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Tuesday, June 12, 2012

"Don’t Chase the Rabbit", Neil Young Says To Patti Smith:

Patti Smith & Neil Young
Photo by The Great Gray Bridge
(Click photo to enlarge)

Last week, Patti Smith hosted a conversation with Neil Young at BookExpo America in New York City to discuss his upcoming book 'Waging Heavy Peace'. By all accounts, it proved to be a fascinating time for all involved.

A nice wrap-up of the event from Neil Young to Patti Smith: Don’t Chase the Rabbit | The Great Gray Bridge:
The last point is Neil’s discussion of how he never forces the writing of a song.

Patti observed that Neil’s songs, “even ones produced from pain . . . seem so effortless, like they just came out of the wind, maybe that’s why your dad called you ‘Windy.’”

Neil answered, “Well, they do come that way. I don’t try to think of them. I wait till they come. A metaphor may be that if you’re trying to catch a rabbit, you don’t wait right by the hole. . . And then the rabbit comes out of the hole, he looks around. You start talking to the rabbit, but you’re not looking at it. Ultimately, the rabbit is friendly and the song is born.

The idea is, he’s free to come, free to go. Who would want to intimidate or disrespect the source of the rabbit? And in that way if the song happens, it happens. If it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen. It doesn’t matter.

That’s why I’ll write a lot of material and why I’ll suddenly not write any material. There’s no reason to write, it has to come to me, if it doesn’t come to me, I don’t want to have anything to do with it, I don’t want to see it, I don’t want to look for it. I really hate things that people work on. There’s nothing about music that should be working on it.

There’s no reason to be something you’re not. Or trying to be somebody that you think is good.”

More on Neil Young to Patti Smith: Don’t Chase the Rabbit | The Great Gray Bridge and Patti Smith's conversation with Neil Young at BookExpo America in New York City .

So, in summary "Kill the Big, Red Rooster" but "Don’t Chase the Rabbit"... or spook the horse, either.

Conference Badge for Patti Smith & Neil Young
Photo by The Great Gray Bridge
(Click photo to enlarge)


At 6/12/2012 07:30:00 AM, Blogger no one said...

(laughing silently)...this sounds very much like my unemployed son. "no, Mom... When the right thing comes along I'll know it. It doesn't work when you try to force it."

This is fine when the Muse drops Powderfinger on you... But when she's dropping Johnny Magic you might want to consider, oh, you know, maybe working at it a little bit.

At 6/12/2012 08:32:00 AM, Blogger peter d. said...

@no one

Hello again. You seem to have a strong argument here at first...

But I suggest you tell your son that his answer in fact suggest he should get off his lazy ass and try EVERYTHING, and not NOTHING.
That is, if you wanna make this comparison right...

It is by NOT holding back ANYTHING that Neil was able to write Powderfinger AND Johnny Magic.

I am deeply convinced that Neil knows it's all or nothing. By not judging, he is free. That's what's needed for creating anything worthwile.

At 6/12/2012 08:44:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

eh, with all due respect neil is full of shit here. his approach works for HIM, and that's great, but other artists take other paths. do we really want every single songwriter out there to follow neil's path and just plop down whatever falls out of their head at a particular moment?

At 6/12/2012 08:58:00 AM, Blogger SONY said...

Obviously Neil knows himself, and what works for him and what does not. He respondes to his muse with what he gets out of it. It may be similar for other musicians, maybe not. Some can painstakingly 'work out' every word and note. I rememebr Don Henley saying every single note on one of his records was put in individually, not even performed. Some don't even write the stuff they sing (Elton/Bernie). Whatever works. Lennon told McCartney to leave ' the movement you need is on your shoulder' in Hey Jude as Paul was gonna change it - that's collaboration. Neil collaborates with his muse.

Not every song is a jewel in the crown. They are stories, like children, the each have their place at the table. Some kids invent the internet, or the smart phone or walk on the moon. Others may only take care of grandma, might be in jail or are sleeping on the park bench. I've said before, you're not gonna get 16 versions of Heart of Gold on a Neil album. You wouldn't want it. And Neil doesn't care what you/we want anyway.

Some songs take 5 minutes to write, some a bit longer, some never get finsihed. It's an individual art unto oneself. It'll drive ya nuts and it'll make your day, and posssible your career.

Why question it now. Does he really need to repeat this again?

Reminds me of some 70's song..If you don't know me by will never never never know me.

At 6/12/2012 09:17:00 AM, Anonymous The Zuma Band said...

