What You Should Know About Neil Young, Music Icon
"What grounds me every day? Man, just waking up knowing that I'm here to experience another day in this lifetime and I get to be around people I enjoy being around, I get to make music for a living, knowing that I'm very fortunate to be in the position I am in this lifetime when there's so many others who are so less fortunate. I love helping others through different charitable efforts. Life keeps me grounded." -Neil Young
by: Abbe Davis, Jan. 4, 2022
Well "My My, Hey, Hey" Neil Young is at it again. Rock 'n Roll never dies with artists who keep contributing, as in 51 albums combined as a solo and collaborative American Rock icon. His latest album, Barn, was recorded in a 150-year-old barn from the 1870's that had been used as a stagecoach. Recorded to the moon cycles, the way Neil prefers to work, the album is with his long-time backing band, Crazy Horse, featuring drummer Ralph Molina, bassist Billy Talbot, and guitarist/pianist/accordian player Nils Lofgren. Daryl Hannah, actress/activist and filmmaker has made a documentary about the recording of the album, and the band's brotherhood.
Barn has an artful mix of either the jangly guitar, and reflections of childhood in "Heading West," or the Beatle-esque quality in the chorus and piano riff of the romantic "Tumblin' Through the Years." "Song of the Seasons" plays like a tender whisper as Neil softly sings about nature, the city view, and his love for his wife. On the heels of this album is the newest, Summer Songs, recorded in 1987 at Broken Arrow Ranch, (featuring known songs in other versions).
Often referred to as "The Godfather of Grunge," Neil Young has crafted music through generations, echoing truths. Since his start with Buffalo Springfield, he has also performed as a solo artist, and with Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. In 2000 Rolling Stone named Young No. 34 on their list of The 100 Greatest Musical Artists. He has been inducted into the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame twice, once as a member of Buffalo Springfield, and also as a solo artist. For his album Mirror Ball in 1995, he recorded some tunes with Pearl Jam.
Under the stage lighting, Neil Young has a trancelike presence, as if he is swaying under the full moon. You can't look away and you want to hear what he has to say. The energy rises up from a place he may not always be aware of, yet he is the very capable messenger, sharing his crafted songs that resonate with a vast audience. His earnest message seems to be, "Life is not always pristine or crystal clear, yet there is an important message if you just listen."
Neil Young's causes are many. He has written songs like, "Southern Man," and "Alabama," against racism in the southern United States. He was one of the founders of Farm Aid and continues to serve on the board. He has raised money and been a big part of the Bridge school for students with disabilities, and on his 71st birthday he was invited to perform at the Dakota protest at Standing Rock to speak out about the Dakota Access pipeline. He has remained steadfast in how he cares about Native American tribes, environmental causes, creative freedoms, and community.
Other Neil Young contributions: creating a Lionel Trains remote control for people who are disabled, due to his son Ben, who has Cerebral Palsy and had an interest in trains. In 2014 he invented the PonoPlayer, which allowed the storage of several hundred songs. Yet at that time, music streaming was well on its way to replacing downloading. Other contributions, Neil has also been influential with his iconic concert film, 1979’s Rust Never Sleeps, one of the first "concert movies." He has acted in many movies, and his songs have been featured often. He has been nominated for more Grammys that you could imagine. He won four Grammy Awards for: Best Concept Music Video for This Note's For You in 1989, for Best Boxed Edition in 2010, Best Rock Song in 2011 with "Angry World," and the Hall of Fame Award for After the Gold Rush in 2011.
Tied into the prolific Neil Young is also his consciousness about our world, and how critical it is to stand for something. And in a world of much gear and technology, it becomes even more important to understand the truly original path pavers in music.
AD: Congratulations on the new album. When you were a kid, what music did you often listen to, can you name three of the top groups or people you had to listen to more of?
NY: Thanks. As a kid, I was listening to Rockabilly, Doo Wop, R&B, Country. There really wasn’t a lot I didn’t listen to. I really loved Elvis. He brought all of this to the forefront of the Rock genre.
AD: Elvis, the path paver, and then you did the same in being original. Let's talk some American History. Is it true that your mom is a member of The Daughters of the American Revolution?
NY: Believe it or not, yeah. Even though she was Canadian, my mom, Edna, was a member of The Daughters of the American Revolution. She had relatives who were directly involved with creating or helping with the independence of the United States. She was a remarkable woman.
AD: That's incredible, made even more interesting considering how you became a US citizen, and how your music falls into the History of "American" Folk and Rock, plus, the many important causes you contribute to in this country. Let's talk about your own music History some more: Is it fair to say that MORT II, might be responsible (in how the guys saw you that day in the Hearse) for the actual forming of Buffalo Springfield? What is your take on that? How did that transpire?
NY: Well, Mort was the name I gave my Hearse. I was driving Mort II one day on the way to San Francisco with Bruce Palmer, and we ran into Steven [Steven Stills] who was driving with Richie Furay in a white van. Stteven and Richie got stuck in traffic on Sunset Boulevard, and that's really how things happened to get us together. We all saw each other and the rest is history, I suppose. So yeah, they saw me driving Mort II and knew it was me, and stopped me for a ride.
