronted, pent-up emotional burdens have got to be
excorsed out in some extreme way or other. Chuck Berry's
kind of "Tonight's The Night" was O.D'ing ... Neil's "Tonight's The
Night" was confronting the whole total chaos of distress -- probably
without knowing at all if he'd get thru these emotions in a sound/sane
way or if he'd get totally swallowed up in them.

[OK, you got by now that this is the guy W.D. who's writing when it's
in brackets. I'd like to pick up the exorcism idea. Which would explain
a part of the line in question, you just wouldn't do things like that
in full sunshine, would you?
It is an attempt to get rid of a lot of negative things in a moment. A
ritual. A specific form, in this case it is actually a concert
situation. Which makes sense because BB was a roadie.
Exorcism means concentrating your full energy on this one special
moment, and trying to get into a special state of mind from where you
can exceed borders you wouldn't be able to otherwise. The modern way
to get into alternate states of mind is taking drugs, of course.
It is a dangerous enterprise, tho. You don't know what kind of person
you will be when you get out of it, *if* you get out of it alive and
sane at all. I've also got the image of a young warrior who has met a
crucial and dangerous situation in his life, and now goes out to ask
the gods about his further fate. Which includes the possibility of
sacrificing his life.
Basically it is facing all the negative things and even exaggerating
them to *force* any reaction. Diving into it completely. When a
situation is so unbearable that you can't live with it you may think
that *any* change is an improvement.
A less bloody contemporary way of achieving this is a part of Jungian
therapy (you've been waiting for this, didn't you?), and it is called
"amplification". I'm not at all familiar with Jungian *therapy*, but
here is a quote from a seminar announcement:

Amplification was one part of Jung's synthetic method for interpretation
of unconscious material. It places emphasis on the specificity of
unconscious images as having objective meaning, a non-rational meaning
which is best apprehended by looking at the same images as they appear
in myths, fairy tales, and other symbolic material. Amplification
enlarges personal associations and context by placing images into a
universal psychological fabric, widening the foundation upon which we
construct interpretations. It speaks directly to the non-rational
mythopoetic psyche and seeks to illuminate true symbols which are beyond
rational understanding.

Seen this way, going into the archetypal part of a journey to hell
enforces the encounter with your personal and individual problems.]

Um ... yes. Actually I do agree with all of this.
"Tonight's The Night" was it seems to me an expression both describing
a very crucial moment & turning point within Danny Whitten's life,
Chuck Berry's life ... and also Neil Young's life.

Neil Young obviously found his way out of this state.

Regards & Take care,
Anne & Wolfgang

For more insight into the story behind Neil Young's Tonight's the Night see the Dutch translation of the Liner Notes.

Also, see "Sleeps With Angels: The Sequel to Tonight's The Night?":

Tonight's The Night - Album Home

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