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Thursday, January 16, 2020

INTERVIEW: Patti Smith Chats w/ Neil Young @ BookExpo 2012

Patti Smith's cover of Neil Young’s “After the Gold Rush” on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon last week sparked quite a bit of interest in both Patti and Neil. (Watch video here.)

We have been chronicling the mutual admiration of Patti Smith and Neil Young now for awhile and this is a good time to re-post this complete video of the lunch conversation at BookExpo America 2012 with Neil Young and Patti Smith , who sat down to discuss their processes for writing songs and writing a book.

Patti Smith & Neil Young - BookExpo 2012

During the interview -- where they both seem unusually nervous initially -- