Monthly Archives: September 2005

A good read

A good read

Just found an excellent interview, the best Young Neil piece I’ve read in a long time.

Check out the interview on the Guardian’s site here,

or, if it’s already been archived there, read on.

******

Neil Young: gifted and back

He’s furious about the war in Iraq, but can see the
good in George Bush. He’s passionate about the
environment, but drives the biggest gas-guzzler on
earth. Edward Helmore meets Neil Young, the most
contrary man in rock

Published: 22 September 2005

“Welcome to Fortress Blair,” says Neil Young, offering
his hand. Downstairs, in the lobby of The Carlyle
hotel, the Prime Minister’s security men have been
demanding to know what kind of black-clad ageing
hippie revolutionary they have here. They look as if
they might put him in a choke-hold.

Anti-terrorist barricades have been set up outside the
hotel. President Bush is in town for the opening of UN
General Assembly, so midtown is at a standstill. It’s
fashion week downtown, Hurricane Ophelia hangs over
the city, and last night Young and his manager,
Elliott Roberts, missed The Rolling Stones’ concert at
Madison Square Garden because they were stuck in a
traffic jam caused by a burning man jumping off the
bridge into the Hudson River.

“This sure is a jumpin’ place,” Young remarks in his
wry, deadpan Canadian manner.

Young, who could pass in aspect and manner for a
reasonably prosperous Midwestern farmer, is promoting
his new record, Prairie Wind. Written quickly (some
songs in less than 20 minutes) and recorded live with
a band at Roy Orbison’s old studio in Nashville, it is
a collection of deeply personal heartfelt songs
prompted by the death of his father, the sports
broadcaster Scott Young, and his own brush with
mortality in March, when he suffered a brain aneurysm
on his way to a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction
ceremony and had to undergo emergency surgery.

Whether you prefer your Neil Young rocking out with
Crazy Horse in the style of Ragged Glory, in the
drug-soaked utopian nihilism of On The Beach, as the
country rocker of After the Gold Rush or, as here, as
the singer-songwriter balladeer, Prairie Wind stands
in good company with two of his acoustic-centred
stand-outs, Harvest and Harvest Moon. The songs, he
says, “are about my family, my family history, life in
general, what’s going at the moment”.

At a benefit for victims of Hurricane Katrina this
weekend in Chicago, he plans to dust off “Southern
Man”; in a tie with “Ohio” as his most overtly
political, angry song.

“I haven’t played ‘Southern Man’ in years but I’m
going to play it because I think it makes sense
today,” he says. In the ballroom of Fortress Blair,
Young’s anger is plain.

“We shouldn’t be fighting this war in Iraq,” he says.
“I don’t understand why we’re there. We’re probably
not going to win anything and we’re making enemies
faster than we can kill ’em.” And, he says, nobody’s
asking the questions that make you think.

“I’d like to be a reporter for The New York Times or
wherever and stand up and say: ‘Mr President, you tell
us we’re in the process of liberating Iraq, and we’ve
had this big disaster in New Orleans. Bangladesh gave
us $20,000 and that’s a big thing for them. So how
about our brothers we’ve liberated in Iraq? Where’s
the money from them? You tell us we’re liberating them
so why don’t they care? Why don’t they support us?'”

Young leans forward. “It’s obvious to me that they
don’t support us ’cause they don’t like us. But no one
asks the questions…” Instead of government for the
people, Young believes we are in a war being fought
between two fundamentalist religious groups. “The ones
we have in this country and the one in the mountains
of Pakistan, or wherever they are.”

But priority is not the war in Iraq (“war has been
going on since the beginning of time so that’s not
unusual”) rather what’s going on with the environment.
“For me it’s the main story now,” he says. “But the
people running countries these days are only paying
attention to commerce and politics. They don’t see
what’s going on right in front of them.”

In Young’s grandfather’s and great-grandfather’s time
there were still buffalo on the plains of Manitoba; on
his father’s farm the sun would be blocked out by
migrating Canada geese overhead. “It was awesome. But
now we don’t have that.”

