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Tuesday, May 10, 2016

INTERVIEW: Micah Nelson on Father Willie Nelson and "Uncle" Neil Young

Lukas Nelson, Neil Young and Micah Nelson
Farm Aid 2014 - Raleigh, NC
Photo by Jim McKelvey Photography
(Click photo to enlarge)

From an interview with Micah Nelson on his father Willie Nelson and his "Uncle" Neil Young in San Antonio Express by Hector Saldana:
Q. Finally, how do you explain the energy level of your father and Neil Young? How would you contrast them as musical artists in temperament and leadership style?

Micah Nelson: They lead by example.

Their energy level is off the charts. Many people a third their age don’t have even a fraction of their drive and passion and endurance. They even make me feel old sometimes, and I don’t even sleep.

Dad definitely gets his energy from the sun. Solar powered. Maybe Uncle Neil is more charged by the energy of the moon. He always seems to align himself with the full moons. They are, both of them, wise elders of the Earth and will live forever, even after they are gone. They are fearless and bold and humble and ... hilarious. We all laugh a lot. They are wise storytellers who can paint such a vast spectrum of emotion and life experience that cuts straight to the core in the most simple tune.

I wonder how many folks’ minds and hearts have been saved by that perfect Neil record or that perfect Willie song that appeared in their lives just when it was needed most, that moment in that song that relates to what we are going through in such a profound way that nothing else can, and makes us feel less alone and makes life worth living again. I certainly feel lucky to have experienced that, time and time again.

They seem to only get better with the years, aging like a finely seasoned wine, Jedi masters. Elven-kings of the misty musical mountains.

Also, see Neil Young + Promise of the Real 2016 Concert Tour Dates for reviews, photos, videos and more.

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At 5/11/2016 01:02:00 AM, Blogger Andy Walters said...

Is it me but what is this twaddle? I'd agree that it is hilarious....'wise elders of the Earth'....what's this all about?

They are, both of them, wise elders of the Earth and will live forever, even after they are gone. They are fearless and bold and humble and ... hilarious. We all laugh a lot. They are wise storytellers who can paint such a vast spectrum of emotion and life experience that cuts straight to the core in the most simple tune.

I wonder how many folks’ minds and hearts have been saved by that perfect Neil record or that perfect Willie song that appeared in their lives just when it was needed most, that moment in that song that relates to what we are going through in such a profound way that nothing else can, and makes us feel less alone and makes life worth living again.

At 5/11/2016 02:12:00 AM, Blogger growl said...

It's you.

At 5/11/2016 03:46:00 AM, Blogger Andy Walters said...

That's a relief !

At 5/11/2016 05:51:00 AM, OpenID flyingscotzman said...

Andy: I agree that comes across as overblown and pretentious. But that's okay. Worth bearing in mind that Micah is still very young. A lot of us are overblown and pretentious at that age. You can hear it in the music.

Regardless, more hero worship is what we don't need.

Perhaps it's because I live in Britain. Here in the UK, in the last few years, several iconic figures from the sixties and seventies have gradually been sent to prison for various sordid reasons. And so the mood here has gradually changed; you can feel it. Other people from the UK will know what I'm talking about. The mood here now is much less adoring of people in the public eye than it once was. And that is perhaps a healthy thing.

Your heroes aren't Gods or Wise Elders of the Earth. They are not "fearless and bold and humble"*. They are just normal people, and accepting this makes it a lot less likely that your world is going to one day be pulled out from under you.


* (if you can't hear the "fear" in Neil Young's music, then you must have your ears shut).

At 5/11/2016 09:36:00 AM, Blogger rustedbugs said...

.........well guys, as a musician myself, and connected to the earth in oh-so-many ways, and likely native american in a former life-cycle ....I get exactly where he's coming from with his statements.

If you can't get that vibe, never been moved by a Neil song/lyrics when life was in the ditch, that's unfortunate, ....feel for you, brothers.

...wise elders? ....twaddle? ..I'd say incredibly wise!!! ..especially compared to some of the "twaddle" (to use your somewhat "folksy" word) roaming around, especially the American political countryside these days...


