Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon on Neil Young’s ‘Out of My Mind’
Kim Gordon - Sonic Youth
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Kim Gordon has a new autobiography titled “Girl in a Band” which chronicles her career as the bassist, vocalist and founding member (with now ex-husband Thurston Moore) the ground breaking band Sonic Youth.
Many Neil Young fans first encountered Sonic Youth as an opening act during Crazy Horse's WELD Tour in 1992. In an interview in Wall St. Journal by Marc Myers, Kim Gordon discusses finding refuge in Neil Young's Buffalo Springfield song ‘Out of My Mind’:
Kim Gordon: When I was 14 in the late 1960s, I’d spend hours alone listening to my albums. I loved Buffalo Springfield’s first album, especially Neil Young ’s “Out of My Mind.”
We lived in West Los Angeles—the flat, boring part—and through the music I grew fascinated with the Laurel Canyon scene, where many folk-rock musicians had homes. I had a friend who lived up there, but the houses were all tucked away and inaccessible to me, and I was too young to go to the clubs on the Sunset Strip. So all I had were the albums. I related to the Springfield’s sound—the melancholy melodies, tight harmonies and lyrics with meaning.
As a teen, I often painted in my bedroom as I listened to “Out of My Mind.” The song seemed to be about the alienation of success—how you could become detached from your original community and become screwed up if you couldn’t handle it: “All I hear are screams / from outside the limousines / That are taking me / out of my mind / Through the keyhole / in an open door.”
Back in the ’80s, when I was touring with Sonic Youth, we opened for Neil. I never told him about how much I liked “Out of My Mind.” I was too much in awe of him. Now I wish I had asked him about the song’s meaning.
About eight years ago I rediscovered the song. I live in Western Massachusetts now and hate the winters. Relistening to the music was partly California nostalgia, but I also developed a new appreciation for the song’s craft. Neil’s vulnerability and authentic sound haven’t changed much. As a nonsinger, I relate to that.
I’ve never tried to sing “Out of My Mind,” even by myself at home. Several years ago I did use the song’s lyrics to make a series of word paintings with metallic watercolors on rice paper. But I’ve never shared them with anyone. They’re private.
Nicolette Larson is best remembered for her 1979 cover of Neil Young's "Lotta Love" which was a #1 hit and launched her musical career.
Regarding the song "Lotta Love", she said "I got that song off a tape I found lying on the floor of Neil's car. I popped it in the tape player and commented on what a great song it was. Neil said: 'You want it? It's yours.' "
Nicolette Larson's "Lotta Love" written by Neil Young.
Nicolette Larson sang on Neil Young's 1977 album, American Stars 'n Bars, with Linda Ronstadt on the tracks "Old Country Waltz", "Saddle Up the Palomino", "Bite the Bullet", "Hold Back the Tears", and "Hey Babe".
Nicolette Larson: 1952 - 1997
Sadly, Larson died in 1997 at the age of 45 after suffering a cerebral edema.
The "Lotta Love Concert," a tribute to late vocalist Nicolette Larson was staged Feb. 21-22, 1998, at the Santa Monica, CA Civic Auditorium.
The event featured performances from Dan Fogelberg, Joe Walsh, Jackson Browne, Emmylou Harris, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Jimmy Buffet, Carole King, Linda Ronstadt and Little Feat with Bonnie Raitt, a number of whom Larson recorded with in her lifetime.
"Neil Young, urged by Emmylou and her producer-husband, Brian Ahern, ambled down malibu's Broad Beach to play some tunes for Linda and found her harmonizing with Nicolette. So were born the Bullets on American Stars'n Bars. The next year Nicolette backed up Young on Comes A Time"."
The liner notes also says of the Tribute concert that "Neil Young sent a bouquet of roses as big as the audience. He could only attend in spirit on the group encore of 'Lotta Love'".
One evening when Linda Ronstadt got a call from Neil Young, a Malibu neighbor, looking for a female vocal accompanist. Ronstadt mentioned Nicolette to Young, who had already been given Larson's name three times that day. He promptly came over with guitar in hand.
'I didn't know much about Neil Young,' remembers Larson. 'But we went over and sat by the fireplace and Neil ran down all the songs he had just written, about twenty of them. We sang harmonies with him and he was jazzed.'
A week later Young invited Larson and Ronstadt up to his northern California ranch/studio to re-create the same vocal mix for his American Stars and Bars album. 'We [Neil and Crazy Horse] worked out the songs in a room of his house,' says Larson. 'And just when we had the songs down, Neil said, 'Thanks a lot... we've got the album.' He was recording all the rehearsals secretly in another room.'
Larson didn't hear from Young until six months later, when he summoned her to Nashville where he was beginning Comes a Time. Young wanted her to front a twenty-two-piece studio band with him - dubbed the Gone with the Wind Orchestra. 'He told me to sing whatever I wanted,' says Larson. 'You can hear me trying to work the parts out on the album.'"
After the Ducks episode, Young had taken his son Zeke for a cross-country ride in his tour bus. They ended up in Nashville and Neil decided to begin his next record there. Young rounded up a crew of sidemen that included country session musicians who had never played anything resembling rock, a singer – Nicolette Larson – he had worked with on American Stars ‘n Bars, and six acoustic guitarists.