The birds, he says, “are a messenger to mankind. When
you see a horror movie and the birds leave it means
something very bad is coming. In nature when the birds
are depleted and they leave a whole area that means
something very big. It’s the kind of sign that’s lost
on politicians. In the old days, in the days of the
Indians, the Indians would be freaking out, everybody
would be freaking out…”

A sense of space is important to the singer. It’s what
he knows, after all – in his part of Manitoba it’s so
flat that you can see a grain elevator 100ft tall from
60 miles away.

Young hopes the British are taking more care. Told of
the divisiveness between town and country in the UK,
he says: “Well, there are too many people in the city
and they’ve got too much power. In the city you can’t
see the sky. You can’t see the signs you can when
you’re out in the country that things are changing. I
hope [on the issue of the Kyoto Protocol and climate
change control] Blair isn’t doing what Blair usually
does, which is just follow Bush around.”

But as always with ecological concern, the test is in
one’s action. At home on his ranch in the Pacific
Northwest, Young drives a military-issue H-1 Hn petrol
that burns bio-diesel made from vegetable oil.
Depending on what crop the batch of fuel is made from
– he keeps a 500-gallon tank at home – the exhaust
smells like soy or bread. Besides being
environmentally friendly, it’s an excellent way to get
up the noses of the motoring self-righteous.

“It’s so politically incorrect it’s perfect,” he says.
“You can really make an impression. People see it
coming, they hate it. They think you’re the enemy.
Then it goes by and they see ‘Bio-Diesel’
‘Farmed-Fuel!’ ‘Go Earth!’ written down the side and
they see it’s probably cleaner than the car they’re
driving.”

Just as his nickname, Shakey, implies, Young is
unpredictable. He may never have been the hippie
peacenik the hippies wanted him to be, nor the
“Rockin’ in the Free World” all-American others may
have desired. Nor, despite his status as the
“godfather of grunge”, was he ever the doomed fatalist
suggested by “it’s better to burn out than fade away”,
a line from “Hey Hey My My!”. He has often been
misinterpreted, in part because he’s not prepared to
dismiss people he doesn’t agree with.

“The most ridiculous example I can think of is George
Bush, who I totally disagree with. But he’s a very
steady leader with a lot of dedication, surety and
feeling – but he’s going exactly in the wrong
direction. I wish people who felt like me had a leader
with as much conviction.”

He also resents being pigeonholed musically. Sometimes
he’s with Crazy Horse, sometimes with Booker T and the
MGs, then he’s with an organ or Hank Williams’ guitar.

“I do something until I’m worn out on it. I’ll wake up
some morning and I just don’t have it any more for
what I’m doing. I just don’t have the spark for it, so
I think OK, that’s it. So I do something else. If all
I did was the same thing I’d be pretty bored.”

His old friend Bob Dylan recently gave him a copy of
Goodbye Babylon, a box collection of gospel and early
country roots music that he is going to be listening
to. Young and Dylan grew up within a few hundred miles
of each other at about the same time. They probably
listened to the same AM radio stations, saw the same
revue shows travelling across the Midwest. He has read
Dylan’s recent autobiography, Chronicles, closely.

“It’s an interesting point of view,” he says. “Some of
it is incredibly funny. It’s very tongue-in-cheek. You
can’t tell if he’s pulling your leg, making it all up
like it’s one of his songs. That’s the beauty of it.
It’s always been the same with Bob. From the beginning
to now, the quality of his songs is great. He’s a
natural writer and craftsman, and a reflection and
extension of the history of American music.”

Young has no plans to write his own memoirs. Instead,
the first of several volumes documenting everything he
has ever recorded, which took 15 years to compile,
will be released in the spring.

Still, it is imperative to move forward. “You can’t
pretend to be the person you were 30 years ago,” he
says. “And who would want that that? You can’t
recreate what you’ve already done. The people who try
to become stale caricatures of themselves.”

Instead, he tries to be true to the music. “As long as
you do that it keeps coming back. Like a wild animal
you fed once, it’ll come back and see you again. But
if you stop feeding it, and you stop paying attention,
or make a lot of noise and scare the hell out it, it
certainly won’t.”

It’s his family and this kind of musical husbandry, of
being specifically sensitive to his gift, that keeps
Neil Young going. So, is it “burn out” or “fade away”?

