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Monday, October 19, 2009

Comment of the Moment: "Flock of sheep" Fans

The Neil Young Comment of the Moment is from the thread on We Went to a Football Game and a Neil Young Debate Broke Out which somewhat surpsing ly generated a fair amount of nice quality comments. From D.I. Kertis:
I don't hold Neil's lyrics to the same conventions as storytelling -- a clear narrative and coherent story -- because most of his songs don't tell stories. Neil Young is first and foremost, in my mind, a rock 'n' roll poet. That's what he writes -- poetry set to music. That's pretty much what lyrics are, right?

Like poetry, Neil's songs, more often than not, are about evoking a feeling that the listener can hopefully relate to, rather than telling a story. Neil himself has said this, in Shakey as I remember: "It gives a feeling", or some such thing. And if something someone writes or says makes you feel a certain way, that to me is one of the chief indicators of art.

And that is what poetry is all about-- feelings: expressing them; evoking them. That is what Neil has always been able to do best in my mind (well, that and getting darnedest noises out of an electric guitar but that's a separate thing.) Now if, say, Rich from Atlanta, doesn't "feel" it the same why I, or another longtime fan, does, that's fine. It's perfectly natural: different people think and feel differently and art effects people (or doesn't effect them as the case may be) individually.

I think Neil would be pleased that not everyone shares the same reaction to his work, and that there are both praising and critical responses. He's all about free thinking after all. I imagine the last last thing he'd want is for people to act like a flock of sheep and say he's great rather than thinking it through for themselves.

Even then, there have been times when Neil's songs have told coherent stories. There is one particularly great example of this as a matter of fact and it's from the last few years to boot: Greendale. If you listen to the lyrics, you can pretty much follow the story, right? It's not Shakespeare but it's coherent. Neil CAN write like that when he wants to. However, I think it's clear he doesn't especially want to and doesn't think he's that great at it, or we'd have more albums like Greendale. But he doesn't and, frankly, I agree: while I enjoy Greendale and find the story inspiring and the music exhilarating, the poetic side of Neil's writing was compromised throughout that album in an effort to tell the story in a straightforward manner. The intent of Greendale wasn't to be poetic, but nonetheless, I found myself missing that element of Neil's writing from time to time with that album as there were occasional instances of awkward phrasing ([Jed shot Carmichael] in a split-second tragic blunder.")

In short, Neil's songs don't need to convey a coherent narrative. In fact, they are usually at their best when they don't. For example: Nowadays Clancy Can't Even Sing. This is a song that has grown on me since recordings of Neil himself singing it have been made available. It doesn't tell any kind of story the listener can follow but it clearly expresses anger, frustration, paranoia, loneliness, and despair. Communicating a feeling is the essence of poetry and Clancy is Neil at his finest.

D. I.

Thanks -- as always -- D.I.!

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At 10/19/2009 10:27:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry this is slightly off subject but I remember reading (or hearing in an audio interview) that when Lennon and Dylan were together at some point in the 60s Lennon was groovin on the "feeling" from some of Dylan's tunes and Dylan was trying to get Lennon focused on the lyrics and Lennon kept groovin on the feeling and it went back and forth like that for a while ... many of Neil's song evoke that feeling, the lyrics are rich, but they often do not tell a coherent story ... what is after the goldrush really about? How about Mr. Soul or Powerfinger? OK, granted there is some great explanations on TW for lyrics on songs including Powderfinger ... whatever the case the songs rock!

At 10/19/2009 10:37:00 PM, Anonymous LRR said...

I think Neil's an impressionist. Most of his songs have an element of that.

At 10/21/2009 05:29:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i think there was a time when you could make the claim that Neil wrote "poetic lyrics", but i think those days are long gone. he's still a great performer, but he's no longer a great songwriter. at least he hasn't shown it for a long time. but i live in hope.

-- Glenn


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