the agony and ecstasy of Neil Young
Many years ago, I went to see Neil Young play. It was a solo acoustic performance, and it was the most amazing two hours of music you can imagine. When it comes to writing really amazing and perfect and inspiring acoustic guitar music, Neil Young is at the top. He is up there with James Taylor and Bob Dylan. These folks are gods in my pantheon, because acoustic guitar is my greatest passion.
Listen to the first side of 'Live Rust'. Sugar Mountain, I am a Child, Comes a Time, After the Gold Rush, Long May you Run*, Needle and the Damage Done, Hey Hey, My My. It is just amazing collection, especially 'After the Gold Rush'. It's a piano song, but Neil plays this crazy old school pump organ. It looks and sounds like something out of a Tom Waits dream. He also has this great falsetto that is perfectly delicate. There is no other way to describe it. Normally, you might think 'delicate' is a strange adjective for a male singer. Especially when you know the singers I love... the raspy kind. Neil, though, has this perfect delicate voice.
Those were all 30 or 40 years ago. He never lost it, though. He also never lost the ability to sing super high, which almost all male vocalists lose with age. Listen to Unknown Legend. It is just a perfect, perfect song.
Here is the thing, though. That is only half of Neil. Neil is not unlike the Hulk. His acoustic side is all David Banner. We love David Banner. This other side, though, is just a monster. Take all the wonderful things I said about Neil above, change all those words to mean and hurtful ones, and you have Neil's electric career. I can not stand Neil Young's electric music. It is garbage. It is noise. Some of it doesn't even aspire to be noise. Neil released a two CD set of live music of nothing but feedback noise. I much admire Neil's spirit of playing by his own rules. There is no one in all of music history who is as true to themselves as Neil Young. Neil has quit bands mid set, because he "wasn't feelin' it". Neil refused to show up at his own induction of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Know why? The producers wanted to vett his acceptance speech for television. Neil not only wouldn't let them have his speech, he refused to go altogether. That isn't being an Axl just to be an Axl. Neil has principles,. which is what likely makes him the most difficult man in all of rock to work with.
We aren't here to talk about Neil's swagger. We aren't here to re-tell the classic 'more barn' story. We also are not here to talk about how Neil has single handedly re-invented digital music and digital music distribution with his groundbreaking 'Pono'.
No. We are here to wonder out loud, how does someone who makes the most joyful sonorous waves on acoustic and piano create nightmares like this. That solo. What the fuck is that solo? He just hits a D for about 4 minutes. If I had free tickets to go see Neil at Red Rocks play electric, I wouldn't go.
I dunno, this piece isn't going anywhere. I just had to get this down here, since no one else has managed to figure out the evil dichotomy.
I love you, Neil. Eat a peach!