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Thursday, July 06, 2017

Neil Young's Muse: The Passion, The Pathos & The 4%

Discussing "The Muse"
Moderator Jaan Uhelszki & Neil Young

SXSW Keynote Address, Austin, Texas - March 16, 2006
photo by Michael Weintrob, Groovetography

With virtually every album that Neil Young has released since 2000, his fans, listeners and critics have routinely questioned his artistic muse. (See 2001's Road Rock, Live, 2002's Are You Passionate?, 2003's
Greendale, 2005's Prairie Wind, 2006's Living With War, 2007's Chrome Dreams II, 2009's Fork In The Road, 2010's Le Noise, 2012's Americana & Psychedelic Pill, 2014's A Letter Home & Storytone, 2015's The Monsanto Years, 2016's Earth, Peace Trail.)

During this period, we here at Thrasher's Wheat have been engaged in a pretty interesting exercise in this discussion and ongoing analysis of "The Muse" of Neil Young.

And then there are those in "The 4%" -- which we'll come back to below.

And -- right on cue -- comes Neil Young + Promise of the Real's new song "Children of Destiny" featuring an orchestra in the studio. The new song's "patriotic" video seems to have really hit a nerve with some -- as we noted on the 4th of July -- managing once again to both polarize his fan base and inflame critics.

Inflamed and polarized to such a degree that Neil Young issued a statement essentially saying that he won't quit no matter what.

Pearl Jam band members have discussed their experience with Neil Young and "The Muse" at length. Eddie Vedder says: "He's getting closer and closer to the core." (Full interview here.)

Graham Nash has revealed some of the origins of Neil Young's passionate following of "The Muse". (Full interview here.)

Back in 2006, at the SXSW Music Festival in Austin, Texas, during Neil Young's keynote address, he said:
"'The one constant is not to let yourself get distracted when a song is trying to find you. Once you have an idea with music, nothing else matters but that idea. Your responsibility to the muse is to follow it.... There's nothing more important ... Commitments are one of the worst things for music making - they're annoying.'"

During Young's address on artistic creativity, he went on to explain the muse:
"I'm proudest of my work when it comes really fast [and] I don't edit it. It's the purest form of creativity ... you just have to be there.

You can't worry about the result while you're in the midst of creating. Afterwards, you can scrap it, record it or dump it in the editing bin. But, when you're terrified, you know you're on the right track.

Now, there are big breaks and [then] it's just like a dam bursting. I used to write a song every day.

People want to know why you don't make your most famous record over and over again. Because it's death."

So what it seems to have come down to back in 2009 with the latest batch of new songs from the album "Fork In the Road" is that there seems to be a huge divide between fans who are comfortable with Neil following "The Muse" and those who steadfastly refuse to allow Neil's creativity to deviate from their own desires.

It has all been quite fascinating. Here's a brief rundown on some posts which generated hundreds and hundreds of comments between impassioned Neil fans around the world:

- The Myth of Washed Up Neil (140+ comments)

- So Who's Really Washed Up? (30+ comments)

- Yonder Stands The Sinner (25+ comments)

- Life in the Neil Young Cocoon (15+ comments)

- "Fork In the Road" - New Video! (70+ comments)

- Those New Songs: Falling From Above (80+ comments)

- Comment of the Moment: Yonder Stands The Sinner (40+ comments)

- A Battle Raged on the Open Page: Can You Change Your Mind? (30+ comments)

- "Optimal" Neil Young Fans (10+ comments)

- Comment of the Moment: "Chaos Is Good" says Neil Young

- Doubters: There's A Hole in the Neil Young Fanbase (19+ comments)

- The Essence of "The Doubters": Neil Young & Crazy Horse Concert Reviews (40+ comments)

Well, here's another perspective on whether Neil has a wheel in the ditch or a wheel on the track by Not Above Suspicion:
Here's my perspective. Neil's recent albums have not excited me as much as much of his earlier work.

Using 10 years and looking at his out put since the CSNY Looking Forward, I'd be hard pressed to put any the albums containing "new" material in my favorites category and I'd have to put LF, AYP and LWW close to the very bottom of any albums Neil has done solo or in a group. I also agree that the general antipathy toward those albums is unlikely to be subject to revisionist appraisals as was the case with TFA, TTN and OTB.

CDII is probably my favorite of the albums. It does contain some old material and it still would probably be somewhere in the middle of my ranking of all his albums. I like S&G, Greendale and PW but I'd probably put them all in the lower half of a ranking.

So, to that extent I am in agreement with those who state Neil's recent work is not on a par with much of his earlier work. I'd be more inclined to say he hasn't delivered the "great" albums that he produced, if not consistently, frequently in the past.

Of course, he and I are both much older now. Honestly, I don't think anything, music or otherwise, can excite and move me as much today as it could when I was young.

