Sunday, May 29, 2016

Bob Dylan and Neil Young: Musicians who keep a-changin

Neil Young and Bob Dylan - 1986

As long time readers of TW know, we have been following the musical intersections of Bob Dylan and Neil Young for literally decades now.

And with the upcoming Desert Trip Festival in October featuring mega acts -- along with Bob Dylan and Neil Young -- such as The Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, The Who and Roger Waters, the inevitable compare and contrast Bob & Neil game will carry on.

So let the games begin. Here's an opening round from that ever so well respected musical publication The Economist with an article "Musicians who keep a-changin'" by J.T.:
Mr Dylan’s motivations may not have been entirely sales-driven, but he did what any shrewd businessman would do: assess the performance of his most successful rivals, and innovate accordingly.

This strategy has served many musicians well, allowing them to prolong their careers. Neil Young is one such. In the seven years after he released “Harvest”, a gentle harmonica-infused album that topped the American charts in 1972, Mr Young’s sales plummeted. By 1979, Americans were buying the soundtracks to “Grease” and “Saturday Night Fever”, while the Clash and the Sex Pistols had caught the ears of British listeners. Mr Young borrowed the raw sound of the latter for his album “Rust Never Sleeps”: the title alluded to his slowly decaying career, and its format mirrored Bob Dylan’s 1966 concerts, beginning with folk and finishing with grungy rock. The final track name-checked Johnny Rotten and influenced a young Kurt Cobain.

The record became Mr Young’s first to sell more than 1m copies since “Harvest”.
So after coining the phrase "Neil Young is the second most influential singer-songwriter of the 20th century still performing today" 20 years ago, the accolade still stands unchallenged by all the fans of Paul McCartney, The Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, The Who, Roger Waters, etc.

More for your perusing pleasure...

Bob Dylan and Neil Young
Madison Square Garden, New York City - 1992


  1. Neil's comment (quoted from The Times, May 28th 2016) on the motivation to play this mega-concert:

    "They've decided to put a bunch of them all in one enough money to musicians and they'll play. I'll do the gig, but I've seen all the other acts and I really don't need to see them in this situation".

    Essentially echoing my comment on the subject last month.


  2. I'm still surprised Neil would take this up as he's always avoided these types of 'shows' (Woodstock, Live Aid) or tried not to be filmed at them. No doubt Neil will be on the Monsanto and corporate podium.

  3. I'm already incredibly tired of the high snark factor that's going on in regards to these October shows. If people want to go, that's great; if you don't want to go, fine.

    And did Neil really make that remark about not needing to see the other acts "in this situation"?! I sure hope not, because that has to be one of the most disingenuous things I've ever heard. He has to open for Paul McCartney, play for a hundred thousand people or so, and make tons of $$ doing so? In the words of Marisa Tomei, "What a fucking nightmare!"

    Is the whole entire world now completely and totally full of themselves? For heaven's sake, it's a three day music festival, and that's all it is, so let's not act like it's some kind of litmus test for how cool or not cool someone is or should be. The world is already dizzy from too much time on the carousels of diversion, and everyone doesn't need to have and/or express an opinion on everything.

    “What you think in your own mind to be good, or what people of the world think is good, is not necessarily good.”
    ― Dōgen

    It ain't necessarily so
    It ain't necessarily so
    --Ira Gershwin

  4. It was a quote from the Saturday Times - 2 - page interview.

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  6. Further into the article Neil tells us 'When people listen to Earth they feel so good, the fall asleep'....well that's the best review I've seen...if you read the full interview Neil seems to be on a roll in terms of activity which is great and as he points out he's the youngest to play at 70!

  7. Yes, that quote from Neil is genuine.

    As usual, the man is speaking candidly. If Neil Young can express a lack of enthusiasm about the event, then I'm not sure why there is any issue with anyone else doing so. In my original comment a few weeks ago, one thing I noted was there's no real benefit to seeing these acts together rather than individually. Interesting to note that Neil expresses a very similar point of view.

    Here's an older one from Bob Dylan (Rolling Stone, 2006):

    (Does he get the sound he wants at outdoor venues): "Not really, not in the open air. The best sound you can get is an intimate club room, where you've got four walls and the sound just bounces. That's the way this music is meant to be heard." Then Dylan turns comedian again....."I wouldn't want to play a really small room, like ten people. Unless it was, you know, $50,000 a ticket or something."