He says: “You can take it very literally, meaning,
‘OK, it’s better to explode in a bunch of flame than
to fade away into the distance doing something
meaningless.’ On the other hand, burning out can take
a long time…”

‘Prairie Wind’ (Reprise) is released on 3 October

“Welcome to Fortress Blair,” says Neil Young, offering
his hand. Downstairs, in the lobby of The Carlyle
hotel, the Prime Minister’s security men have been
demanding to know what kind of black-clad ageing
hippie revolutionary they have here. They look as if
they might put him in a choke-hold.

Anti-terrorist barricades have been set up outside the
hotel. President Bush is in town for the opening of UN
General Assembly, so midtown is at a standstill. It’s
fashion week downtown, Hurricane Ophelia hangs over
the city, and last night Young and his manager,
Elliott Roberts, missed The Rolling Stones’ concert at
Madison Square Garden because they were stuck in a
traffic jam caused by a burning man jumping off the
bridge into the Hudson River.

“This sure is a jumpin’ place,” Young remarks in his
wry, deadpan Canadian manner.

Young, who could pass in aspect and manner for a
reasonably prosperous Midwestern farmer, is promoting
his new record, Prairie Wind. Written quickly (some
songs in less than 20 minutes) and recorded live with
a band at Roy Orbison’s old studio in Nashville, it is
a collection of deeply personal heartfelt songs
prompted by the death of his father, the sports
broadcaster Scott Young, and his own brush with
mortality in March, when he suffered a brain aneurysm
on his way to a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction
ceremony and had to undergo emergency surgery.

Whether you prefer your Neil Young rocking out with
Crazy Horse in the style of Ragged Glory, in the
drug-soaked utopian nihilism of On The Beach, as the
country rocker of After the Gold Rush or, as here, as
the singer-songwriter balladeer, Prairie Wind stands
in good company with two of his acoustic-centred
stand-outs, Harvest and Harvest Moon. The songs, he
says, “are about my family, my family history, life in
general, what’s going at the moment”.

At a benefit for victims of Hurricane Katrina this
weekend in Chicago, he plans to dust off “Southern
Man”; in a tie with “Ohio” as his most overtly
political, angry song.

“I haven’t played ‘Southern Man’ in years but I’m
going to play it because I think it makes sense
today,” he says. In the ballroom of Fortress Blair,
Young’s anger is plain.

“We shouldn’t be fighting this war in Iraq,” he says.
“I don’t understand why we’re there. We’re probably
not going to win anything and we’re making enemies
faster than we can kill ’em.” And, he says, nobody’s
asking the questions that make you think.

“I’d like to be a reporter for The New York Times or
wherever and stand up and say: ‘Mr President, you tell
us we’re in the process of liberating Iraq, and we’ve
had this big disaster in New Orleans. Bangladesh gave
us $20,000 and that’s a big thing for them. So how
about our brothers we’ve liberated in Iraq? Where’s
the money from them? You tell us we’re liberating them
so why don’t they care? Why don’t they support us?'”

Young leans forward. “It’s obvious to me that they
don’t support us ’cause they don’t like us. But no one
asks the questions…” Instead of government for the
people, Young believes we are in a war being fought
between two fundamentalist religious groups. “The ones
we have in this country and the one in the mountains
of Pakistan, or wherever they are.”

But priority is not the war in Iraq (“war has been
going on since the beginning of time so that’s not
unusual”) rather what’s going on with the environment.
“For me it’s the main story now,” he says. “But the
people running countries these days are only paying
attention to commerce and politics. They don’t see
what’s going on right in front of them.”

In Young’s grandfather’s and great-grandfather’s time
there were still buffalo on the plains of Manitoba; on
his father’s farm the sun would be blocked out by
migrating Canada geese overhead. “It was awesome. But
now we don’t have that.”