I also think that Neil is using the latter portion of his career and the almost unique luxury he has in terms of his relationship with the recording industry to release whatever strikes his fancy at a given moment without regard for any of the factors usually considered. This is not really something new for Neil but in the past even his "challenging" albums seemed more internally diverse musically and topically. now, to an extent, you do get "here's 10 songs one after another that all reflect this attitude and feeling that occupied my thoughts the last month or so." there is an element of unrelenting self-indulgence present, and it's likely that factor which accounts for wide variance in opinions.

Some people (not surprisingly from almost exclusively the cadre of his biggest fans) are closely attuned to Neil's "self." Probably because: (a) they are extremely interested in what Neil is feeling and thinking and the songs and albums provide clues that they value in an "extra-musical" sense; and (b) those people just happen to have "selves" that are more similar to Neil.

That's not being sycophantic, which connotes a sense of uncritical adoration and often insincerity. Neil might just be the last person allowed to "narrowcast" from a major record label.

I think some of today's critics just don't know what to make of someone who is allowed to break all the rules and isn't relegated to the underground of obscure corners of the internet and self-published CDs.

Criticizing Neil for failing to deliver things with broad appeal might be accurate but is similar to criticizing health food stores for not delivering sugary treats.

-- Not Above Suspicion
David Geffen, Elliot Roberts, & Neil Young
Frame from 'Inventing David Geffen': American Masters
(Click photo to enlarge)

In 2012, we posted preview trailers for the upcoming documentary film 'Inventing David Geffen': American Masters.

Which, of course, reminded many of Neil Young's "lost '80's" due to the infamous Geffen lawsuit. This in turn, coincidentally led to the following article which examines the legal nightmare from a different angle. From How Neil Young Became the First Artist to Get Sued for Not Being Himself By Susan Alexander:
What? How can you get sued for not being yourself?

Writing for Rolling Stone, music journalist Don McLeese explains:

Neil Young is the only artist in the history of modern recording to be sued for refusing to be himself. The suit, filed by Geffen Records, Young’s label for much of the Eighties, charged that he was violating his contract by recording ‘unrepresentative’ albums. In other words, Neil Young wasn’t making Neil Young music.

The problem with Geffen’s suit was that there has never been any such thing as a ‘representative’ Neil Young album. Young has made a decades-long career out of keeping his fans guessing what he’ll do next.

Even before he signed with Geffen, his ever-changing style included raw and edgy, melodic and romantic, dark and melancholic, acoustic and electric, and introspective and retrospective, with a bit of punk thrown in for good measure, all backed by whatever band he’d assembled at the time. It’s just how he worked (and still does).

This post explores how Young has managed to maintain an ongoing state of creative flow throughout his career. Even when he was creating to order for a record company, and even during the litigation that ensued.

As we’ll see, he did so by mastering the art of self-renewal, which is something we can all learn to do.

Regular readers of this blog's comments know that there has been a disturbing pattern over the years where virtually every artistic and business decision Neil has made has been ripped to shreds. We're not even going to begin to link to the dozens and dozens of examples we've documented over the years, but this post contains a link summary.

Which led us to the creation of the "Muse Poll" in order to see if we could determine the extent of dissatisfaction and tension amongst Neil Young fans. And -- in not too big a surprise -- the vitriol of negative Neil comments is in no way whatsoever reflective of the larger Neil community.


So, as you can see, after all this wailing, bitching and moaning about those lame new songs and Neil being a washed up rock star a grand total of 4% of fans have a problem with Neil's course. That's right -- 4%!!! (Polls are still open below, so stand and be counted).

So, before we go, we'll conclude with this comment by Not Above Suspicion:
Apart from the obvious reality that different people have different opinions and some people like things others dislike, why would anyone be against him releasing more rather than less? Who is hurt by music being made available?

If you don't like it, don't buy it. then you can't even claim the loss of $15. Those who want it can buy it. The implication of some that Neil is harming his legacy strikes me as being both silly and no one's business other than Neil's.

Personally, I want to hear everything he's ever done. I won't like it all but I'm actually a good bit more interested in what he's doing now and thinks enough of to prepare for release than I am the 339th (random number) version of Powderfinger, even if that 339th version of Powderfinger is a sure thing.

In keeping with some of our recent analysis, what do you think? Should Neil follow his muse? Or, do you have "doubts"?

So why did you vote the way you did? Please comment below.

Labels: ,


At 7/06/2017 07:45:00 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Hmmm. Neil should do whatever inspires him. My first Neil record was ASnB in 1977. I've been a fan ever since. I've dedicated a lifetime of learning how to play guitar like him. I thank him for the pleasure I've received from his art.