At 5/11/2016 10:49:00 AM, Blogger TopangaDaze said...

Okay, I'm all for cynicism at the right time, but c'mon. Micah is just weaving an honest and idealized picture of two men he considers to be very soulful and in touch with the rhythms of earth and life. One of them after all is his father, and I hope all of you would be able to say similar things about your "old man" or at least feel a tad of hero worship.

Also, I agree with what Micah says about Neil's music: "I wonder how many folks’ minds and hearts have been saved by that perfect Neil record"

Like many of us, I've been listening to Neil's music virtually my entire life, and no, he hasn't literally saved my life, but he has moved me in deep and profound ways. When I was a kid in Junior and Senior High school, how many times did I listen to his lonesome unique voice, his wailing guitars and his evocative questioning lyrics? I lost count early on, but I know his music helped me belong. First within my own internal mind space, then with a group of like minded friends and yet again later in life as I find myself reconciling what used to be, what is and what will be. Does Neil have the answers? No. Does he ask the questions? Yes. Does his music make me feel more connected? Yes. No other musician or music has even remotely come close to speaking to me and touching my heart in the ways his music has and still does.

Yes, Micah uses some excessive flowery dreamlike language. I'm glad he still has that within him, and I have no doubt that Neil's music help plant a few of those optimistic seeds within him.

Okay, rant almost over, but Scots made an interesting statement of his fact:

*(if you can't hear the "fear" in Neil Young's music, then you must have your ears shut).

Well, I get the point and my ears are open. I'd respond by saying that it's Neil's fearlessness that allows him to show fear in his music...

Take my advice
don't listen to me

At 5/11/2016 11:38:00 AM, OpenID flyingscotzman said...

Listen to Neil Young sing "whenever I see that big fire coming" on the studio version Walk Like A Giant, as he frantically crashes away at Old Black. It's a totally gripping part of the song.

It's the sound of a man who is absolutely petrified of dying. Or if you don't trust me, read Waging Heavy Peace, when Neil pretty much confirms as much himself. So often in his music, it sounds like he's actually fighting for his life. The truth is he is just like the rest of us, with the same fears and insecurites and weaknesses.

Which, of course, is why we relate so strongly to his music. We see our own reflection. If any of these fearless supermen actually exist, I'm pretty sure they'd write pretty dull songs, because we couldn't possibly relate to them.

"Wise storytellers"? I think we can all agree on that part.


At 5/11/2016 12:40:00 PM, Blogger Andy Walters said...

Thanks everyone for the constructive I say it's me. I can play 'Birds' and agree with the sentimentsbut nothing from the last 10 years moves me like early Neil sorry folks.

At 5/11/2016 12:47:00 PM, Blogger TopangaDaze said...

Yes, fear has always existed around Neil's work and it's certainly becoming more and more evident in recent works. I think in 2014 around the time of his acoustic shows I wrote something about how he feared his relevance, his mental health, his mortality, etc..

All true then and now, but I'd never question Micah for saying that Neil is fearless (which is what I think you were implying). Again, it takes a fearless nature to reveal your fears publicly, and it certainly takes a fearless streak to release intentionally un-commercial work and to pursue passions and ideas despite overwhelming odds of failure. And yes, it absolutely takes a fearless (if perverse) soul to play an 8 song set of guitar dissonance to a jazz fest crowd...

FEAR: Let us all embrace it and laugh at it. When done so genuinely, fear loses its power...

Take my advice
don't listen to me

At 5/11/2016 01:24:00 PM, OpenID flyingscotzman said...

"Which is what I think you were implying".

I don't think I was implying anything, to be honest. I wrote down everything I was thinking.

Have you heard the Jazz fest set? I've heard most of it now and "guitar dissonance" is perhaps doing it a disservice. Though if anything, I'd have thought a Jazz crowd would be the perfect audience for extended instrumentals. I put a Jazz record on back in 2007, and I think it's still playing now.


At 5/11/2016 01:24:00 PM, Blogger Pocahontas said...

A wise elder of the earth doesn't skip out on his marriage of 36 years, but I appreciate Micah's youthful if naive perspective. He is right on though about his ability to tell an emotional life story the cuts right to the core in the most simple tune. That is why I love Shakey.

