Time Fades Away

Album: Time Fades Away (1973)
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Songfacts®:

  • "Time Fades Away" is the first track on the live album of the same name. Lyrically, it's a strange song about junkies selling diamonds, presidents looking out windows, and Young back in Canada "riding subways through a daze." It's difficult to understand the song without looking at the context in which it appeared.

    Time Fades Away was part of a series of albums that many now call Young's "Ditch Trilogy." The "Ditch Trilogy" term was taken from the liner notes for Decade, in which he wrote, "'Heart of Gold' put me in the middle of the road. Traveling there soon became a bore so I headed for the ditch." The live performances on Time Fades Away were from Young's tour supporting Harvest.

    The Ditch Trilogy includes Time Fades Away, On The Beach and Tonight's The Night - three albums made sequentially from October 15, 1973 to June 20, 1975. The albums are characterized by their raw sound and dark, brooding lyrics. This was the period when heroin was taking the lives of Young's friends, and when the formerly bright countercultural scene was slipping into darkness.
  • The tour for Time Fades Away was marked by strife. Crazy Horse guitarist Danny Whitten was supposed to play but was too far gone by that point. Young had to boot him from the project and gave him 50 bucks. Whitten died that very night, overdosed on drugs presumably purchased with the money Young gave him.

    Young's roadies were demanding more money. Dysfunction ran within the band. Young was tired and blatantly confrontational towards the audience. Basically, things were a mess, and all of this coalesced in a series of angry, out-of-tune, ragged performances.

    Nearly any artist would have buried the recordings, but Young elected to release them. He didn't hold their musical value high, but he felt it was an important marker in the story of his career and life. Here we have Young as self-mythologizer, something he's always been sneakily adept at (in the same way as Bob Dylan).

    Looking at "Time Fades Away" in its full context, we "get" the junkies and the general despair in the song. This was also all happening while the reviled Richard Nixon still sat in office, a fact likely explaining the line about presidents looking out windows and waiting until the time was right. Young openly mentions Nixon in "Ohio."

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