Happy 75th Birthday Neil Young!

Neil Young Never Rusts

Ever prolific, the Canadian-born troubadour has reached a venerable milestone as he turns 75 years of age.

Neil Young has performed in pop culture’s spotlight of fame since his singular, contra tenor vocals rose out of the folk-rock scene of the psychedelic ‘60s. A maverick among recording and concert artists, he has just as often performed outside of that proverbial spotlight, since he cares nothing forto the whims of public popularity or the critics who’ve blow hot and cold across his career, even as his legions of fans, both casual and hardcore, remain receptive and appreciative.

Whatever has inspired or driven this reclusive man to make public music, he has done so on his own terms, year after year, moving like a chameleon through the decades, at times absorbing current musical trends and letting them influence his artistic explorations, while returning again and again to the bedrock style of folkie acoustic music and turgid electric rock n roll that remains truly unlike any other artist. The possible exceptions are those who have emulated the rough edges and raw emotional effect of Young’s writing, playing, and singing, but are never able to come near his inimitable panache.

As far as I am concerned, no single composition encapsulates what it is to be Neil Young as Natural Beauty. A social ballad, more than political, it pleads for the preservation what little of pristine nature remains in the world, mixed with the artist’s feelings about the short-sighted results of modern consumerism. Natural Beauty is Neil Young at his most pure and unadorned, an artist who creates art in the spontaneity of the moment and who would likely be unleashing the same art into the world whether anyone showed up to listen or no. And here below is a very good performance of that song.

A melancholy mood is set from first notes, with music that is as languid and haunting as can be heard from an acoustic guitar, wafting and echoing, at times immense, as the tentative peal of his harmonica rises up, like the lonely call of some wild bird. So very Neil – unhurried, simple in construction yet as pregnant and poignant as the swollen, ancient river he will soon be singing about .

Then come the lyrics. Gruff and at times as cryptic as a Pinter play, his imperfect poetry glows with the power of the emotional depths surging below the surface, conveying much more than the words do when read at face value, as they float along the meandering current of his guitar, with the verses set out like musical bridges between the soul-wrenching laments wailing from his mouth harp, which seem to express what words cannot.

There was another performance of this song from around the same time period, recorded in Ireland, and put on the internet by someone who disabled the ability to embed it elsewhere. And now it seems to have been removed and is no longer available. A pity. But this one above, recorded for some television program or other, is still a good one. For me, this song gets me right in the heart strings every time I hear it, no matter the specific performance. Far from being a hit, or even well-known, I put it on the very short list at the top of his many worthy and worthwhile compositions.

Like Dylan’s original version of Visions of Johanna, I can only imagine what it must have been like to have been present in the room and heard Neil Young performing a previously unknown song and have Natural Beauty unfold in all its ragged glory.

Far from slowing down, the septuagenarian singer-songwriter has released three albums in less than a year, including his 40th LP album of original material, Homegrown, (June 2020, but recorded in 1974-75), and most recently, September’s solo EP entitled, The Times, featuring performances streamed from his home during the COVID-19 isolation, and November’s Return to Greendale, a live album recorded in 2003. And in June of 2019, he released his 39th LP of new original material, Colorado, recorded that summer with his time rock band, Crazy Horse, that now includes longtime sideman Nils Lofgren standing guitarist Frank “Poncho” Sampedro, who retired in 2014.

And speaking of Sampedro and Crazy Horse, here I begin a slew of Neil Young Videos that remain close to my heart.

Powderfinger, when it was brand new:

Powderfinger from Live Rust

Unfortunately the version from Live Rust is only available on Facebook.

Here is a more obscure tune, but awesome Neil Young and Crazy Horse.

Ramada Inn:

Lookout for My Love, from MTV Unplugged:

Featuring Nils Lofgren: guitar,  Ben Keith: Dobro,  Spooner Oldham: keyboards, Tim Drummond: bass, Oscar Butterworth: drums,  Astrid Young & Nicolette Larson: backing vocals

Transformer Man:

That he certainly is.

Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young – 1970

Various Excerpts from the film Time Fades Away

 

The Loner -1970

Appropriately enough, solo

Walk Like a Giant – 2012

Speaking of IMMENSE!

More videos in the article about Neil’s acoustic guitars at One Man’s Guitar (coming soon.)

 

 

A New Day, a New President

A guitarist pen pal in Germany wrote to offer congratulations to me and America

And he asked how I was doing. My reply finally put into words how I felt.

For four years, I and those like me have been sickened to our soul that the America we always wanted to believe existed could have elected that odious villainous criminal. And it looked as if it were to happen AGAIN.

But in the end, American citizens came out in record numbers to reject Trumpism as a political movement in the USA.

Now, not everyone who voted for Trump is an awful human being. Many would vote Republican no matter who was on the ticket. Even here in my progressive area there were many who voted for Trump, because they are wealthy and care for little more than their tax bill.

That is not the same thing as Trumpism.

Then again, maybe it is. Donald Trump doesn’t “love America” and he isn’t a born again Christian. Like all great con men, he tells people what they want to hear.

Actually, Donald Trump only loves Donald Trump, and cares only about himself.

His charisma and message is all about selfishness. And he legitimized the selfishness of not just the rich who vote for anyone who will cut their taxes, but the selfishness of the smallest, meanest bigots and anyone longing to have their selfishness validated by no one less than the President of the frickin’ United States.

But we were shown there were far more people who wanted Trump’s America than we ever allowed ourselves to believe. And that heartbreak was reinforced when 60 million voted for him this time too.

And yet, as a result of Trump’s ascendancy, so many of the worst of us have been exposed for what they are, so that white supremacists are being ejected from the military and the police, etc. for the first time ever. There are silver linings in this.

Genuine fascism was smoldering at his rallies and was reflected in the cold eyes of his primary advisors. His reckless disregard for the reality of the Virus and his disregard for common decency and the strong man rhetoric inciting his followers to armed violence were endangering the very fabric of our society.

And America – enough of America – came forth to say Trump did not deserve and would not be tolerated in a second term in office. It is our turn to be emboldened, and we are now aware of the serious threats to our democracy residing withing our democracy.

Many who typically vote Republican joined us to vote for Biden. That says a great deal.

As for today, I was not prepared for the outpouring of emotion. From me or from anyone else. There were more people filling the large park near me than had ever been in my 32 years in Brooklyn – not even half that number had gathered there.

And I was told Central Park was “like Woodstock.” And then told it is happening across America. And then I realized it was happening the world over. Church bells were being rung across Europe and elsewhere at the news.

Faith has been restored in me about the better angels of America’s nature. Time will tell if it will be enough.

Trumpism is defeated in an official sense. Its horrid realities are still roaming at large. I remain grateful that I live on an island off the coast of America.