We Went to a Football Game and a Neil Young Debate Broke Out
We went to a football game and a Neil Young debate broke out.
Well, not exactly.
So one of our sports junkie buddies is over on the "other" NYTimes.com site checking out the latest discussions on game day Sunday.
And -- lo and behold -- a routine discussion on Giants vs Cowboys, etc turns into a free for all about the merits of Neil Young's music with all of the standard stereotypes.
It begins somewhat innocently, with some innocuous banter which then takes a turn when Rich in Atlanta steps up to the plate with some "artsy" Neil rhetoric:
Walt, I actually don’t like Skynyrd that much, I just said I agreed with them on that point. I can tolerate them but I much prefer the Allman Brothers.
When I said I didn’t ‘get it’, I was being flippant.
Because I really think that Young is often just trying to sound meaningful by stringing together a couple of phrases that sound like they really might mean something and happen to rhyme. “I’ve been in my mind. It’s such a fine line.”
No, I don’t get that. Feel free to enlighten me. The problem I have is that there was a lot of crap like that in the 60’s, and when I was really, really stoned it sounded deep, but that turns out not to be a very good perspective from which to judge ‘art.’
Jackson Pollock and Pablo Picasso. I don’t much care for Pollock and I generally like Picasso a lot. I ‘get’ most of Picasso, in the sense that it does something for me, and on those occasions when there is a Picasso that I really don’t get, I’m willing to trust that it’s my perception that’s at fault.
Here’s the thing: Picasso could draw - ‘draw like an angel’, in his own phrase, which was probably somewhat exaggerated, but not by much. Pollock couldn’t draw; he lacked basic visual artistic skills. That doesn’t necessarily mean that ‘Lavender Mist’ might not be one of the great art works of the 20th century, but it really doesn’t do anything for me, and his lack of basic artistic skills makes me suspicious (at best).
Most of Dylan’s songs consist of coherent thoughts about concrete things, which are often suggestive and profound. He is subtle and yet manages to make us sense the powerful human experiences and emotions behind what often appear to be simple stories. That’s a mastery of basic literary skills, which I don’t see in Young.
A large percentage of Young’s lyrics do not consist of coherent thoughts, but rather artsy sounding phrases which may or may not be profound. The problem is, when he DOES form coherent thoughts, they are almost always trite and/or statements of the obvious - e.g. Southern Man or the aforementioned Ohio. All of which makes me suspect that when he’s putting together a couple of otherwise unrelated phrases, he is very likely not being profound, but simply trying to rhyme and sound meaningful at the same time.
In short, Young has never demonstrated an ability to draw.
The lyric I mentioned in my previous post always conjures up for me the image of two stoners watching TV and struggling to grasp the gravity of what they are viewing:
“Like, what if you knew her and actually, like, found her dead on the ground like that?”
“Yeah, man. Bummer.”
“You got anything to eat?”
And that about sums up all the depth I see in Neil Young.
— Rich in Atlanta
Which is followed up by Walt B. who picks up with:
No major pop/rock star that anybody can name, ever took more chances than Neil Young. As a very young man he was already an incredibly fresh and bracing singer/songwriter, and he rightly took his place among giants in the Buffalo Springfield. There he proved that he could rock as hard as anybody. Complaining about the voice of a rock musician is the exact same as admitting that you don’t “get” rock. Rock is about breaking the rules, destroying the standards, daring to be rude, daring to be exactly who you are.
Neil Young is considered the godfather of grunge as much for his stubborn determination to ignore trends and critics, as he is for his unflinching musical style.
Forget about the fact that, fifteen years into his career, he needed three albums for all of his hits. Those who know his body of work are well aware that many brilliant moments are to be found on songs that rarely, if ever received radio airplay.
There are very few artists who are truly worthy of a decades-long career. Barely any of them are American rock artists. On a list that would include names such as Bruce Springsteen, Bob Seger, John Mellencamp and perhaps several others, one must obviously include Neil Young, who has never really “led” in the sense that he foresaw new trends, but just as surely never followed anything other than his own interests and his own inner muse.
Perhaps that’s what Rich doesn’t like about Neil Young: he is an artist first, rocker second and pop star fiftieth. He never attempted to appeal to mainstream tastes, and he famously wrote in the liner notes to “Decade” that “Heart Of Gold” placed him in the middle of the road, where he learned that he preferred the ditch.
I think Rich is on safer ground when he admits that he just doesn’t get it.
(By the way, I am a fan of Lynyrd Skynyrd and especially the one album they got to make with Steve Gaines, who Ronnie predicted would one day take over the band. The world will never know what was lost in that crash.)
— Walt Bennett
And on & on until Bob Dylan is dragged in and we all know where that ends up going....
Hey, it's only a sports blog after all. Doesn't mean that much to me to mean that much to you.