At 5/11/2016 04:00:00 PM, Blogger TopangaDaze said...

Hey Scots, I know as always you were just sharing your honest thoughts. I didn't really disagree with anything you said, I was just trying to refine and define another interpretation of the word fearless.

And yes, "guitar dissonance" is probably an exaggeration of Neil's jazz fest performance. At this moment in time, that "style" is likely my least favorite, but that's always subject to change.

Pocahontas: "A wise elder of the earth doesn't skip out on his marriage of 36 years"
That's actually one of the few topics that I feel we really have no right to chime in on. Marriage and divorce has nothing whatsoever to do with wisdom and/or closeness to or stewardship of the earth. It's between two people and they're the only ones who know anything about it. Actually, a case could be made that ending a marriage of 36 years truly takes fearlessness. The easy thing is to stay in a marriage for convenience or pride.

Agree with your other comments though..

Take my advice
don't listen to me

At 5/11/2016 04:42:00 PM, Blogger nick said...

Regarding Neil's divorce, as far as I know we have no definitive information about who initiated it or if it was mutual. But just the other day I was listening to Like You Used To Do from Storytone, and these lyrics stuck out:

I couldn't satisfy you
Just couldn't show you my love
But I kept on trying

I tried and I tried
The time went by
You just didn't want it no more

It sounds like he's saying he wanted to remain together but Pegi no longer felt the same way. Of course, this is only one side of the story (and could be about something else altogether, for all I know) but it makes me wonder if the media are correct in reporting that 'Neil left his wife.' Maybe she left him.

At 5/11/2016 05:44:00 PM, OpenID flyingscotzman said...

...that's fine, Topanga, good comments as always. Cheers.


At 5/11/2016 08:17:00 PM, Blogger Babbo B. said...

Court records show Neil filed the initial divorce petition, Pegi responded with her own request for dissolution. We obviously don't know all the circumstances that led up to that.

At 5/11/2016 08:19:00 PM, Blogger astrololee said...

Thank you Micah for your valuable insight at an early age! I am old but I still have not forgotten nor lost the magic that is truly "Neil"! Hell I still believe in Easter Bunny & Santa, coz if you don't then you have lost faith in the world that magic still happens.
Looking at Micah's statements from Micah's perspective, and putting myself in his shoes I would stand by those statements of Neil & Willie being Wise, Jedi Master like and all other thoughts expressed, purely because they are still on this earth, still believing it what they do! They have not lost faith, the audience are the ones whom have, a lot have stopped listening to that fear from Neil that our world is indeed at a very tenuous place, right at this point in time. Neil and Willie have been telling us all for years and all people can do is say they don't like their last 10 years work...sheeesh....the last ten years work is relevant more than ever...Neil is fearless, he keeps repeating the message for those who care to listen instead of complaining about what he is doing!
Don't like the songs in the last 10 years, crikey, have you not really listened to "Peaceful Valley Boulevard", did you not shudder with "Walk Like A Giant", did you not cry when you first heard "Ramada Inn", did you not hoop and holler and have a good ol' time listening to Americana revamped and just feel pure delight from that Crazy Horse vibe bringing new life back into some of the oldest songs from American History. Also tell me you did get an extreme laugh out of "Fork In The Road" and ponder a thought for "Johnny Magic"...well if you didn't then indeed you have lost faith in Santa, Easter Bunny, Willie and Neil!
Now we see Neil with the younger guys and it is good to see a whole new, younger generation believe in the magic of Willie and Neil when there is so much other bullshit in the world out there! These guys whether you like it or not are being inspired by their heroes, they still believe that magic can happen and so I'm with Micah on this one, They are the Masters and like all good Leaders try to impart some of their sentiment and knowledge onto the young, some of it hopefully will stick and the world will become a better place to live in for their children. Those that believe will pass on the knowledge of what Neil & Willie truly believe in! OK I know that singing a song won't necessarily change the world overnight, but hey it's not only the last 10 years of Neil that has evoked from me, a more conscience effort for the environment, its been a lifetime of listening to Neil, the world is turning I hope it don't turn away cause I for one believe that Micah is correct and that Willie and Neil will live forever, which is pure magic, in itself!