    ...Worth noting that Bob Dylan is still very much worth seeing live. His recent shows have lacked setlist variety, but many have featured powerful performances. And yes, he does sound better indoors.


  8. As Andy notes, Neil makes this humorous comment, re: the mega-concert:

    "I'm actually the junior member of the group. I'm the youngest".

    This validates my own observation from 4th May:

    "Of course, from Neil's point of view, his heart is no doubt sinking at all this talk of an "end of an era". Neil Young still feels young, he wants to live another 50 years, and I don't think I'd bet against that happening. He's just getting warmed up. He doesn't want to be grouped in with a bunch of other OAP acts that draws attention primarily to his advancing age. And that's with no criticism of the other bands. And this show will pay ridiculously well, and it's only one night, so there are compelling motives to do it".


  9. i enjoy your website but it strikes me as odd that you would, in a website devoted to Neil Young, proclaim him the "second most influential singer-songwriter" performing today. I mean it's all subjective - Young and Dylan are both good - so why proclaim Neil second of all on his own fansite? Overall, I would much rather listen to Neil Young's body of work than Bob Dylan's - doesn't mean Young is more influential or doesn't mean he isn't. Sure, Dylan influenced Young more so than vice versa, but who is more influential, Mozart or the guy who he liked to listen to? Anyway, I don't doubt that you see it as high praise - maybe I have yet to come across your website devoted to Bob Dylan.

  10. Living in LA, the Desert Trip festivals would be relatively easy for me to get to, though certainly not cheap. And I'd be lying if I claimed I haven't thought about it. But ultimately for me it came down to the fact that for 2/3 of the acts, this is basically a nostalgia show. IMHO, only Neil and Bob have made compelling new music in the last ca. 30 years, and as interesting as Dylan's records have been, the last time I saw him live on the Americanarama tour, the band was tight and the interpretations cool, his voice was very hard to listen to. I understand the attraction for many, and I hope they have a great time. I'd just rather see musicians who are still creating, regardless of their age.

  11. Knowledge Normad: Dylan's voice has improved since that Americarama tour, so it might be worth seeing him again. It depends if you like Shadows In The Night and Tempest or not, songs from which dominate his current setlist. I saw him twice in October and was impressed. Like I said above though, I'd pick an indoor venue if I were you.

    Daz: As Neil says, "there is no 'best' in music". It's not a competition, as you say. That said, I definitely see where Thrasher is coming from - Bob probably is the most influential singer-songwriter in the world, if that's something that can be measured.

    Once again on the subject of the Colbert TV appearance, I'd fully agree that Neil didn't make a fool of himself. The programme almost made a fool of him. There's a difference. A musical master reduced by others to a level not even fit for children's TV.

    Yet again, Neil has the definitive comment on this subject:

    "Someone else is making (a) TV show, you're just passing through. I'm not controlling the situation. Anything could happen. What I do shouldn't be exposed to that. TV has an effect on you...I wish I didn't have to see it".

    As usual, I anticipate people finding a way of disagreeing with me whilst agreeing with Neil, despite the fact that we are both saying the same things.


  12. daz,

    you obviously don't come around here much. calling neil the "second best" is LITERALLY the ONLY criticism thrasher has ever given neil young.

  13. flying scotsman how can we miss you when you never go away? you have totally commandeered this site with your long winded posts. take a break or something. go take a 2 week walkabout with no internet. on another topic, Mr Henry is right. you dont like the Desert Trip no one is forcing you to go. and again nothing wrong with NY appearance on Colbert. my only thing is a song would have been nice. not a single thing embarrassing about it.

  14. Wsanjose01: I was going to take a (permanent) break starting in March, but various nice people responded by asking me not to go, including the boss. I appreciated that.

    Since then I've received a few nice comments by folks saying they enjoy reading my point of view regularly, which is the reason I continue to write often, rather than just reading what others have to say. I also very much enjoy reading other people's opinions, as I think I make clear quite regularly.

    In short: If you don't like my comments then just ignore them, it's not complicated. If instead you want to engage with me in polite way then you are most welcome.


    *I am fully aware that I wind a small minority of people up. Sometimes this is unintentional.

  15. @Andy - That quotes nails a lot -- Neil tells us 'When people listen to Earth they feel so good, they fall asleep'.

    For one, there are things that Neil can semi-joke about and not be too serious -- like his music. Of course, he can get deadly serious about his music and issues. But just as easily brush it all off.