He's just talking about what works/worked for him; not what everybody else should do. Seems that if you deliberately try to emulate his approach without his understanding of it you're doomed to failure because you don't intrinsically get it; you're just a mimic, and, by definition, not creative.

Talking about music is like writing about wine. It is a meager suggestion of the thing, and certainly no substitute. I take everything he says with a grain of salt, as he is, by history and nature, very contradictory.

At 6/12/2012 12:25:00 PM, Anonymous Expecting to Fly said...

I think Neil is not as prolific a writer as he was in younger days. He has written about anything and everything! But I think he's operated that way even when he was under pressure to write to put out an LP. Got him in trouble with the Geffen ordeal. I write too, when the moment strikes and I have uncompleted songs or rifs that finally take on a life of their own and amazes me when that happens. But I am fairly deliberate in my writing but trying to take Neil's cue in letting it come naturally and not altering it too much. Getting better at that. Just write the song...however it comes.

At 6/12/2012 12:41:00 PM, Blogger Dan1 said...

In the Demme Q&A Neil made a comment that he wasnt drinking or smoking for the past year and therefore he didn't write anything ... it came off as very funny and everyone laughed but it didn't seem like he was joking ... he was partially explaining how he had a desire to work with the horse but he didn't have any songs which was led them to 'americana' ... in that q&a he never mentioned the second CH album so it wasn't clear where the inspiration came from for those new songs ... all that said Expecting to Fly I'm not sure I agree with you ... I go back to his output over the last 5-7 years and I think it holds up completely ... IMHO Le Noise for example is dynamite right up there with his best output... a bunch of the new songs in CD II, they're totally first tier stuff, he's still putting out something new basically every year ... I think there's been a shift, his writing now is more direct, less dreamy, less esoteric ... but strikes me as same Neil just 40 years later ... all one song ...

At 6/12/2012 12:43:00 PM, Anonymous LRR said...

The forthcoming Crazy Horse "jam record" will be interesting. I wonder what the muse brought to him live in the studio, Audio Casa Blanca, with the lads.

It's been interesting to see the Horse Evolve over the years...Toast may be the missing link between what they are now and what they were..

At 6/12/2012 12:58:00 PM, Blogger Raincheck said...

Well, it takes a lot to do what Neil (perhaps unintentionally) makes sound like just sitting around waiting for a song.

First, you have to be open and ready for the rabbit whenever it comes.

Second, you need know how how to coax the bunny to you, you have to know how to shape the song once it appears, probably somehwhat unformed.

It helps to have a the experience of having written good songs before, and to have gone through the learning processes Neil did working with the Springfield, who arranged songs precisely, and with Nitzsche, who worked in a very formal way, before Neil started to work less formally with, say, the Horse. He brings a background to his encounters with the rabbit that most don't.

And you have to be able to take the song and sing and play it in a way that brings it to life. Which is Neil's greatest gift. Neil is a phenomenal performer of his own songs.

So, yeah, he waits for the rabbit. But when the rabbit comes, Neil makes the most of the visit.

Long story short - your son should get off his ass and do something.

At 6/12/2012 02:03:00 PM, Blogger Arthur said...

I have never in my life eaten rabbit.

At 6/12/2012 02:31:00 PM, Blogger SONY said...

I can say that from personal experience from writing songs, when the idea for a song has come into my head, whatever I am doing, and I have 'listened' and responded by grabbing pen and paper, and sometimes guitar too, the song basically wrote itself, the ideas meshed and the theme seemed to be consistent and coherant. Other times I have waited on it, or couldn't stop what I was doing and the idea went away, the vibe died, and never came back. Other times when I've tried to write something it might have gotten half way and when finished later wasn't quite the same thought as the initial inspiration. Close, but just off. Or else still sits unfinished. So Neil's point of reference resonates with me completely. It's not some fluke, it's just the way the 'spirit' moves. It is weird, and ya just never know when it's gonna hit.

I read Ringo offed a comment one time that "it's been a hard day's night" and wallah, Lennon grabbed it and look what came from that!

At 6/12/2012 04:03:00 PM, Anonymous tjphoto said...

Let's be blunt about this, and cut the bull that accompanies another Neil Young indulgence. Neil seems to have become more sacred and uncritically praised in the music press as his music has steadily declined and grown rancid. And apparently self-infatuation has infected his thinking as well. Hence another film of the road trip of doom and some quaint archival footage that's cringe-inducing in this context.

