Neil Young: Chaos Is Good

Sometimes the notes don't matter. Sometimes just noise is required. Sometimes it has to explode, deconstruct. It's not an exercise in technical prowess or anything like that, because I'm not really very good. But, I can really beat the shit out of it if I feel like it.

-Neil Young on playing guitar

Photo of Neil Young :: 06.22.08 by Andrea Barsanti

Hey hey, my my/ Rock and roll can never die/ There's more to the picture than meets the eye

Stills & Young by Jay Blakesberg
CSNY's troubled past has been well documented. From creative battles to drug abuse to the two major Alpha Dogs in Young and Stephen Stills butting heads, it's a wonder they've been able to split and regroup so often while retaining such genuine appreciation for the group dynamic and the individuals in it. Each member could be a bandleader under different circumstances, but no one tells Young what to do, and it was Neil who brought the band together for the "Freedom of Speech 2006" tour.

Young trusts David Crosby, Stills and Graham Nash. There's a great deal of history and he knows how to get the most out of them, but there's more to it than that. Young uses his different configurations to achieve different goals. He's got his solo thing, where there's no one else's input. There's Crazy Horse, where he gives exact orders and they follow without a word. Then there's CSNY. As much as Young might lead the outfit, they are still a band – a remarkably talented one, each bursting with their own creative desires. And when Young asserts his dominance it's not always pretty, but maybe that rub is exactly why he still works with his old friends.

JamBase: Thinking about CSNY and your somewhat volatile history, some folks seem to shut down under tension and pressure, other folks seem to thrive off of it and use it to their advantage. Do you find that friction can be good for your art?

Young: Chaos is really good for art, and sometimes friction causes chaos. But chaos is really the catalyst. I really think that chaos is like gas. It's like energy.

JamBase: How so, in a musical context?

Neil Young
Young: Well, when you're distracted by a certain number of all the kinds of things happening, that's when creativity happens. I don't know how to explain it. But creativity does happen in those situations. And the older I get, of course, the less chaos there is because you're numb. You don't realize how much chaos is going on. But, I still manage to get my jolt every now and again. It comes in and I just write songs when they come to me, but I don't go looking for 'em. So, the creativity is a gift, and I accept it with great gratitude.

JamBase: As you've gotten older has anything changed in terms of what inspires you?

Young: You just never know. Can't predict it, can't pigeonhole it, can't label it. Just be aware of it. That's what I try to do. I respect it. If I have an idea, [it] comes from wherever the hell it comes from, and I can't stop it, it's time for me to stop what I'm doing and go and write that down, or play my guitar, find a place to be by myself.

Recently Young has been obsessed with "the search for clean energy." He's been working with Wichita mechanic Jonathan Goodwin on converting his 1959 Lincoln Continental convertible to make it run on an electric battery. Young has invested about $120,000 into the project thus far and he hopes the return will be a model for the world's first mass-produced electric car; which in turn would allow countries like America to be free of overseas oil dependency.

Seems like ol' Neil is trying to change the world again, this time with a car. It's not the first time Young has put his hands around the planet, squeezing inspiration from her turmoil. Classic rock staples like "Alabama," "Southern Man," "Ohio," "Rockin' In The Free World" and more obscure cuts like "Revolution Blues," "Welfare Mothers," "Cortez The Killer" and "Powderfinger" all have vast social and political implications, and they certainly influenced the counterculture that was rising in the '60s and '70s. Even his recent work like "No Wonder" from 2005's Prairie Wind, everything on 2006's Living With War, "Ordinary People" off 2007's Chrome Dreams II and 2008's CSNY: Déjà Vu fall into the socio-political category. But does Young really believe a song, an album or a film can change the world?

"I've felt that way in the past [but] I just don't think so," he says, fiddling with a piece of paper on the table in front of him. "The world today requires physics, science and politics to change. Spirituality is important, more important than politics, but I think physics and science, really, that's where the playground is right now. It's the age of innovation. We're in it. Some people really know it, some people don't."

Neil Young by Jay Blakesberg
So even though Young knows that CSNY: Déjà Vu and Living With War won't change the world he doesn't care. That's not the point. He's not trying to sway public opinion; he just wants to snap people from their 21st Century daze.