His last 10 years or so of output doesn't move me. For whatever reason. I loved ASnB and I think it was as impetuous a release as any Neil has dropped lately. For me, the songs were better. Way better. He shit-canned (purportedly) both Chrome Dreams and Decade in order to put ASnB out. Wild. But I respect that.

As always, however, I look to Bob Dylan to see an artist both follow his muse (which currently seems to be the Great American Songbook of Heavy Bourbon Drinkers); whilst at the same time releasing jaw dropping archival material, replete with great packaging, liner notes and the rest.

Neil seemsunwilling to compete with his past. Bob? He acknowledges his past work, makes it available, yet still continues his journey. NY could still learn a thing or two from Bob.

At 7/06/2017 08:56:00 PM, Blogger medward said...

The muse is a red herring. Just remember:

If you follow every dream, you might get lost

At 7/06/2017 10:23:00 PM, Blogger The Metamorphic Rocker said...

@Medward--My take on that has always been that getting lost is not a bad thing. One should just be aware that it will happen at some time. How do you know which dreams will get you lost if you don't follow them? Following none of those dreams doesn't seem like the solution for an enriching, fulfilling life. I don't think the intended lesson is to not follow dreams, but just to be prepared to get lost in life, 'cause it happens. And don't expect everything to work out perfectly as you imagined it. How can you find something you were never missing? There's no discovery--no need for discovery--without some form of loss or emptiness.

General thoughts: There is a wealth of information to be harvested from this post. The links (which I'll return to sometime, particularly the Graham Nash) look great, and this is one of the points I love about the Wheat: you round up various items of Neilophilia, most of which would otherwise remain scattered across the vastness of the interwebs, and gather them into one convenient basket so we can sort through the fruit at out leisure.

We've all been saying a great deal about this new song, and that strikes me as normal and healthy. New works always generate a special buzz, and that's even truer when we've been discussing the feeling of a hiatus in effect throughout the last six months or so. Six months may not sound long, but we're used to a high rate of productivity with Neil and a new song--when we hadn't particularly been anticipating one--is bound to cause somewhat of a feeding frenzy.

There's this, too: a new song from Neil Young usually means there will be more where that came from, so our response as fans is likely based on that level of anticipation alongside what this song may have to offer in its own right. In this context, our discussions and the new posts here are plentiful but not, in my view, disproportionate to the occasion. It's all a natural response to a new offering from someone whose work clearly means a great deal to anyone who posts here regularly.

For the record, I'm firmly in the camp of letting Neil do Neil. Heaven knows you're not about to stop him anyway, and why would you wish to stifle another person in that way? Children of Destiny, to me, seems like a natural continuation of some of Neil's recent ideas: both POTR-style protest and the amazing hugeness of the orchestral soundscape. I really do appreciate the layering of musical ideas here, and I'm curious what else may be produced on this aesthetic foundation. Or any aesthetic foundation, for that matter. If this song ends up on a new album, everything around it could sound completely different. Cool--bring it. I feel no hidden path.

At 7/07/2017 11:08:00 AM, Blogger Andy Walters said...


It's already a pretty stacked summer music season, but Neil Young is adding some fuel to the fire with the announcement of his new album Hitchhiker. Out August 4, the album features previously unreleased music recorded in 1976.

The albums's 10 tracks were recorded in one session at Malibu's Indigo Studio and include acoustic versions of Young classics like the title track and never-bef0re-heard songs including the powerful balad "Hawaii." The album will be available digitally as well as on CD and vinyl.

In other Neil Young news, he and band Promise of the Real recently released a new song, "Children of Destiny." Watch the "Children of Destiny" video and check out the Hitchhiker track list below.

At 7/07/2017 11:09:00 AM, Blogger Andy Walters said...

Side One
1. Pocahontas
2. Powderfinger
3. Captain Kennedy
4. Hawaii
5. Give Me Strength

Side Two
1. Ride My Llama
2. Hitchhiker
3. Campaigner
4. Human Highway
5. The Old Country Waltz

At 7/07/2017 11:13:00 AM, Blogger David said...

Neil Young's music touches my heart and soul. That's what matters to me. Of all the artists from the '60s, only Neil continues to tell us what goes on in his life, how he has grown, what he has loved and lost and endured-- and to do that in a way that we can relate because he has grown with us and we have grown with him. Think back to On the Beach and how you related to what he was telling us about his life at that point and think how that resonated with you. Think of Don't Be Denied. Then think Storytone (not comparing the albums) and what he was telling us about his life at that point and how did that resonate with you? Totally different time frames in a man's life and he explained it all so that we could see ourselves in the songs. Nobody else does that, period.

The only possibility would have been John Lennon and we didn't have him to tell us what it was like to grow up after 40; to explain the feelings of being 55 or 60 and all that goes with being a grown up.

