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