    @ Mr Henry - yes the snark factor is something else. Do you think snark was even possible with Woodstock in '69? As in, folks were poo-poo'g the whole thing as a bunch of hippies out on a farm somewhere getting stoned? Well probably so.

    Last we checked, there were a lot of folks who tried to get to Woodstock and never made it because of traffic etc. And apparently all of them bought the soundtrack and saw the movie in 1971, making it one of the biggest media plays of the years in terms of Box Office and album sales (Triple vinyl).

    @flyingscotzman - thanks for Dylan quote. Not only is LIVE music better but LIVE music INDOORS is even better!

    @ Daz Furniture - you know, we do find it remarkable that after having this statement as the 2nd sentence on our Home page for 20 years, this is the 1st substantive comment.

    We kind of expected to start hearing from Paul supporters, but never a peep. Or Bruce supporters, but never a peep. But some of our hardcore Bob friends do not dispute the statement when pressed.

    It's a debate we're happy to entertain. :)

    @ Knowledge Nomad - we hear what you're saying. And we applaud your desire to avoid a nostalgia show. How about this? Can it still be a nostalgia show yet with musicians who are still creating, regardless of their age?

    We mean, doesn't Neil & POTR fir that objective to a T? Both nostalgia and new creativity? What could be more perfect?
    @Scotsman -- Likewise, as usual, we anticipate people finding a way of disagreeing with us whilst agreeing with Neil, despite the fact that we are both saying the same things.

    We'll always have that in common.

    @ Dominic Holdem - Oh really? We think we could dig a criticisms up but mainly on logistical stuff, rarely if ever over art decisions. Probably our most famous TW criticism came with the Archives decision to only release as BluRay which we labelled as "elitist". (Actually a TW commenter did it 1st and we just riffed on it)

    Otherwise, how does one criticize someone for following their artistic gut feelings?

    Or as they say "Don't mess with The Muse. You'll be sorry."

  16. "everyone doesn't need to have and/or express an opinion on everything"

    says Mr. Henry while he expresses his opinion. "If people want to go, that's great; if you don't want to go, fine." which is picked up on by wsanjose01 who proceeds to dump on Scotsman for posting too much. "Mr Henry is right. you dont like the Desert Trip no one is forcing you to go". So wouldn't this logic apply to reading posts jose01? Just don't read Scotsman.

    And Thrasher, just because Woodstock was a commercial success, post festival, doesn't in any way make it similar to this money grubbing desert event that caters to the jet set and well to do. They scalped their own tickets for God's sake. Artistic integrity would have said a big fat no to this one but money talks. Maybe Neil will make enough that he can take a well deserved break. And then jose won't have to listen to any of this.

  17. Thrasher, Old Neg: Also worth noting that Bob Dylan himself was one of those contemptuously dismissing Woodstock as a "bunch of hippies out on a farm somewhere getting stoned".

    Dylan commented:

    "It was like a wave of insanity breaking lose around the house day and night...This was just about the time of that Woodstock festival, which was the sum total of all this bullshit. And it seemed to have something to do with me, this Woodstock I became very resentful about the whole thing and got out of there".


  18. @Thrasher Couldn't agree more. Neil & POTR are the only real draw for me precisely because of ongoing relevance/ creativity coupled with amazing back catalog (which all these acts have). But, since I had the good fortune to see Neil & POTR last fall at the LA Forum, I'm saving my coin for other shows in smaller settings. (looking forward to Wilco @ Theatre at Ace Hotel and Dinosaur Jr @Tegaram Ballroom, both acts who owe much to the legacies of Neil and Bob)

  19. @ The Nomad, love Wilco for me looking forward to seeing Love Revisited sure nostalgia and without Arthur but with Johnny Echols

  20. Neil Youngs childhood home is for sale in Ontario Canada
    Any one interested?

  21. Neil is so cool:

    “We’re gonna go there and rock out!” is Young’s only agenda for their Saturday show alongside McCartney. “We have no plans for what we’re gonna play, and we won’t know what we’re gonna play until we walk out there. And we don’t know how long the songs are gonna be, and we don’t know whether were gonna play acoustic at all or whether we’re just gonna play electric. We don’t know what we’re going to do at all — and we don’t care. Because we never know.”

    whole article:

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  23. Re: POTR Neil says: "They know more songs than any other band I've ever played with"

    wow that's quite a statement, might explain why he says " we won't know we're gonna play until we walk out there"

  24. To Andy Walters: If you dig Wilco check out Uncle Tupelo. That is, if you aren't already familiar with them. Peace


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