Cortez The Killer - Neil Young & Crazy Horse

30 Nov
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The song is about Hernán Cortés (Cortés' name has an alternate Anglicized spelling in the song title), a conquistador who conquered Mexico for Spain in the 16th century. "Cortez the Killer" also makes reference to the Aztec ruler Moctezuma II and other events that occurred in the Spanish conquest of the New World. Instead of describing Cortés' battles with the Aztecs, the lyric in the last verse suddenly jumps from third person narrative to first person, and possibly over a time span of centuries as well, with a reference to an unnamed woman: "And I know she's living there / And she loves me to this day. / I still can't remember when / or how I lost my way." The lyric suggests a lost love affair and brings a personal aspect to what was otherwise an historical narrative, suggesting a connection between broken relationships and the imperial invasion by someone else. Young had recently gone through his breakup with Carrie Snodgress around this time. This line may also simply refer to Cortés' Mexican advisor/lover La Malinche (Doña Marina), who proved to be a valuable source of local knowledge for the Spaniards, and cast in the voice of Cortés. Another possible interpretation is that "she" represents the Aztec main temple, the Templo Mayor. In Mesoamerican literature, the temple is often referred to as "she," since both men and women were sacrificed there and a considerable part of the main temple was dedicated to the Aztec rain god, who is often described as a female. The temple was uncovered in 1978 (three years after the album was released) after being buried beneath Mexico City for nearly 500 years. On a more cynical note, in Jimmy McDonough's biography of Young, entitled Shakey, the author asked Neil if his songs were autobiographical. Young replied, "What the fuck am I doing writing about Aztecs in "Cortez the Killer" like I was there, wandering around? 'Cause I only read about it in a few books. A lotta shit I just made up because it came to me."

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