"I don't think they should listen to me at all. They should listen to their own souls, and they should vote with their own souls and they should think with their own hearts. I'm just another voice in the crowd," proclaims Young. "I think people got lulled into this, or they got positioned by the Bush administration into being 'Red' or 'Blue,' and then they got positioned into, 'If you disagree you're not patriotic,' and then they just got fooled. And all this [CSNY: Déjà Vu and Living With War] was doing was going, 'Hey, it's possible to disagree and still be patriotic.' Both sides can be represented, because that's what the country's all about. We were just trying to bring that back and I think we did."

Young may often work outside the realm of music, dipping into politics and the environment, but it's with his guitar that he wields the most power. At age 62, Young is still a mean, ragged rock & roller capable of serious destruction when plugged in. Having apparently made a full recovery from the brain aneurysm that struck in 2005, Young is revisiting his love of playing live and wrestling with his guitar.

"Took me a while to get back into it after I had a health scare a couple years ago," offers a reflective Young. "I had to take some medicine there for a while to get straightened out and it took me a while to get a grip on who I was again and what I could do. But now, I think I'm ready to go out and play festivals and jam and just have a good time. I feel confident in my abilities to do that."

"You usually have only four good shows out of a tour of 35 or 40 shows," continues Young. And when good goes to great, at times it can be transcendent. Even though he probably won't admit it, Young knows he's special. He's always been different, tapped into the Big Spirit, a conduit for something more, and it's onstage with his guitar where he's closest to the source.

"That's the energy, that's God," says Young as he drops his shades down the tip of his nose, locking his steel-gray eyes on mine, paralyzing me in his tractor beam. "We've all been created, whether you think of God as a being or you think of God as just a force, this is a manifestation of it, when people come together and the music rises to a certain level you can just feel it, that's just more than a show."

Special thanks to Jimmy McDonough for his incredibly complete book on Young. * Indicates a quote taken from his book: Shakey – Neil Young's Biography.

JamBase | Deep In The Prairie
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[Published on: 7/31/08]

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widespreadfred starstarstarstarstar Thu 7/31/2008 07:22PM
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Great article as always Kayce. I'm highly jealous.

AintNoFreedom starstarstarstarstar Thu 7/31/2008 07:32PM
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One of the best of all time. Love him. Keep on fighting the good fight, Neil.

chuckus starstarstarstarstar Thu 7/31/2008 08:59PM
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Man! Great article, Kayce! So Neil Young is a master of that space between the guitar and our ears? (agreed). Well, you are a master of the interview and article!!

Danger8504 starstarstarstarstar Thu 7/31/2008 09:00PM
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Great article actually amazing

new band ive been diggin if anyone cares to check it out and the album is killer

Tpetty starstarstarstar Thu 7/31/2008 09:54PM
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Hell yes, neil is the man! he is everything a rock n roller should ever be...

Flat5 Fri 8/1/2008 12:01AM
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dude your so fuckin lucky. nice job

HoodooVoodoo starstarstarstarstar Fri 8/1/2008 12:37AM
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Tiny Dancer starstarstarstarstar Fri 8/1/2008 01:25AM
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Tiny Dancer

moving, really powerful stuff, from Young and Kayce. loved it

snappy Fri 8/1/2008 01:53AM
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There's some deep stuff here but I think my favorite part is how Kayce gets Neil to open up about core ideals, core motivations. That's the real skill of this one. Kudos galore, sir.

ndant703 Fri 8/1/2008 05:24AM
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I was listening to Cortez the Killer on the way into work this morning and now I get to read this article, wahhooo, Neil Young kicks ass!!!

n-1 starstarstarstarstar Fri 8/1/2008 06:29AM
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wagsinnorthernva starstarstarstarstar Fri 8/1/2008 06:42AM
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Neil Young is a master, a true great one in the field of music. This article was great, thank you and you have a wonderful job I hope you enjoy it.

nsafay Fri 8/1/2008 07:39AM
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Freakin sweet article/interview man! Loved it. Please keep it up!

z man starstarstarstarstar Fri 8/1/2008 08:17AM
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Beautiful article man. Must have been a real honor. God bless Neil Young. I love that man.

gregboyer starstarstarstarstar Fri 8/1/2008 08:27AM
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Great job Kayce. Great artists like Neil keep things interesting by trying new sounds and ideas and never getting stale. My favorite stuff is with Crazy Horse (especially Greendale and Ragged Glory) but the acoustic side is great as well. Hoodoo I hope you're joking, the Biscuits are cool but are not a Legend like Neil Young.

goodB3rger13 Fri 8/1/2008 08:37AM
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Neil is the man!!! I have only had the chance to see him once at Bonnaroo but that is one of my most favorite shows of all time. He is just the man...that's all I can say.

