Stream: James Mercer’s Cover of “Journey to the Past” (originally by Neil Young)

Written by

From Morning Becomes Eclectic Producer Ariana Morgenstern:

180 southI have immersed myself in the work of Neil Young for years, both as a music fan and as a novice guitarist. Recently, I spent an entire weekend learning “Journey to the Past,” a song I wasn’t too familiar with until Jason Bentley played James Mercer’s cover on Morning Becomes Eclectic. Once I heard it, I was hooked!

James Mercer – Journey Through the Past

It’s an easy song with just three chords but the delivery takes time and patience as the words are rounded out and the melody slowly pulls the song along. Neil Young wrote that song and performed it on the piano on his disc “Live at Massey Hall” in 1971. As he gets ready to play, he tells the  audience that he’s about to perform a new song and that he’s just  purchased a ranch in Canada, which inspired the lyrics. He’s such a poet.

The reverent audience cheers as he delivers the line “now I’m going back to Canada on a journey to the past.” Without the applause at the beginning of the song, I’d almost forgotten it was live, they were so quiet.

When James Mercer (The Shins / Broken Bells) reinterprets it, he tailors the song for the film “180 South,” which chronicles a trek made years ago by young surfers/hikers as they head out from Ventura, aiming to wind their 1960’s Volkswagen van down the unpaved Pan American highway to set a new route to climb Argentina’s Mt. Fitzroy. Years later, they purchase and establish nature reserves in  Chile in an effort to preserve the beauty that lies there and to ensure that the land stays untouched for future generations to enjoy. (It should be noted that Zach Gill (ALO/Jack Johnson) plays a beautiful piano accompaniment on the new version.)

That’s how I feel about the work of Neil Young. He’s gifted us with so many timeless songs that will be enjoyed by many for a long, long time. Long may you wave, Mr. Young!

– Ariana Morgenstern

Editor’s Note: We just love James Mercer right now – between Broken Bells, his incredible cover of Squeeze’s “Goodbye Girl” (w/ the Shins) and this track, he’s on our airwaves almost everyday! He is also an incredibly nice guy which makes you want to support his work even more. Keep on rockin’, James!