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Saturday, June 23, 2018

Analysis Video: How Neil Young and Joni Mitchell Faced Adulthood

Here is an analysis of Neil Young's song “Sugar Mountain“ and Joni Mitchell's “Circle Game” and their vastly different view of teenage transition to adulthood.

Polyphonic, who creates incredibly informative video essays about music, took a look a the vastly different ways in which singers/songwriters Neil Young and Joni Mitchell approached the inevitable subject of getting older. In Young’s iconic song “Sugar Mountain“, he essentially proclaims that the age of 20 is when everyone must put away childish things, whether ready or not, while Mitchell’s song “Circle Game” offers a glimmer of hope, while still lamenting lost youth.

On Neil Young’s 19th birthday he penned a song about a milestone in his life ‘Sugar Mountain’, it’s a powerful song a lament for the loss of youth and the impending responsibilities of adulthood. It’s simultaneously beautiful and heartbreaking. But upon hearing it one of Neil Young’s friends decided there was something missing from the story and so Joni Mitchell wrote a response ‘The Circle Game’, another stunning song about time and aging.

More on Joni Mitchell and Neil Young.

Joni Mitchell w/ Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
Wembley Stadium, London, 1974-09-14
Photo by smartsetpix | Flickr
(click photo to enlarge)

UPDATE: From an earlier discussion on the origins of "Sugar Mountain" on REVIEW: Neil Young's Hitchhiker | American Songwriter :
At 9/04/2017 10:11:00 AM, Blogger Syscrusher said...


I've never heard this discussed before so here goes. This is off the top of my head so I'm may have some of the details wrong and haven't checked my references.
For years I had always believed that Neil Young had written the song 'Sugar Mountain' on his 19th birthday in Fort William, ON. (I think there was even a detail to that story involving Steve Stills at the Victoria Hotel?).
Now I know this date and location is referenced in John Robertson's 'A Visual Documentary', but I think the story was originally told by John Einarson, probably in his book 'The Canadian Years'.
This had long been one of my most used NY factoids over the years.
Now, it seems that that information was incorrect all along. Though I wonder how such a story could come to be?
In one of Neil's recent memoirs he tells the story of writing 'Sugar Mountain' on his 20th birthday while staying at Joni Mitchell's place in Detroit. That's November 12, 1965 by the way. This story of course makes more sense given the lyrics of the song, and given Joni's close connection to it. She wrote 'The Circle Game' about 'Sugar Mountain' well before 'Sugar Mountain' had ever been released.
So has anyone else noticed these conflicting stories? Is there anyone who always New the real story? If so where did you first here it? Anything to add? Or subtract?
From a continuation of discussion on the origins of "Sugar Mountain" on REVIEW: Neil Young's Unearthed 1976 Recording 'Hitchhiker' Is a Lost Treasure" | Rolling Stone :
At 9/08/2017 08:24:00 PM, Blogger Syscrusher said...

@Babbo B.,
So I found the information after some scouring. It's the Sugar Mountain rap on Live at The Riverboat. Straight outa the man's lips. This is very important and conflicting information that I've never heard discussed before.

I don't see how Neil's memory could be wrong so soon after the events. I was thinking maybe he confused it with The Old Laughing Lady but he tells that story 3 months earlier in at the Canterbury House, about writing The Old Laughing Lady in Detroit on a Napkin.
I don't have a blu-Ray player at the moment and so don't have access to the full Riverboat rap. Is anyone able to pull up a transcript?

At 9/09/2017 01:24:00 AM, Blogger Babbo B. said...

@syscrusher: It's on YouTube, he indeed says that he wrote "Sugar Mountain" on his 20th birthday in 1965 while visiting Joni Mitchell in Detroit: (see above)

As we discussed previously, this contradicts the common version of the story in "Shakey" and elsewhere that the song was written on his 19th birthday in a hotel in Fort William while he was there with The Squires. And in "Shakey," discussing that period in Fort William in 1964, he says, "We were the new kids in town and we were pretty hot. Chick Roberts of the Cryin' Shames, he told me, 'That is one of the greatest songs I've ever heard.' That was just after I'd written 'Sugar Mountain.' "

So yeah, it's confusing - though certainly not the first contradiction in the Neil canon, and probably not the last. (And for those who are confused, period, this is a continuation of a discussion that started in a different thread.)

