Archives Comment of the Moment: Neil Encounters
The Neil Young Archives Comment of the Moment is from Commentary Open Thread by Pinto (or Flounder):
Writing about the Archives is really difficult, because the scope is so large and leads to so many trains of thought. But a few off the cuff observations after a month of Neil-immersion, from the Archives back to the bootlegs and some of the albums I spent less time with, and a re-reading of Shakey and Love to Burn:
-When the archives songs were recorded, Neil Young was not NEIL YOUNG. He was a very young man who, in a short period of time, had connected, in his Canadian years, with a group as diverse as John Kay (and the pre-Steppenwolf Sparrow),Joni Mitchell, Randy Bachman, and Rick James (which still kills me.) He was a folk-singer, an electric guitarist, and, with Rick James, a Motown artist - all before he hit the States.
Hooking up with Stills and Furay, he went through the insanity of Buffalo Springfield, epilepsy, beating by cops, all while working illegally in a "foreign" country, etc.
The point being that, regardless of his ego or his belief in himself, he had no idea that he was going to end up being NEIL YOUNG. Nor did we as we encountered his early recordings.
-we, most of us, did not encounter Neil in the neatly organized chronology of the Archives. I first heard him on "Buffalo Springfield" which I bought because of "For What it's Worth" without any knowledge of Neil Young and was surprised to find that he wrote better songs than Stills.
My next encounter was, in my senior year of high school, with "Everybody Knows.." which was, and is, one of the most unusual albums ever recorded, in the sense that there was no precedent for a "folk singer" to also be a highly original electric guitarist. You couldn't, and can't, talk about Neil Young in the same context as his contemporary singer/songwriters.
Sure Dylan can play guitar, as could Paul Simon, but neither of them ever recorded a song with a 10 minute guitar solo, much less one that they played. (And I am firmly in the camp that believes that Neil is a spectacularly talented guitarist.) Stills and John Fogerty come to mind as well, but Stills never wrote melodies or lyrics that stand with Neil's best and he drugged himself out pretty quickly. (Nor was he a particularly original guitarist, technical prowess aside.) Fogerty deserves to be in the discussion, but his body of work does not compare with Neil's after 40 years. As writers/singers/instrumentalists Neil's only analog is maybe Prince (which leads back to ironic thoughts about Neil's association with Rick James.)
-as Neil followed "Everybody Knows.." with "Goldrush", CSNY, and "Harvest" he was reinventing himself every six months, yet, as the Archives Volume One ends, no one could possibly have predicted what was to follow. I vividly remember rushing to the store to buy "Time Fades Away" and bringing it to a college party without having listened to it first. I would give a lot to be able to recapture the looks on people's faces as it blasted out of the stereo.
-listening to the early songs, reading Shakey, for better or worse, there is no evidence that Neil has ever read a book. As he says in Shakey, talking about why he quit singing "Tell Me Why" (because he realized that the chorus makes no sense) he says "I never edit myself."
Good (and sometimes bad) for him. Unfiltered through literary pretensions we end up with stunning images, remarkable poetry, and, once in awhile, some truly horrible lines. (But to his everlasting credit, Neil is completely aware of this, and doesn't give a shit. He describes Last Trip to Tulsa as a comedy song. I had a bootleg, many years ago, where he stops in the middle of Sugar Mountain and talks about how he wrote something like 139 verses and "This is the worst one" and then sings the "I was underneath the stairs.." verse.)
- I am so grateful for the Archives and the opportunity to go back to the beginning and watch and hear him create the greatest body of work of my lifetime. Revisiting the bootlegs, I have no doubt that the next volumes will be even better.
Thanks Pinto (or Flounder)!
More commentary and thoughts on Neil Young Archives and our review here.