Lastly, if you weren't at Desert Trip, find Cowgirl in the Sand on youtube second weekend. No matter your age, hope that when you're almost 71, you will be able to do what he does half as well as he does.

At 7/07/2017 12:02:00 PM, Blogger Tom said...

Back in the 90's when Joni Mitchell released a greatest hits package called "Hits" she simultaneously released an album called "Misses" which one can only assume was what she considered her greatest misses.
I suspect that all artists have to create "misses" in order to get to the "hits". While I know with 100% certainty that not all of us Neil Young fans will agree on which are the "hits" and which are the "misses" I think that most of us would agree that there are some of each category and I really respect and admire Neil Young for consistently putting everything out there.
I think his output since the late 90s has become more of a documentary of exactly where he's at than a refined piece of art, sculpted for mass consumption. Some people will not like that, because in their view he's been more refined and more appealing and I completely understand that view and where it comes from.
However, consider that even though he's Neil Young and he's consistently done it his way, Neil Young has put out more of that type of refined art than all but a few artists in popular music history and now he's taking a different approach. While the new approach may not produce a ton of "Powderfingers" or "Like a Hurricane's" which were songs that were (based on my small amount of knowledge of the subject) worked on multiple times, with different presentations and arrangements until they we're mastered, the new approach gives the listener more immediate access to the artist and the art as he's creating it. I know that everyone will not agree, but Neil Young has shown me that great art is not necessarily good (or refined) art. I appreciate that he's put himself on the line to put that out there and while there are a few songs I likely won't go back to often, it has produced a lot of really interesting quirks (Greendale in particular has become increasingly enjoyable to listen to as it's aged) the journey has been very interesting and very enjoyable.

At 7/07/2017 12:46:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tom (lower case): Again, as with Dan1 yesterday, some spot-on observations.

It is absolutely correct that artists have to get through the "misses" to get to the "hits". To keep creating relentlessly is essential. All that only matters, though, if when the lightning strikes and a glimmer of intense inspiration shows itself, the artist dedicates himself to it 100% and proves himself worthy. Past achievements count for nothing, perhaps unfairly. "Be great or be gone", as the Young/Briggs mantra used to go. In other words, it is essential to turn that inspiration into something (through blood, sweat and tears), rather than expecting it to do all the work for you. Otherwise all you get is a long string of promising-but-unfulfilled misses.

THAT is the difference between Hurricane or Powderfinger and Angry World. We've all heard the story of Neil hunched over the stringman keyboard for hours on end in 1975, working on the arrangement of Hurricane, rather than the modern approach of knocking something together in 5 minutes because it seems easier and more natural.

Finally, your fondness of Greendale shows you to be a man of exceptional taste :-) I agree, it is one of his very best albums in relatively-recent years, standing confidently amongst his seventies and late-eighties/early nineties work (and I know Andy will disagree with me on that). Crazy Horse fairly consistently bring out the best in Neil, pushing him that little bit harder into producing something magical, whether in 1976 or 2003. I loved it then and I love it now.


At 7/07/2017 09:44:00 PM, Blogger The Metamorphic Rocker said...

Re: Hitchhiker,

A quick Google search turns up the following trio of articles from the last 12 hours:

Mention is made of a press release, which it doesn't seem like other news publishers have run with yet. Nothing yet on Pitchfork or Consequence of Sound (trusted music sources), or the major newspapers I keep up with. Ultimate Classic Rock is fairly reputable in this area, however, and the information tallies with Andy Walters' intrepid reporting. Thanks, Andy, for spurring my reconnaissance mission.

Also, the last article ( mentions Neil sighted in studio with rapper D.R.A.M. Did miss this item on Thrasher's or is the first we' ve heard of this? Either way, what the hell will tomorrow bring with Neil?!!

At 7/07/2017 09:50:00 PM, Blogger The Metamorphic Rocker said...

... And found the old posts on DRAM. I don't think the video is still active/available, though. Something to do with the overdubs on Earth. One mystery solved... kinda.

At 7/08/2017 12:39:00 AM, Blogger Peacelover Doc said...

I voted 'Neil should do what he wants' because that's what everyone should do.

At 7/09/2017 10:19:00 AM, Blogger Paolo said...

Well, Neil is one of the few real artist today.

An artist is supposed to put in art forms what are the representative parts of the era he/she is living in.

Neil use music mostly, but not only, and even if the songs he writes do not always represent the perfect "state of the art", the full content should tell us someting, whether it is the society, the environment, transport, cerebral palsy, the use of modern technologies...

When he sing something, regardless the form, we should be able to reconnect to something that is in the air around oureselves...

"Let him chant, let him chant
Although he may not be the only one

Let him shine, let him shine
Although he may not be the only one

take good care of you!



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