Neil Young, Americana and me

On Friday, I received an e-mail from an old friend.  He had been listening to public radio and they had a program called “Old Music Tuesday.”  Here’s what the reporter, Robin Hilton said:

I haven’t kept an official ticker, but if government agents kicked in my door and forced me to pick the one album I’ve listened to more than any other, I’d have to say Neil Young‘s Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere. It came out 43 years ago this week.

The album was 43 years old that week (Yikes!). Though, I too can likely claim it as the album I played most. My friend linked me to the page–

And then he said that he thought of me when he heard the show. He stated that it was I that had turned all our friends onto Neil Young.  I don’t know if that was true, but I do know I very much wanted to be him. I did a credible impersonation and knew all his songs on the guitar –although I never quite mastered  the lead jams. I had a female friend–Sue Shelley–who was a great seamstress and who patched my jeans just like Neil’s with upholstery and corduroy and quilting.  At a festival, a friend’s band invited me on stage and we did “Down By the River.” And I remember once going to a friend’s older brother’s party–whoo-hoo! we were hanging with the big boys–and I played the entire “Last Trip to Tulsa”–all 10 minutes of it–and felt that certain feeling you get as a teenager when the older guys validate you.

First solo album, with the 10 minute “Last Trip to Tulsa”

It was much later, after the Harvest album that another friend said that Neil Young was responsible for thousands of bad guitar players in America.  I’m not sure if he was alluding to me, but I got his point.  Every beginner seems to start with the basic E-minor, D sequence of “Heart of Gold.” But I argued that the simplicity does not take away from the beauty of the songs–it is part of the package, part of the appeal.

I went through them all. Followed the players in their own ventures: a young Nils Lofgren who played on the After the Gold Rush album, formed a exciting band named GRIN before moving on and becoming Springsteen’s guitarist;  the various incarnations of Crazy Horse, whose first album was the soundtrack to so many great moments; the irrepressible producer, Jack Nietzche who went on to win an Oscar for An Officer and a Gentleman and being nominated for his music for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

Anyway, I will confess, Neil was an obsession. I had every Buffalo Springfield album, and followed the many bands that broke off from there.  The same with CSN&Y.  But it was always Neil that was my focus. (Although a girl once dated me because she said I looked like Steven Stills. Probably, not the best foundation for a relationship, but I ran with it for as long as I could.)

And aside from his music, I admired his integrity. He made albums that pushed music every which way. (He was once sued for an album that the record company felt didn’t sound enough like Neil Young. This was the same year a record company sued John Fogerty for sounding too much like his old band. Ah, the suits, you gotta shake your head some time.)  He made rockabilly and electronica and country and good old rock-and-roll. He got involved in personal and political causes; founding Farm Aid in support of small farmers, as well as establishing the Bridge School for children with verbal and physical disabilities. He also leads the Bridge Festival each year which brings along some extraordinary performers and is a large source of fundraising and awareness for the project.

His performance of John Lennon’s “Imagine” shortly after 9/11 on a televised benefit was beautiful and perfect for the situation. Watch it here:

Under the pseudonym, Bernard Shakey, Neil as directed or co-directed a handful of films and produced even more. The recent film CSN&Y/Deja Vu–which centered on CSN&Y and their 2006 Freedom of Speech tour–was a reminder of Young’s commitment to the small man when set up against the larger, darker forces.

It is this film-making penchant which is front and center now. Having received that e-mail announcing the 43rd anniversary of Everyone Knows this is Nowhere, another friend, out of the blue, pointed me towards a new album that is coming in June, Americana. Neil is back with Crazy Horse and they have recorded an album of Americana songs: “Old Suzanna,” “Darling Clementine,” “She’ll be Coming Around the Mountain, ” etc. As of now, he has released three vide0s from the album–not footage of the band playing, but archival film of the rural poor, the ante-bellum rich, D.W. Griffith.  The films themselves are small jewels.  And the music is rocking.

Anyway, here’s the video from “Old Susanna.” Enjoy it:


4 thoughts on “Neil Young, Americana and me

  1. “Although a girl once dated me because she said I looked like Steven Stills. Probably, not the best foundation for a relationship, but I ran with it for as long as I could.”

    Hahaha! Very good!

  2. Jamie, I agree with you. As I had said, he was a very big part of my youth. As for his music, he rocks a song (think “Cinnamon Girl” and “Southern Man”) and then turns around and does a beautiful slow set. I admire him a lot.
    Thanks for reading!

    P.S. in this imaginary concert, Van the Man wouldn’t be a bad opening act. Hah! Hey, I just remembered–they were both a part of The Last Waltz. I may go and pop that in the DVD right now.

  3. Just started re-reading “shakey,” an extensive biography of Neil Young. Kurt Ruch asked me last week if I could hire one band for a private show, who would it be? At the time I said Van Morrison. After considerable thought, I would have to change it to Neil.

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