I say this as someone who loved his music from the time of Buffalo Springfield through the early and mid-career solo work. The fact is that Neil has added virtually nothing to the canon of his best work for so many years I've lost count. To continue lauding him on the basis of work that's far beneath his best is insulting to the audience as well as the memory of NY at his best. I'm not trying to be nostalgic, as he is (ironically) with this recording. I'm just trying to bring something in the way of more objective critique to an artist's production that has been bogged down with undistinguished songs and performances for far too long. Neil never had much perspective on his own work. It's time someone else called him to task.

This latest release is another embarrassment, another testament to the decline of a once-great recording artist. Do we really need more evidence of his lack of ability to write something new that's great enough to rank with the songs we should remember him by. It's sad. But the idolizing of NY has to stop when each new release fails to deliver anything worthy of comparison with accomplishments from his earlier career.

At 6/12/2012 04:23:00 PM, Blogger Arthur said...


At 6/12/2012 05:30:00 PM, Blogger La Johnson said...

Chas & Dave said this more succinctly...'rabbit, rabbit, rabbit'...indeed zzzzzzzzzzz

At 6/12/2012 07:26:00 PM, Blogger Jonathan said...

@tjphoto - thank you so much. We all have been waiting for someone else to tell us what constitutes good songwriting. We couldn't have figured it out until you came along. Your statement that "Neil has added virtually nothing to the canon of his best work for so many years" is simply your opinion - nothing more and nothing less.

Some of us will respectfully disagree. Perhaps your worldview is narrow and small minded. Perhaps you want Neil's 70's period to return. I don't know.

But I do know that of all the releases since 2000, there have been way more gems than "cringe-inducing" stinkbombs.

Allow me to cite a few albums more than worthy to be included among his best :

'Silver and Gold' - 2000
'Greendale' - 2003
'Prarie Wind' - 2005
'Le Noise' - 2010

Oh well - we all have opinions - I didn't really care for 'Are you Passionate' or 'Fork in the Road' AT ALL. But his songwriting in general continues to grow and reflect his personal growth as well as the times in which we find ourselves.

If 'Americana' bums you out this much, maybe consider going away for a while and attempt to re-discover what first drew you to Neil's music many years ago.

I have news for you - his greatness is still there.


At 6/12/2012 09:10:00 PM, Anonymous The Zuma Band said...

I never cease to be amazed at how NY can generate such spitting vitriol from some. Yes, everyone has an opinion, and yes, there is certainly room to discuss the relative merits of songs, eras, configurations and collaborations. Do you prefer your Neil moody, elegiac,poetic, stoned, angry, simple, elaborate, melodic, crude? In love, anti war,unattached,silly, lonely? As a young man, as a middle aged man, as a SOB, as a father, as someone approaching old age, as an empty nester? Country, soul, R&B, rock, punk, electronic, folk, all of the above?
That's the deal, he covers a lot of ground. It's all deeply felt and worthy of being expressed; he's certainly up there as one of the truly profound and life affirming artists. As such I think he's not always the best judge of his own merits. Why doesn't he release certain recordings? Some think they're worth releasing. He doesn't, and he releases other work that some think shouldn't have been. He's prolific. He's human. He makes choices. We make choices.

But why the petty bitterness from self appointed critics? Civil and considered discourse is one thing. But when terms such as "rancid" and "infected..thinking" and "shit" and the like are used any pretense of validity is gone. Nothing said presents anything that alters my opinions and preferences. I just read nastiness. Of all the truly miserable, rotten, evil, and depressing things in the world to be deeply enraged about, he's certainly not one. He's a beacon of affirmation and restless creativity.

Get yer f*ckin' priorities right.

At 6/12/2012 10:09:00 PM, Blogger SONY said...

Somehow I haven't, and generally don't, compare what Neil did before with what he's doing now, as far as what I might think I want to hear next. Or what I think is coming next, or what I haven't heard yet. It's alway a suprise when it comes out, familiar and new at the same time. A wellspring of the anticipated unexpected. That keeps it real for me. And then there's the other antics he pulls. Don't miss the boat being caught in the weeds.

At 6/13/2012 08:55:00 AM, Blogger Tweck9 said...

I love to hear about peoples' methods. I've gotten that feel from Neil, that he's more a channel for the art than someone who sits around trying to make it happen.

I've been in both positions myself. As a songwriter these days, I tend to work at it. I'll get a spark of something out of the blue, like a little mote of inspiration, a part, a verse or something, and then I'll shape and mold it over a period of time into a song.

