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 Neil Young - In His Own Words

Blacklight Bar

Sometimes visionary, sometimes flaky, sometimes both at once, singer/songwriter Neil Young has maintained a large following since the early Seventies while experimenting with various musical styles. In this 1988 interview, he discusses CSNY's first album in 17 years, the prospect of touring with his old bandmates, and the unpredictable phases of his career.

Neil Young've been prompted to get back together with Crosby, Stills and Nash because there's a certain energy you get from singing with people you've known for twenty-five years. People who have been through all these changes with you. Gone up and down with you. Seen you do things that are wrong and seen you do things that are brilliant. Seen you fucked up to the max, you know? And you've seen them do all these things. And yet we're still here.

Just to hear what it sounds like when we sing together after all these years -- I was curious. I've wanted to do it for the last two or three years. And now it's possible.

I think CSNY has a lot to say. Especially Crosby. His presence is very strong. Him being strong and surviving and writing great songs and being part of a winner is really a good role model for a lot of people in the same boat.

Stills and I have had a stormy relationship, but we're like brothers, you know? We love each other, and we hate each other. We resent each other, but we love playing together. I see and hear so much Stephen that I'm frustrated when it isn't on record or something. There have been a lot of frustrations through our whole lives with each other, but there's also been a lot of great music. He continuously blows my mind with the ideas that he has for my songs. He's one of the greatest musicians I've ever met in my life. Great singer. Incredible songwriter.

But he's a tormented artist. He's the definition of the tormented artist. And he's a great fucking bluesman. But he's got a lot of monkeys on his back, and they're not letting him do his thing. I just hope he makes it.

Stephen and the others wanted to book a tour, and I said: "No way. I don't want to have anything to do with a tour."


Neil Young's Seventies
Billboard Top 40 Singles


"Only Love Can Break Your Heart"  12/70  #33
"Heart Of Gold"  2/72  #1
"Old Man"  5/72  #31

Also, everyone needs to really get in shape if we tour. There's no way getting around the fact that a CSNY tour would be a nostalgia tour to a great degree. CSNY is Woodstock -- it's that era, that whole generation. So why go out there and not be at our physical best? If people are looking at us as their brothers who they went through all these changes with, do they want to see somebody who's not together? No, they want to see someone who's superstrong, who's endured, who's a survivor and is still creative and looks better than ever.

If we go out there and fall on our ass, what are we? Dean Martin? All the alcoholics who went to see him, they didn't say: "Wow, look at Dean. He used to drink so much, but he got himself together, and now he's strong, up there with Frank and Sammy." I feel sorry for the guy. He's in the fucking hospital.

That's a weird comparison, but in some way it's very true. They're just another generation's heroes. So I think we have a responsibility, and I don't think we've lived up to it yet.

There have also been several Buffalo Springfield renunions in the last two years. At Stills's house. We just get together every couple of months and play. The original guys -- Richie [Furay], Dewy [Martin], Bruce [Palmer], Stephen and I. We've done this three, maybe four times, and I'm sure we'll do it again.

Musically, I'm obsessed with change. That's just the way I am. When I was in school, I would go for six months wearing the same kind of clothes. Then all of a sudden I'd wear all different clothes. It's change. It's always been like that.

The Trans album surprised a lot of people. It resulted from a fascination with machines and computers taking over our lives. This image of elevators with digital numbers changing and people going up and down the floors -- you know, people changing levels all under the control of a machine. And drum machines, the whole thing. And here I was, like an old hippie out in the woods, with all this electronic equipment. I mean, I was astonished.

Neil Young

"One morning I woke up and all I could hear was this massive beat. And my guitar was just rising out of it. I just heard rock & roll in my head so loud that I couldn't ignore it."

The Landing on Water album was like a rebirth, just me coming back to L.A. after having been secluded for so long. I was finding my rock & roll roots again. And my vibrancy as a musician. Something came alive; it was like a bear waking up.

I had just been up here in the woods. And I'd been working on a program with my son Ben, who has cerebral palsy. It just kind of took me away for a while, made me think about other things. I never really lost interest in music, but there were other things in my life that were important. My real soul was taken up with things I didn't want to sing about.

Although if you listen to Trans, if you listen to the words "Transformer Man" and "Computer Age" and "We R in Control," you'll hear a lot of references to my son and to people trying to live a life by pressing buttons, trying to control things around them and talking with people who can't talk, using computer voices and things like that.

It's a subtle thing, but it's right there. But it has to do with a part of my life that practically no one can relate to. So my music, which is a reflection of my inner self, became something that nobody could relate to. And then I started hiding in styles, just putting little clues in there as to what was really on my mind. I just didn't want to openly share all this stuff in songs that said exactly what I wanted to say in a voice so loud everyone could hear it.

I experiment around and I play different kinds of music. In my eyes, it doesn't make what I'm doing any less valid. Right now I love the Bluenotes, to a point where it feels right to me. I'll do other things, but I think I'm gonna come back to this over and over again. I mean, playing with a horn section and playing with this band is great.


Neil Young's Seventies
Billboard Top 10 Albums


After The Gold Rush  11/70  #8
Harvest  3/72  #2
Comes A Time  12/78  #8

Doing Old Ways and touring with the International Harvesters felt good at the time and it was a lot of fun. And then one morning I woke up and all I could hear was this massive fucking beat. And my guitar was just rising out of it. I just heard rock & roll in my head so fucking loud that I couldn't ignore it.


Neil Young Lyrics
Neil Young Videos

So I went back to Crazy Horse. I may come back to them someday, but it seem more and more doubtful to me. The kind of music I played with Crazy Horse was a younger kind of music. And I'm not younger -- I'm older.

Crazy Horse isn't technically proficient, but they have a lot of passion. That's what they're all about. And they bring out a part of me that's very primitive. We really put out a lot of emotion -- which is easy for a kid to relate to. So it's very childlike. I've had some great times with Crazy Horse.

The question is, how long can I keep playing that kind of rock & roll in my forties and beyond? And really be doing it? Or do you become a reenactment of an earlier happening? That's a question I ask myself, and toward the end Crazy Horse was starting to become a reenactment. I could feel it starting to slip away. And I never wanted to be in front of people and have them pay to see me when I'm not 100 percent there. And if you feel that energy slipping away, then you've got to fold your deck -- or get out.

There's no question that rock & roll is a younger person's medium. The question is whether it can also be an older person's medium. That's why I love the Bluenotes. They afford me the same kind of passion and expression as rock & roll, but in a more experienced, evolved way.

So that's why I feel real good about the music I'm playing now. It's something that I believe in and that I'm comfortable with. It's real; it's what's really happening to me now in my life. 

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