Zarathustra vs Neil Young & Crazy Horse

Thus Spoke Zarathustra – First Part – Chapter 21: ‘On Free Death’
vs “My My, Hey Hey (Out Of The Blue) / Hey Hey, My My (Into The Black)”, Neil Young & Crazy Horse (Rust Never Sleeps, 1979)

If Chapter 20 of Thus Spoke Zarathustra was an exploration of the conditions for birth, then Chapter 21 is reciprocal in that it takes a similar approach to the conditions for Death. And here is Zarathustra’s advice (which he admits ‘sounds strange’): ‘Die at the right time!’ Some die too soon! We know that. But this is not all. Some live too long!

Neil Young – in the opening and closing cuts of his 1979 album Rust Never Sleeps – explores, in his own way, such a polarity. My My, Hey Hey (Out Of The Blue) and Hey Hey, My My (Into The Black) are the same song in two versions. My My is a beautiful, melancholy acoustic track accompanied on the mouth organ; while Hey Hey is a full band electric beast, a joyous bone-crunching epic of distorted guitars.

It may appear that both songs tell the same story: ‘It's better to burn out / Than to fade away’ and ‘It's better to burn out / 'cause rust never sleeps’. However, such a reading is nominal, and immediately superseded once we move beyond a consideration of the lyrics to the way in which each track is presented. ‘There's more to the picture / Than meets the eye.’ It’s all in the performance. Folk > Punk. The melancholy acoustic track is an elegy to a young life that was vital, revealed in the reality of an early death. The electric track is a Dionysian celebration of a life lived well, and a death welcomed with open arms before degradation and disintegration. ‘Once you're gone / you can never come back’ and ‘The king is gone / but he's not forgotten’. Death is death but you can die a good death: don’t go too soon, but don’t leave it too late.

Zarathustra considers a series of theoretical and hypothetical exemplars of dying too soon and living too long – after all, ending your own life may be seen as religious heresy; but it is not. Your death can be yours to command. And if death appears to be stalking you – don’t go out without fighting, even if that fight is with yourself.

To conclude, the teacher gives us two specific, controversial and very funny examples. For dying too soon there is Jesus Christ. Imagine how he may have mellowed out and not taken things so seriously if he’d hung around a little longer and not – as the story goes – jumped up there on that cross! And of living too long – hilariously – there appears Zarathustra himself! Make of that what you will.

First Part: Chapter 22.1 - Underworld

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