AD: It's a great story! What freaked you out the most, when you played Woodstock? Who amazed you when you heard them perform?
NY: Freaked me out? Nothing freaked me out. I had a great time. I was scared or rather, concerned for the safety of all the people there. It was just a huge mud-fest of bodies. As far as someone there who amazed me, Jimi Hendrix is the obvious answer. But, I'd have to say everyone who was there. Everyone was amazing just for being there, donating their time for a great cause.
AD: I can only imagine this, drugs and a sea of mud bodies. Who was the first music icon you ever met and how did that go?
NY: Hmm? I really don’t know. Maybe Joni Mitchell in Winnipeg.
AD: Ah, legendary. Name three songs that feel like they came out of the deepest part of you, where you don’t really have an answer for how quickly you wrote it, or where it came from?
NY: "Heart of Gold," "Ohio," and I'll say "Cinnamon Girl."
AD: Wow, makes sense, truly inspired. Do you believe in many lifetimes? Things that feel familiar but you're not sure why?
NY: I do not necessarily believe in past lives, but I believe in Karma and the spirit and energy. If energy can't be created or destroyed, then, when we die, where does all this energy go? It has to go somewhere, so who am I to say that it doesn't transfer to another being?
AD: Interesting to think of it that way, that energy would go to someone else. Ranches, barns, tribes, which cultures or backgrounds are you usually drawn to?
NY: I'd say I'm drawn to the Native American culture. On my 71st birthday, I got to perform for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in support of their opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline. We can learn a lot from them and other tribes like them. They care about each other, nature, the Earth. There's no greed there. They truly care about our environment, although you'd get a different impression if you listen to Fox News or CNN. All they wanted to talk about was how this horrible tribe, these people, could try to disrupt this pipeline. Facts people, get your facts before reporting on these things.
AD: It's so important that you showed up in support of the Sioux. Would've been a better story to focus in on the Dakota. Those stations know their ratings. They don't get how there is another audience that is bigger, and if they educated in a dynamic way, they could bring people together more, instead of continuing the race for ads or ratings. They could make a bigger difference. To lighten this up, can you tell me why your POCOHONTAS tour bus was buried at Broken Arrow? What does it mean to you?
NY: Yeah. I loved that tour bus. I lived in that for a long time on the road. Unfortunately, it caught fire and it was completely destroyed. I was devastated. It was like losing a loyal friend. I had what was left of it brought to Broken Arrow Ranch and buried in a eucalyptus grove. It's still there.
AD: Oh wow, you lived in that tour bus! Now I get it. What grounds you every day when you get up in the morning or go along with your day?
NY: What grounds me every day? Man, just waking up knowing that I'm here to experience another day in this lifetime and I get to be around people I enjoy being around, I get to make music for a living, knowing that I'm very fortunate to be in the position I am in this lifetime when there's so many others who are so less fortunate. I love helping others through different charitable efforts. Life keeps me grounded.
AD: That's beautiful for you and for the music you bring to us. You say Ben is the spiritual advisor on tour, why? How does he do that, can you explain?
NY: Ben has a very strong will and such a positive outlook on life. He was born with Cerebral Palsy and he really keeps me grounded and honest with myself.
AD: It's great to hear about how Ben inspires people around him. That is a gift! Are there some songs that you and Crazy Horse really don't like to perform anymore and why?
NY: There aren't any songs that I really don't like to perform, but on this tour, I won't be performing any, or most, of my classic songs. I want to share the new songs.
AD: Looking forward to hearing the new songs. What do you fear the most about the world ahead?
NY: My biggest fear is not having a healthy planet for my kids and their kids to enjoy. We, the people of the world, need to come together right now and begin to do something about it. Global warming is real, people. Pollution is real, people. Overcrowding and food shortages are real, people. We need to stop depending on gasoline and use the resources that have been given to us by God, or whatever you believe our great creator to be. Our country, Russia, China and North Korea need to come together and create a world plan to stop this madness. These leaders need to put their egos aside and decide what is most important at this time. Enough of the fighting, greed, trying to build the bigger, better, badder bombs. That's all bullshit. The real deal is this planet we all depend on. Once that's gone, we're gone. That is a big concern and really scares me.
AD: Tell us about Summer Songs, what prompted you to release it now?
NY: Most of the songs from this album are over 35 years old. I wrote these for an album in 1985 that was going to be called Summer Songs. Because of a dispute I had with Geffen Records at the time, the songs were never released. Every song on that album was going to be recorded just with piano and acoustic guitar. I found all these recordings not too long ago. I believe they are all from around 1987 or so. I thought now would be a great time in my life to get them finished and mastered.
AD: So glad you're sharing them with us now. What causes do you feel you still want to contribute to?
NY: I feel I still need to do my part to help save our planet. It's nice to say, "Hey, let's all get together and do something to save the Earth." But, words are just words unless these words are followed by true actions. I try to do my part in this but I know I can always do more.
Abbe Davis, Editor/ Musician
Abbe Davis is the lead singer and songwriter of Rock band, Sordid Fable. She has performed alongside legendary Blues artist, Buddy Guy. Abbe and Sordid Fable are currently in the studio recording their EP for release in 2022.