I often wondered if Neil Young took the title of this album from Nevil Shute's 1957 book, set in the aftermath of a nuclear apocalypse. This album has the same post-apocalyptic feeling as Neil and friends got high on "honey slides" and sang of lost friends, loves and an impending sense of doom, as evoked in his "Revolution Blues" which notes his brief association with Charles Manson, which he mentions in his autobiography, Waging Heavy Peace.
Neil opts for a casual tone in his book, moving back and forth in time in his first effort at penning his thoughts in prose. He notes that it was his father, a Canadian journalist for the Toronto Globe and Mail, who told him to write each day, so what you get is a journal of moments arrived at in a haphazard way befitting his nature. I've been sharing passages with my son, who has become a big Neil Young fan himself, grooving out to his hardest stuff with Crazy Horse, like Arc-Weld. I particularly enjoy the passages where Neil talks about his relationships with his two sons.
Most critics point to Tonight's the Night, which directly followed the loss of two of his closest friends, Danny Whitten and Bruce Berry, as his darkest and most inward focused album, but there is something even more haunting about On the Beach, with its wider array of acoustic instruments lurking in the background, as Neil digs into his soul to find the words to express his confusion with the times and his stormy relationship with Carrie Snodgress.
Like so many "hippies," Neil was watching that feeling that propelled the 60s fade away and a new era being born in the Age of Nixon. He was uncomfortable with his growing celebrity and the types of persons that came into his circle. You can imagine him and his closest friends around a fire on Topanga Beach playing these songs into the early morning hours.