Hagermeister Fri 8/1/2008 09:04AM
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Fantastic Kayce! What an illuminating article with real wisdom and insight from ol' Shakey. I love that last quote: "'...when people come together and the music rises to a certain level you can just feel it, that's just more than a show.'" Right on.

tallyuengling starstarstarstarstar Fri 8/1/2008 10:46AM
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Great article, Neil Young is a legend no doubt about it. Everytime I hear Cowgirl In The Sand I get chills.

FatChance Fri 8/1/2008 11:00AM
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I was fortunate enough to see this tour in 2006 on one of the nights where they were 'on'

check the website and look at the setlists---35 songs each night with 5 classics in heavy rotation.

do you want to know how the war has affected the soldiers and their families or is it easier to turn your head the other way?

i highly suggest the movie.....more insights into the war can be learned than what our government lets us know.

this is the story from the soldier's point of view and i feel it's important to understand this aspect.

sunnbear starstarstarstarstar Fri 8/1/2008 11:04AM
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I have been to the Mountain House many times when I used to live in San Mateo. Everyone knew that Neil hung out there occasionally, but I had never seen him until one night. My friends and I were enjoying one of the local bands that jammed alot of Dead covers, as well as others, when Neil walks in and orders a beer. He sits and watches for awhile. Seems to like it. After the band finishes their set, the guitarist comes over to Neil and says something to him. You know, probably along the lines of "Wow, dude. You're one of the greatest." Or something dorky like that. They have a beer together and when the band starts their second set, guess who is the guest guitarist? You guessed it. Neil somehow produced a guitar from a back room and proceeded to wail! The coolest thing about it was, they did a bit of Cowgirl and Hey, Hey, My, My, something else from Neil's catalogue, then straight into a twenty to thirty minute jam. Incredible. The guys in the band were blown away! I found out later that Neil was used to dropping in and jamming, if the mood so suited. I did see him in the bar a few more times over the years, but never got to see him play up close like that again. What a trip! Haven't thought about that in many, many years. Neil is a downright amazing person.

FatChance Fri 8/1/2008 11:06AM
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Sunnbear---supercool story--thanks for sharing!

rustfinger Fri 8/1/2008 02:05PM
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neil is my all time favorite artist! i think its cool that neil is doing this electric car project, he seems to be very progressive when it comes to technology. the plans for his archives are pretty cool-it's on blu-ray and when the song plays, old pictures and other rare stuff appear. he was also on charlie rose a couple weeks ago, if it's online check it out, very insightful and shows what an innarestin' character neil is! thanks for a good read!

iwantstogetfunkedup starstarstarstarstar Fri 8/1/2008 05:14PM
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Kayce- Really nice article my brother. Neil is in inspiration. I have been to many of the Bridge School Benefits at Shoreline and that is yet another testament to how great Neil is. Lots of great memories from those shows.

gregmcgarvey starstarstarstarstar Fri 8/1/2008 08:03PM
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Thank you for a great interview/article!

roberto767 starstarstarstarstar Fri 8/1/2008 09:28PM
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GREAT ARTICLE KAYCEMAN!!!! I can't wait to see this guy open for Bisco on New Years!!!

cjrutty starstarstarstarstar Sat 8/2/2008 06:04AM
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Great Interview and article! It was interesting to see Neil talking about his polio experience and its aftermath. You'll find more on Neil's polio experience (and the history of polio/ polio vaccines in Canada and generally) at:

Keep on rockin'

dannytunsia Sat 8/2/2008 11:50AM
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salsalasa starstarstarstarstar Sat 8/2/2008 12:45PM
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Great Read! Thank you Mr. Kayce. That was the best article I have ever had the pleasure to read on Jambase. I loved the opening. I could see the big trees and smell that sweet ocean air. Neil Young is a true master.

harrymcq starstarstarstarstar Sat 8/2/2008 01:02PM
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Amazing article!!! Good work! I love Neil. Don't always love his politics or even some of his musical directions but he is one of the greats for sure.