I used to play in a band that very consciously wrote via a process that felt more like channeling something. We'd just start playing, and as we jammed, parts would form out of this musical soup, and eventually we'd have a few really cool parts we were going in and out of, and we'd build on those. We might discuss arrangements to a degree, but the bulk of the process was something more free-form. We produced a lot of really fun, interesting, creative material this way, and it was a great experience.

I love that Neil just lets things flow through him. It's a great way to create. I don't really work that way myself, at least not in as pure a manner as Neil does, but each creation does at least seem to emerge from a spark that is not forced, but kind of appears, like a gift from the universe.

Hey Anon 8:44 - I didn't get the feel that Neil was saying everyone should use his method like some kind of creative purist. Everyone has different methods of creating art. I got the sense that he just doesn't like things that sound forced to him.

At 6/13/2012 09:32:00 AM, Blogger Tweck9 said...

Right on, Zuma! Great comment. Although, I don't think arguing with them is going to help matters.

In much the same way that they love to throw around the ad-hominem argument that we blindly worship at the altar of Neil (thus invalidating our opinions), they seem to blindly worship at the altar of vitriol, bowing and scraping at the feet of condescension and negative criticism.

At 6/13/2012 04:40:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This album is a boring repetitive PIECE OF CRAP! Charging for it in this economy, especially on top of all the other ways he gouges his fans, is abominable. But I know that your avareage Neil fanatic aint to bright, just like the guy walking out of the CSNY show telling him to suck his dick more than half is fans are assholes so i guess it doesn't bother Neil to gouge the way he does.

At 6/13/2012 06:00:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Seek help from a mental health professional. You're disturbed.

At 6/14/2012 04:04:00 AM, Blogger peter d. said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 6/14/2012 04:13:00 AM, Blogger peter d. said...

I feel a remarkable similarity in attitude beneath the argumentation of a lot of those who disapprove 'Americana'. Maybe even of all those who have disapproved the latest album by Neil for the last 20, 30, 40 years now:

1. This new album is not as good as --enter any NY album from the seventies here--
2. In order to keep our love and respect it should have been as good as one of these.
3. Now that we feel he has failed to reach that level, we may curse and revile him, and if we desire expand that to accusing him of bad intentions with us and all possible listeners.
4. It is an insult therefore that he dares to demand money from us helpless people who are almost too weak to resist this requirement. We consider this to be perhaps the ultimate proof for the fact that he is no good, a money-grubber, and an exploiter.


I suspect that there is a high percentage of people around 40-60 years old among them, people who were young / adolescent around the time RNS (or Harvest) was released. They probably are disappointed in the life they have led after that time, and long back to that time when they were young, untroubled and happy. The soundtrack of that time in their life was written by Neil.

Because Neil's albums from the seventies are about youth and growing up (he himself was an adolescent then, and in my opinion a late bloomer), those albums have made ​​a deep impression on these people - and on all of us.
Later albums were about fighting to communicate with his son, trouble with the record companys, and more and more about happy times with the wife and family.
That may be areas not everyone can relate to...
So the generally recognized theme of growing up changed to a less generally recognizable story of Neil's personal life.

If there is one artist who can transport the 'nay-sayers' back to the feeling from their youth, it must be Neil 'cause he's done it before. The obvious fact he does not even try to do that, hurts deep in their hearts.

I may be a bit cynical, but I too can have a tendency towards such an attitude, so in a way I understand. But to cherish this attitude, will continue to make you feel miserable about yourself and others, I learned that much, amongst others from Neil. There's no reason, and it is pointless to blame any one for your life. You just have to live it, everyday. And everyday there's chances and changes in this world. Grab' em while you can.

For me, this was one of the songs from Neil I didn't like, right from the start. It took me years to chew on it, it's sombre melody and strange arrangement to me felt like a mistake on the smooth, sunny, and sharp rocking sound of Harvest, until I finally realised what it meant to me:

There's a world you're living in,
No one else has your part
All God's childen in the wind
Take it in and blow hard!

Look around it, have you found it
Walking down the avenue?
See what it brings,
could be good things
In the air for you.

At 6/19/2012 11:01:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Me thinks that other than the few mercenaries and self promoters who post here, no one really thinks too much about Neil except "is that a colostomy bag " under the poncho if they see it at all.. HOG is what people remember, that's what they want and yes a little walk down memory road of their youth listening to crazy horse is something they can buy right now, Neil is branding nostalgia filling in the blanks for peopke who never progressed past 17 like Neil in maturity. Neil is god for the atheists and answers for the agnostics. He is the prodigal son for believers and lady luck for losers.


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