At 9/09/2017 09:44:00 AM, Blogger Syscrusher said...

@Babbo B.,
Good info, very interesting.
So I'm Waging Heavy Peace on page 277 Neil mentions the Chick Roberts story in a paragraph about Toronto in 1965. Says he heard the song at a hootenanny. In this paragraph he's also describing the evolution of his folk style writing first writing The Ballad Of Peggy Grover, then Nowadays Clancy Can't Even Sing, and then Sugar Mountain. That's how I read it anyway.
I think the Fort William story could be confused with the place where we first lost himself while playing, on Farmer John. Sugar Mountain in '65 where we first came into his own as a writer.
I feel like the 1964 story started with John Einarson, would like to ask him.

At 9/09/2017 01:43:00 PM, Blogger Babbo B. said...

So now we have two versions of the Chick Roberts story, too, one in Fort William in 1964 and one in Toronto in 1965. If the latter is true, guess it all depends whether that hootenanny happened before or after Nov. 12. We know Neil led off with "Sugar Mountain" during his Elektra demo session, which the Archives book tentatively dates as Dec. 15, so that really solves nothing.

And FWIW, Scott Young in "Neil and Me" repeats the 1964 Victoria Hotel version, tying it in with a letter Neil wrote him about being away from home on his birthday for the first time.

At 9/09/2017 03:07:00 PM, Blogger Syscrusher said...

Sorry for the multi-post Thrasher, meant not to do that.

@Babbo B.
Very interesting that the '64 story is in Neil & Me too. That must be the first occurrence of that story.
I feel like The Riverboat rap should get the final word as it is told only 3 years after the fact, or is it 4...
Though to further confuse the matter on The Canterbury House rap which takes place on November 9/10, 1968 he says that he wrote the song '5 years ago' which would place the song in November 1963! And this would be the earliest known reference to the writing of Sugar Mountain.

More on the musical intersections and influences of Joni Mitchell and Neil Young.

Also, see Photo of the Moment: Joni Mitchell and Neil Young.

Labels: , , , ,


At 6/23/2018 11:28:00 AM, Blogger Syscrusher said...

Another case of someone citing, incorrectly, the myth of Neil writing Sugar Mountain on his 19th birthday. This myth became common knowledge for Neil fans, and even though the correct story is out there, the truth will never replace the myth. Well done John Einarson.

At 6/23/2018 05:35:00 PM, Blogger Babbo B. said...

Have never seen definitive evidence either way, can you please provide that?

At 6/23/2018 06:24:00 PM, Blogger Syscrusher said...

You and I discussed this in a previous thread and got to the bottom of the whole thing.
No need to go through it all again.
Frankly, I think Thrasher should've done a post on it. It is interesting Neil archaeology. Dylan fans would make sure the history of such things was clear, and if the history of a major Dylan song changed it would be big news.

At 6/23/2018 08:19:00 PM, Blogger Babbo B. said...

There are three different versions of the story, as previously discussed here and in the Facebook groups. While the Joni Mitchell 21st birthday version has been discredited, there's conflicting evidence regarding both the Scott Young/John Einarson 19th birthday version and the Neil/Riverboat 20th birthday version.

At 6/24/2018 10:21:00 AM, Blogger thrasher said...

@ Syscrusher & Babbo - thanks so much guys.

We updated the blog post above with the discussion from last year. Thanks for reminders here. You're absolutely right about perpetuating incorrect info. no matter how unintentional.

These episodes always reinforce no matter how vigilant we here @ TW are about accurate reporting, mistakes are made. As you know, we're firm believers in full transparency and full disclosure being the only avenue to the road of truth.

"Headed out to where the pavement turns to sand
With a one-way ticket to the land of truth
And my suitcase in my hand
How I lost my friends I still don't understand"

At 6/25/2018 08:52:00 PM, Blogger Syscrusher said...

Cheers Thrasher!


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