Michael Stipe on Neil Young's Musical Influence
Photo by Steve Pyke
The connections between R.E.M. and Neil Young go back to the 1990's when R.E.M. performed at the 1998 Bridge School Benefit Concert. In 2004 Neil Young joined R.E.M. on "Country Feedback" at the Vote For Change concert in St. Paul, MN.
Also, it's fairly well known that R.E.M.'s guitarist Peter Buck is a big Neil Young fan.
Which brings us to a recent interview with R.E.M.'s Michael Stipe in The Observer by Sean O'Hagan. Stipe discusses their new album Collapse Into Now and a Neil Young influenced song:
Collapse Into Now, like its predecessor, Accelerate, sounds like a group who have rediscovered their mojo after a run of albums that sounded, well, like a big stadium band on cruise control. There are pop songs, and harder rock songs, and odd little in-between songs that could not have been made by anyone else. As always of late, they walk a tightrope between a signature and a formula. And, as always, it is Stipe's elliptical lyrics that, depending on where you stand, are the most intriguing or the most annoying aspect of the whole.
Even more intriguing is 'Me, Marlon Brando, Marlon Brando and I', a kind of meta-pop song that references a Neil Young number called 'Pocahontas'.
In that song, Young imagines himself shooting the breeze around a campfire with Pocahontas and Marlon Brando, who, among other things, was a campaigner for Native American rights. I ask Stipe what his Marlon Brando song is about. 'It's about me going to Neil Young for advice,' he replies, as if this was the most natural thing in the world to write a song about. Has he actually done that? 'Oh, no. It's entirely made up, but it's sincere. I hold Neil in high regard, but I have never asked him for advice, though I am sure he would have honoured it if I had.'
Later in the interview, Stipe makes the following observation on the state of the American Dream:
For me, the great weapons used against the American people are fear and ignorance. Keeping people either so uneducated or distracted that they are not able to really form a valuable, educated choice is a great weapon. Fear is an even greater one.
For one half of my life we have had administrations in this country that have used both of those to divide and conquer and to establish their particular vested interests in a way that best suited them and the people that they wanted to see profit.
More on the state of the American Dream and Neil Young's influence on other musicians.
R.E.M.'s "Collapse Into Now," coming March 8, 2011