Neil Young is in town! Neil Young is in town! That was what the sign on the Civic Auditorium said last Thursday night. It’s always big news when a big name comes to a small town. Not like I could go to the show or anything. My wife was hosting her book club meeting and although baby-sitting duty would kick me and the kids out of the house, I’m not quite ready to take them to a rock concert. I took them go-karting instead.
But I wanted to go to the show. So I did the next best thing. I hunted around for Neil Young songs on You Tube and started posting them on my Facebook page. See, I’ve always liked some of his songs, even when Ronnie Van Zant from Lynyrd Skynyrd told me that I shouldn’t like him. Sorry, I couldn’t do that Ronnie, because Cinnamon Girl rocks, man. (I can’t believe my wife has never heard of it. Sheeeeeeesh!)
Even so, before I became a Catholic, I was more close-minded. Which means that after I became a Catholic I became more open-minded. Whaat?! Yeah, sounds like an oxymoron to be an open-minded, yet orthodox follower of the faith doesn’t it? But that is the way it is.
You hadn’t noticed? I can’t explain it all to you here, music fans, because that is way beyond the scope of a post like this. Suffice it to say that Neil Young is an interesting character, a non-conformist, and yep, you guessed it, a contrarian. Is he a Catholic? I have no idea. But is he godless? I don’t believe so. Heck, some people think he may even be a prophet. I really can’t say. I do know that a few videos here don’t even begin to scratch the surface of Neil’s artistic and philanthropic work. I just know that I like Neil Young’s music and his character. He isn’t perfect, but he knows that too.
Now then, what we have here are the makings of the longest Music for Mondays posts ever at YIM Catholic. Good thing that it is a holiday (here in the US at least), because this way you can crank up the speakers and sing along with Neil (and me). Just be careful, because some of his tunes will melt your speakers down to the wires, which I think is a good thing too.
Why hasn’t Neil ever been awarded a Grammy? That is the question I’m asking myself too. I don’t know (ed. this has since been rectified!). No matter, come along and follow me for a taste o’ Neil Young and remember the wise words of Crash Davis from the movie Bull Durham: “Don’t think. It’s bad for the ball club.” Just enjoy these along with me.
First up, Neil’s folksy side:
Heart of Gold “Put me in the middle of the road. Traveling there soon became a bore, so I headed for the ditch. A rougher ride but I saw more interesting people there.” Thankfully, before Neil headed for “the ditch,” he recorded a show for the BBC in London and played this new song for the audience. Check him out as he fumbles around, in a very charming and relaxed way, for the harmonica in the correct key (key of G, in case you want to blow along with him) to accompany the song. This was Neil’s first and only #1 hit on the Billboard Charts and it is a beauty.
That song sold me on Neal almost immediately. This song sealed the deal. As if Neil would need a band—sheesh! At the same BBC show, Neil also played Old Man. He gives us some neat background information about how he wrote it for the old foreman of his ranch in California. Listen to the words, which Neil enunciates as well as Frank Sinatra ever could, and see if you hear something spiritual whispering into your ear. I know I do around about here,
Love lost, such a cost . . .
Like a Hurricane. Webster likes finger-picking rock guitarists like Mark Knopfler. Finger-picking? Yep, Neil can do that too. Now, what does the song mean? Hey, this is art! Subject to interpretation, see? I know what it means to me and I know something else: it sounds great.
This Note’s for You. Here Neil basically sticks a knife in the heart of the mainstream. This song and music video, which parodied the MTV/Corporate influence of the music industry and, dare I say it, the materialist culture that is still prevalent today. Show it to your kids. I am. They didn’t want to, but MTV honored this song and video with the Music Video of the year Award in 1989.
Just Singing a Song Won’t Change the World I saw an interview Neil gave on the Charlie Rose Show where he told Charlie that all he has been given is pure gift, a gift that he has to share. This video, shot with someone’s hand camera, was done at a benefit for the Bridge School that Neil and his wife founded to help developmentally challenged children in the Bay Area of San Francisco. Two of Neil’s children are diagnosed with cerebral palsy. Talk the talk and walk the walk.
Neil and his wife Pegi sing Four Strong Winds followed up by Neil alone on his When God Made Me performed at the benefit concert Live Aid Canada in 2005. Listen to the second song. Does it make you wince at all? Sort of like good Catholic social teaching, it cuts to the quick. Is the theology crystal clear? Probably not, but Neil isn’t a theologian either. But he isn’t an atheist either.
OK, were moving into the “melt your speakers” portion of Neil’s oeuvre. I’ve never seen the Jim Jarmusch film Dead Man (1995) starring Johnny Depp. But after this discovery, I will be. And soon! Neil set up monitors all over his studio and followed the movie along in real time playing whatever he felt from what he saw on the screen and as the action moved him. He told Jarmuch that the film didn’t really need any music. But Jim begged him to write music to the film anyway. Neil has a gift, see, and thankfully he understands that. Thank God he is sharing it.
Have you ever heard of the group Pearl Jam? Neil wrote this tune Rocking in the Free World and performed it here with Eddie Vedder & Co. back in 1993. In letter-box format no less, so you can also melt your computer screen too. And note, Neil doesn’t go trying to bash his trademark black Les Paul guitar into any amps either. Unlike the rookies from Pearl Jam. Neal just shows them the reason why his guitar is given top-billing. Ow…that dude can jam!
Fifteen years later, Out of the Blue, live in 2008, where the now older man shows that as you start losing your hearing, just turn up the volume and add more distortion. Break out your ear plugs or crank your speakers is all I can say. And don’t forget to listen to the message too. After all, there’s more to the picture than meets the eye and it’s better to burn out than to fade away.
See? Like I said, we’ve barely scratched the surface, but that is all we have time for this week. This could turn into one of those Webster-esque multi-part posts for me very easily. Maybe next time, we’ll do Neil’s movies.