5.16-BROKEN ARROW (Buffalo Springfield)

Stephen Stills & Neil Young
Stephen Stills & Neil Young


[Intro: Mr. Soul live]

The lights turned on and the curtain fell down.

And when it was over it felt like a dream.
They stood at the stage door and begged for a scream.
The agents had paid for the black limousine
That waited outside in the rain.

        Did you see them? (2x)

        Did you see them in the river?
        They were there to wave to you.
        Could you tell that the empty quivered

        Brown skinned Indian on the banks
        That were crowded and narrow,
        Held a broken arrow?

[Break: Take Me Out to the Ballgame]

Eighteen years of American dream.

He saw that his brother had sworn on the wall.
He hung up his eyelids and ran down the hall.
His mother had told him a trip was a fall.
And don't mention babies at all!

        [Chorus: using "he / him” instead of “they / them”]

[Break: Military pomp drumming]

The streets were lined for the wedding parade.

The Queen wore the white of the county of song.
The black covered caisson her horses had drawn
Protected her King from the sun rays of dawn.
They married for peace and were gone.


[Coda: Jazz combo & heartbeat]

Broken Arrow falls short of its ambitions for forming a coherent collage. But this song participated in the early construction of songs by pastiche from various "samples". In this, Broken Arrow develops a path started in the Mother's song Brown Shoes Don't Make It. Neil Young's composition however lacks Zappa's humor; it easy to imagine how Zappa would have rewritten And don't mention babies at all! in the second verse for maximum discomfort and laughs. Young is trying to harness pastiche not for its shock value but in order to call attention to a modern American life lived on top of, and at the expense of, the Native Indian ancestors of this land. However, it doesn't quite come together.

I admire Young’s lyrical structure, with its “headline” for each verse and its chorus composed with the melding of two melodies. The surrealism of the overlapping realities when contrasted to the complex but repeated chorus, makes the image of an Indian linger as if a ghost over the landscape. But the verses, the different realities, don't have much in common, nor do the intervening sound effects. The perspective starts out as Neil Young's own, with a snippet of his song Mr. Soul in live performance. The limousine in the first verse echoes a scene from an earlier Neil Young song, Out of My Mind. But the teenager of the second verse--is Take Me Out to the Ball Game evocative enough of an American youth? And is the military drumming that introduces the third verse, with its funereal tone, appropriate for a story about a wedding? I've come to think of John Lennon & Yoko Ono upon the line They married for peace. Of course this couldn't have been what Young had in mind, as the Lennon-Ono marriage was more than a year away from this recording, but how exactly does this marriage pertain to the Native Americans? The Indian makes They married for peace sound ironic; the marriage seems possible on this land only through the blood of its native peoples.

Broken Arrow sounds like Nitzsche trying to show what he can do in the studio by adding his technique to the psychedelic aesthetic. The sound entries don't seem well considered. The only point where Nitzsche adds just the right touch is with the smooth jazz combo toward the end. There is an amplified heartbeat at the closing, signifying what (if anything)? Because the heartbeat fades out rather than stops, it seems to affirm life, maybe the diversity of life, and how it continues to thrive over the bones of America’s ancestors.