The birds, he says, “are a messenger to mankind. When
you see a horror movie and the birds leave it means
something very bad is coming. In nature when the birds
are depleted and they leave a whole area that means
something very big. It’s the kind of sign that’s lost
on politicians. In the old days, in the days of the
Indians, the Indians would be freaking out, everybody
would be freaking out…”

A sense of space is important to the singer. It’s what
he knows, after all – in his part of Manitoba it’s so
flat that you can see a grain elevator 100ft tall from
60 miles away.
Young hopes the British are taking more care. Told of
the divisiveness between town and country in the UK,
he says: “Well, there are too many people in the city
and they’ve got too much power. In the city you can’t
see the sky. You can’t see the signs you can when
you’re out in the country that things are changing. I
hope [on the issue of the Kyoto Protocol and climate
change control] Blair isn’t doing what Blair usually
does, which is just follow Bush around.”

But as always with ecological concern, the test is in
one’s action. At home on his ranch in the Pacific
Northwest, Young drives a military-issue H-1 Hn petrol
that burns bio-diesel made from vegetable oil.
Depending on what crop the batch of fuel is made from
– he keeps a 500-gallon tank at home – the exhaust
smells like soy or bread. Besides being
environmentally friendly, it’s an excellent way to get
up the noses of the motoring self-righteous.

“It’s so politically incorrect it’s perfect,” he says.
“You can really make an impression. People see it
coming, they hate it. They think you’re the enemy.
Then it goes by and they see ‘Bio-Diesel’
‘Farmed-Fuel!’ ‘Go Earth!’ written down the side and
they see it’s probably cleaner than the car they’re
driving.”

Just as his nickname, Shakey, implies, Young is
unpredictable. He may never have been the hippie
peacenik the hippies wanted him to be, nor the
“Rockin’ in the Free World” all-American others may
have desired. Nor, despite his status as the
“godfather of grunge”, was he ever the doomed fatalist
suggested by “it’s better to burn out than fade away”,
a line from “Hey Hey My My!”. He has often been
misinterpreted, in part because he’s not prepared to
dismiss people he doesn’t agree with.

“The most ridiculous example I can think of is George
Bush, who I totally disagree with. But he’s a very
steady leader with a lot of dedication, surety and
feeling – but he’s going exactly in the wrong
direction. I wish people who felt like me had a leader
with as much conviction.”

He also resents being pigeonholed musically. Sometimes
he’s with Crazy Horse, sometimes with Booker T and the
MGs, then he’s with an organ or Hank Williams’ guitar.

“I do something until I’m worn out on it. I’ll wake up
some morning and I just don’t have it any more for
what I’m doing. I just don’t have the spark for it, so
I think OK, that’s it. So I do something else. If all
I did was the same thing I’d be pretty bored.”

His old friend Bob Dylan recently gave him a copy of
Goodbye Babylon, a box collection of gospel and early
country roots music that he is going to be listening
to. Young and Dylan grew up within a few hundred miles
of each other at about the same time. They probably
listened to the same AM radio stations, saw the same
revue shows travelling across the Midwest. He has read
Dylan’s recent autobiography, Chronicles, closely.

“It’s an interesting point of view,” he says. “Some of
it is incredibly funny. It’s very tongue-in-cheek. You
can’t tell if he’s pulling your leg, making it all up
like it’s one of his songs. That’s the beauty of it.
It’s always been the same with Bob. From the beginning
to now, the quality of his songs is great. He’s a
natural writer and craftsman, and a reflection and
extension of the history of American music.”

Young has no plans to write his own memoirs. Instead,
the first of several volumes documenting everything he
has ever recorded, which took 15 years to compile,
will be released in the spring.

Still, it is imperative to move forward. “You can’t
pretend to be the person you were 30 years ago,” he
says. “And who would want that that? You can’t
recreate what you’ve already done. The people who try
to become stale caricatures of themselves.”

Instead, he tries to be true to the music. “As long as
you do that it keeps coming back. Like a wild animal
you fed once, it’ll come back and see you again. But
if you stop feeding it, and you stop paying attention,
or make a lot of noise and scare the hell out it, it
certainly won’t.”

It’s his family and this kind of musical husbandry, of
being specifically sensitive to his gift, that keeps
Neil Young going. So, is it “burn out” or “fade away”?

He says: “You can take it very literally, meaning,
‘OK, it’s better to explode in a bunch of flame than
to fade away into the distance doing something
meaningless.’ On the other hand, burning out can take
a long time…”

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