At 5/11/2016 10:34:00 PM, Blogger Pocahontas said...

Listen to Ramada Inn. This is the side of him I'm not comfortable with. Neil demands that everyone who surrounds him fully support him and that often means huge sacrifices by others. In over 500 pages of waging heavy peace he spoke about his daughter, a successful artist in her own right, for a total of 3 pages. Crazy Horse has talked about how they wait around for years for him to call and then there is the whole power struggle with Stills that put an end to BS. I don't think he could have made 35 records any other way but the man is far from perfect. My guess is Pegi started asking to have some of her needs met, after raising the kids and managing the household for years, and when it was no longer all about him he bailed for a younger, hotter version. This bothers me but I understand that for him the muse comes first and if that wasn't the case he wouldn't have the vast catalog we all enjoy.

At 5/12/2016 12:28:00 AM, Blogger TopangaDaze said...

Neil would be the first to largely agree with you Pocahontas.

He has never once said he's anywhere near perfect. He's not always the most self-aware guy around, but he acknowledges his selfishness and his restless nature, etc.
His musical and life decisions are almost always based on how he feels for a very short period of time. If he hears the road, or the studio, or another subject of fascination, he's gone.

I don't think he has the ability to be any other way, and as you mentioned it's allowed him to produce a singularly unique expansive catalogue of work.

Shakey--he's earned that nickname in every way!

At 5/12/2016 03:43:00 AM, OpenID flyingscotzman said...

Ramada Inn is an interesting one. Due to Neil's marriage breaking up, it's tempting to think it's purely autobiographical. But Waging Heavy Peace leads me to a very different conclusion.

The album Psychedelic Pill is essentially a soundtrack to Waging Heavy Peace. Both projects were being worked on simultaneously, and almost all of the themes of the songs crop up in the book at some point or another, often extensively. Ramada Inn, however, seems to be an exception.

And then, on page 475 (UK hardcover edition), near the end of the book, Neil starts to talk about Tim Drummond:

"Something happened to him when he broke up with his wife. He gave up music. He has been drinking a lot and is in a wheelchair now. .... I wish he hadn't given up his music. Something in him just broke."

Broke up with his wife. Drinking a lot. Gave up. Something in him just broke.

That sounds familiar, doesn't it?

No doubt some of Neil's doubts about his own marriage found their way into the song, too. But I think there's more to the story than that. There's something missing. Whatever difficulties Neil and Pegi were having with their marriage, this was some time before it finally collapsed. And we know it's common theme for Neil to use a story (often with other characters) to express his own unconscious feelings.

I think Neil Young is less of a character in the original version of this song than we assume. He's just watching; commentating. And then, as the months pass, it slowly becomes more about him.


At 5/12/2016 01:09:00 PM, Blogger TopangaDaze said...

Good analysis Scots. Waging Heavy Peace & Psychedlic Pill are definitely companion pieces, and Neil's music has always directly or indirectly offered insights into his (and our) mind space. It's been a while since I thumbed through the pages of WHP (or spun PP), but as we've said before, the book is a great read and offers a lot of insight.

Ramada Inn wasn't a particular favorite of mine when it came out and I've only listened to it once or twice since, so I felt the need to re-visit it via you tube. Like an old friend, I was glad to see/hear it. While still not comparable to his truly best work, it holds up well and tells a story which may or may not be his. It's relatable on several levels, be it love, marriage, addiction, duty, faith, friendship, melancholy, etc. Add in some guitar work providing a nice restrained vibe and the song easily transports you to an emotional place.

Reading through the you tube comments, one of them struck me:
John Sokoloff 11 months ago

Neil Young's Art does what it should - it momentarily solves the paradox of absolute and relative..... Thus connecting us......if for an instant
Pretty well sums it up, at least for this moment.

Take my advice
don't listen to me

At 5/12/2016 03:19:00 PM, Blogger Pocahontas said...

Good thoughts Scots and Topanga.


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