Young began his most accessible and ultimately best-selling album since Harvest. “I was feeling pretty sunny,” he recalls. Nicolette Larson had kept a tape of some of the material from when she and Neil first met and sang together at her friend Linda Ronstadt’s house. When the phone call came from Nashville, she was ready.
Young barely had to show her the songs before they were singing the duets that appear on the album. The Gone with the Wind Orchestra, as the entire conglomeration of twenty-two musicians was called, lasted throughout the album and for one live performance, on Young’s thirty-second birthday, at an outdoor benefit for children’s hospitals in the Miami Beach area.
Young rehearsed the outfit in a Nashville storefront and flew everyone to Florida where, sharing the windy stage with Nicolette, he played what could well have been his purest and most note-perfect performance ever. The show ended with Young playing part of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama,” which he dedicated to “a couple of friends in the sky.”
A visit to Young’s house in Zuma Beach a month later found him and Nicolette in floppy sweaters before the fireplace – Ma and Pa Kettle at home. Young made some coffee, put on the tape, and they sang with themselves while Comes a Time played.
Here's an interview with Producer Daniel Lanois on Neil Young and the Pono, analog vs. digital debate from Vancouver Sun by Francois Marchand:
“In regards to Neil, bless his heart for going after quality. We’ve spoken about it a lot when I was working with him. When we were kids — and Neil is a little older than me, he’s a generation ahead of me — it was very common to pay a visit to the hi-fi shops. You’d go in and there would be a well-informed sales guy — it was all guys at that time — and you’d have a chance to try the German headphones and the Danish ones and the electro-static speakers. So there was a very, very high regard for an understanding of quality in reproduction in sound.
“It’s no news to anyone what happened: Convenience, MP3 and buzz, and there was a dip in quality. But thankfully in part to Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine, it became cool to buy an expensive set of Beats headphones because people want to hear quality all over again.
“Pono is simply a very, very high digital resolution machine. What’s nice about what Neil is up to is that he’s gone back to analog sources and recordings. It’s like a film vs. digital camera: There’s no pixelization in that technology, it’s just saturation. That’s why Neil loves analog and those old tape masters. Then the idea is to transfer to this high-grade digital format so you get the density of the analog and the proper reproduction we should have been operating by all along digitally.
“Neil is saying, ‘Not good enough.’ So here we are. At least people are talking about fidelity all over again. How great is that? It’s not so much about analog over digital, it’s about, ‘You want to go to digital? Bring it on.’ But people don’t really care how you make records. In the end, people just want to be transported by music. Everything is driven by cost.
“Quality has always been with us. Just about every record I’ve worked on sounds really great. Did I ever want them to be played on an MP3 system? I want to shoot the guy who invented that thing.”
The Making of “Down By The River” by Neil Young & Crazy Horse
Here's the story of the making of “Down By The River” by Neil Young & Crazy Horse.
From an epic archive feature, in December 2004’s issue of Uncut by Nigel Williamson, Neil Young himself explains the making of every single song on his Greatest Hits album:
“Down By The River” defined the guitar sound Young perfected with Crazy Horse, played on a vintage instrument he called “Old Black”, a 1953 Gibson Les Paul that he’d bought in 1967 for $50. Years later, he was still recalling the excitement of the first time he played it through a vintage 1959 Fender Deluxe: “Immediately, the entire room started to vibrate. I went, ‘Holy shit!’ I had to turn it halfway down before it stopped feeding back.” The sessions for Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere were the first time he’d used the combination in the studio.
Despite being nine minutes long, “Down By The River” was edited down from a much longer jam. “We got the vibe, but it was just too long and sometimes it fell apart, so we just took the shitty parts out,” Young explained. “Made some radical cuts in there – I mean, you can hear ’em. Danny just played so cool on that. He was playing R’n’B kinda things. He made the whole band sound good.”
Bassist Billy Talbot confirms that it was “Down By The River” which patented the Crazy Horse sound: “At first we played it double-time, faster like the chorus is now. It was almost a jazz thing.” They then borrowed a James Brown-style beat, but slowed down to a more stoned pace.
According to drummer Ralph Molina, Young borrowed the chord sequence from a Danny Whitten composition called “Music On The Road”, although Young’s biographer Jimmy McDonough reckoned it owes more to “Let Me Go”, another Rockets song, which appeared on their only album (released in ’68).
Written in bed with a fever on the same day as “Cinnamon Girl” and “Cowgirl In The Sand”, once the sickness passed Young still didn’t seem to have much idea where “Down By The River” ’s lyric came from, with its “I shot my baby” refrain.
“No, there’s no real murder in it. It’s about blowing your thing with a chick. It’s a plea, a desperation cry,” he insisted in 1970.
Yet in a long preamble to the song at a 1984 concert in New Orleans, he told a different story, claiming it was about “a guy who had a lot of trouble controlling himself”. He went on to describe a very literal meeting by a river in which the man tells the woman she’s cheated on him once too often: “He reached down into his pocket and pulled a little revolver out and he said, ‘Honey, I hate to do this, but you’ve pushed me too far.’”
Full December 2004 article "Neil Young on the making of his greatest hits" in Uncut by Nigel Williamson.