Motion Pictures

Album: On The Beach (1974)

Songfacts®:

  • "Motion Pictures," the second-to-last song on On The Beach, is about Neil Young's relationship with actress Carrie Snodgress. Other Young songs like "A Man Needs A Maid" have contained references to Snodgress, but in "Motion Pictures" the romantic entanglement takes center stage.

    Snodgress was in a number of Broadway shows and films, including Easy Rider, Pale Rider, and Diary of a Mad Housewife. She was also the top pick to play Adrian in Rocky, but she turned down the role.

    Young and Snodgress' relationship is generally described as an unhealthy, even destructive one, largely fueled by drugs and alcohol. The two were together from 1970 to 1975 and had a son named Zeke. Snodgress left acting for a while to care for Zeke, who had cerebral palsy.

    After many rocky moments in their relationship, Young finally left for good when he found out Snodgress was screwing around on him. In Jimmy McDonough's Shakey, he takes a mature, reflective look at this event, admitting that his rage and grief was somewhat absurd considering he himself was screwing around quite a bit.

    Still, absurd or not, the discovery was devastating for Young, and the two split.

    What's interesting about "Motion Pictures" is that it was written before Young uncovered the affairs, but in hindsight Young feels the song is marked by his subconscious knowing that something was going on. In the book Shakey, Young states that the song was written "before I knew - when I could sense."
  • In usual Young fashion, "Motion Pictures" expands beyond the romantic relationship and examine Young's seemingly perpetual disillusionment with fame and success. This sense of disenfranchisement runs throughout Young's career but really takes center stage in On The Beach. "Well all those headlines, they just bore me now," he sings.

    Snodgress and the simplicity of home life seem to be the answer Young finds here, which is interesting because the song was recorded shortly before their breakup.

    Knowing this makes it even sadder when Young sings:

    And I'll stand before you
    And I'll bring a smile to your eyes
  • Johnny Rogan in The Complete Guide to the Music of Neil Young takes a different look at "Motion Pictures." He considers it an optimistic song.

    "Although the sentiments are ultimately celebratory," Rogan writes, "the self-analytical questioning and drug-induced lethargy give the song a melancholic air. As Young reminded us, he often sings at his saddest when singing his happiest songs."
  • Rusty Kershaw of the bluegrass duo Rusty & Doug played the slide guitar on this track.

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