Walt, Jesse and Neil in the desert



Walt and Jesse are messing with my head in ways they can’t possibly imagine. But I’ll try to explain anyway.

I wrote a long time ago about how Neil Young and Crazy Horse, especially the long, dusty jams on Year of the Horse, reminded me of the southwest, how the music that just rolled and carried on through thick and thin reminded me of the desert landscape of dunes and mountains and red rocks set under the sun. Sparse, and somehow completely whole and untouched. Young’s guitar jams never seem to end, and they’re abrasive, and in their own way, beautiful. The way the sun touches down on the hills driving from New Mexico to Arizona and back conjures up a lot of the same emotions.

That sense of familiarity comes into play whenever I watch Breaking Bad, too. I lived for almost three years in the Phoenix, Ariz., area, and in that spent some time in New Mexico in Albuquerque and Santa Fe. I won’t claim to be an expert on the area, but I’m certainly aware of some of the tics that the folks out there share, what the food is like, how the roads are laid out, that kind of thing. It’s not much of a leap to lump New Mexico and Arizona together, and except for the latter state’s insane politics, they certainly share a lot of the same culture and landscape.

I have some history with that region that I’m less than fond of, though. I still have friends in the area and a few scattered good memories, but I have some horrific ones and more than enough scenes that left me with a bitter taste in my mouth. Having been back in New England for as long as I have, it’s sometimes easy to forget I lived through that time period. But it happened. I have the scars to prove it. I have the residual shame and guilt and anger, too.

This proves problematic whenever I listen to Crazy Horse now, though. Certain guitar passages will trigger memories of riding down I-40 and seeing the red mountains that line the interstate, or that particular dusty feeling that’s always in the air, a combination of parch and drought and dirt that makes up a good chunk of the undeveloped land in that stretch. Those memories come back for a second during “Danger Bird” or “Cortez the Killer,” and then they fade away, if I’m lucky.

But I still see that scenery during every episode of Breaking Bad, and when an episode like tonight’s spends as much time as it does in the desert, I feel and extra uncomfortable twinge in my gut.

Without giving anything away beyond the hair-raising cliffhanger Vince Gilligan slammed against the viewing audience, I was a little rattled when it was all over. So I went to the kitchen and made myself a gin & tonic with this new “with lime!” tonic water that I found at the store that, probably, I won’t buy again. And I sat there. And I watched football. And I sat there.

Then I went back to my desk, and I queued up “Slip Away” from Year of the Horse and I started to finally mellow out a bit. And from there, I called up an empty document, and I started getting all my thoughts down on this, with Walt and Jesse still in my head and Neil Young doing his best to bring some calm to the chaos, with the barely controlled cacophony of his band crowding my brain and helping the gin along as best it could.

Sept. 8, 2013

Email Nick Tavares at nick@staticandfeedback.com