Runde starstarstarstarstar Sat 8/2/2008 01:08PM
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All sorts of awesome. Thanks Kayceman.

QuinnTheMightyEskimo Sun 8/3/2008 08:56PM
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Cheers to an incredible songwriter, guitarist, and altruist. Neil's music is timeless, certainly the most covered artist of all time, just check out Panic's catalog. Rock 'n roll will never die brother, keep fightin' the good fight!

n-1 starstarstarstarstar Mon 8/4/2008 06:51AM
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who was the source of dis info that Niel Young would be OPENING for the DB on new years?

cluckinchicken starstarstarstarstar Tue 8/5/2008 02:45PM
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There are only 2 musicians/songwriters that really stick out, above and beyond the rest, and to me, one is the subject of the article and the other is Bob Dylan. They are simply amazing...

jammasterjustin Tue 8/5/2008 09:51PM
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neil young would never open for disco biscuits, are you retarded?

but yeah great article neil is without a doubt one of the greatest musicians ever. most of his songs are just so moving its unbeliviable

TheWeight22 Wed 8/6/2008 05:36PM
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cluckinchicken Thu 8/7/2008 03:28PM
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Neil is more American than you'll ever be my friend. He's lived in the States probably longer than you and probably more Patriotic than you, so perhaps you don't have the right to criticize HIM.

Did you even read the f*****g article?!

shroom013 Fri 8/8/2008 04:40PM
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cluckinchicken there is plenty of others, ya ever heard of townes van zandt, randall bramblett, steve earle etc. neil does kick ass though i'm a huge,huge fan. that being said he is out of his mind about reagan. reagan is an evil b-actor idiot. he not only sold out are middle class for corporate interests he also sold weapons to iraq, froze out jimmy carters ability to free the hostages in iran, created a phony drug war etc, etc, etc. it was funny seeing him have alzsheimers though

keep on rockin in the free world

phoolish starstarstarstarstar Sun 8/10/2008 08:47PM
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I've always said if Neil approached his set lists like GD or phish or whatever, I would have jumped on tour with him all those years ago. He is my absolute favorite. Kudos for mentioning Revolution Blues...such a kick ass song. I hand it to you Kayce, I would have been sh!tting bricks in that interview.

daveapaug Tue 8/12/2008 08:27AM
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The Biscuits suck. If Neil opens for them, I will never see another show again. Ever. By any band, Ever.

vinniechops Fri 8/15/2008 01:05PM
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This is disgusting. I'm SO turned off by Neil Young's pro-Regan comments. It's painfully obvious that Neil has absolutely no idea what he's talking about. He says that "Regan never pulled the trigger". Yet Regan and his blood-thirsty henchmen orchestrated, funded, and supported massive bloodshed in Central America (El Salvador, Nicaragua and especially Guatemala). Hundreds of thousands of innocent people were slaughterd by Regans pupetts all throughout the 80's.

Kids, don't get your political information from Neil Young. Listen to The Clash if you're looking for politics.

-Brian O'Connell

June1 starstarstarstarstar Sat 8/16/2008 09:32AM
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Well written, deeply perceptive article about my all time favorite musician. Good work!

drferg starstarstarstarstar Mon 8/18/2008 11:14AM
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"when people come together and the music rises to a certain level you can just feel it, that's just more than a show." BONNAROO 2003 80,000+ rose to such a level with Neil feeding off the crowd. Epic jams. And surprise, his views on science and politics are just as expansive.

lambo303 starstarstarstarstar Mon 10/13/2008 11:25AM
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Kayce! Nice article and interview. I can't believe you got a sit down with the MAN!!! Wow, Congrats!!! -LAMB

sharetips033 starstarstarstarstar Sun 12/5/2010 10:59PM
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Chaos in and of itself I do not believe is very beneficial, it's more like extreme disorganization. Chaos in the midst of the journey however tends to be the breeding ground for adventure, discovery, bewilderment, creativity, devastation and a myriad of other experiences that once the waters calm lead to new revelations of oneself and one's surroundings.