Neil Young: “Comes a Time”

StoryWeb celebrates stories of all kinds: novels and short stories and films and memoirs, of course, but also poems and songs and visual art that tell stories.

Neil Young’s song “Comes a Time” doesn’t tell a story – not by a long shot. There is no main character, no narrator, no plot, no action.

But sometimes a work of art lives with us in such a way that it takes on the role of story. It becomes a part of our personal story. For many of us, songs play this role, becoming part of the narrative of our lives.

“Comes a Time” is such a song for me. In fact, it is the song above all others that has become part of the soundtrack to my life.

I listened to it often in college. It was on one of the cassette tapes my boyfriend kept in his silver Fiat 128.

I listened to it at my friend Genia’s apartment, as she showed me how she was trying to teach herself to play Neil Young songs on her guitar.

I listened to it one long day in Alaska, as my college boyfriend slept in the passenger seat and I drove from Fairbanks to Anchorage. Our relationship was ending, and Neil Young knew just what to say: “There comes a time.”

Fast forward a few years.

“Comes a Time” was in my tape player as I pulled away from my apartment in Madison, Wisconsin, and headed for my new home in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. I was excited for my new adventure – my first job as a college professor – but I was heartbroken to be leaving my beloved Madison. “This old world keeps spinning ‘round,” crooned Neil.

And since then I’ve listened to it countless times – often when I’m going through a big change or facing a seemingly insurmountable challenge. I listened to it as I fell in love with my husband: “You and I, we were captured. / We took our souls and we flew away.” I listened to it as I faced another big move, as I left West Virginia for my new home in Boulder, Colorado. Most recently, I listened to it late one night during a family medical crisis. “It’s a wonder tall trees ain’t laying down,” I sang along.

Of course, Neil Young has written many amazing songs in his long career, even some story songs (including “Motorcycle Mama,” a great tune included on the 1978 Comes a Time album). I could write a long list of Neil Young songs I love, but none comes close to “Comes a Time.” It feels like it is my song – it has become such a part of the fabric of my life.

The story of the Comes a Time album is legendary in the history of rock music. Unhappy with the sound of the original LP mix, Neil Young purchased 200,000 copies to take them out of circulation. One story, told by Young’s son Scott in his book, Neil and Me, holds that Neil Young shot bullet holes in every one of the 200,000 LPs, ensuring that no one would be able to play them. But in a March 2014 interview with Rolling Stone, Neil Young himself claimed that he used the 200,000 LPs as shingles for a barn roof. If you buy Comes a Time today, rest assured that you’ll get the version personally remixed by Young from the original master recording.

If you’re ready to learn more about Neil Young, visit the Neil Young article archive at Rolling Stone. There you’ll find a photographic retrospective of Young’s career. The New York Times Magazine features him in “Neil Young Comes Clean.” “Neil Young News” is an unofficial blog that lets fans track all the latest news about the musician. An excellent overview of Young’s career can be found at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame; he was inducted in 1995.

As we turn away from the difficulties of 2016 and look forward to what may be a challenging 2017, I sing along with Neil Young yet again: “Comes a light, feelin’s liftin’ / Lift that baby right up off the ground.” May we all find moments in 2017 when there’s light, when feelings are lifting.

What song is “your” song? What song has been the soundtrack to your life? What song will be your companion as you head into the new year?


Listen and Watch:Listen as Neil Young sings “Comes a Time” on the original studio recording. Then watch him perform the song at Farm Aid in 1995.