Photo of Neil Young :: 06.22.08 by Andrea Barsanti
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
HEY HEY, MY MY (INTO THE BLACK)
Hey hey, my my/ Rock and roll can never die/ There's more to the picture than meets the eye
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.
|Stills & Young by Jay Blakesberg
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
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?
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
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."
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.
|Neil Young by Jay Blakesberg
"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
Go See Live Music!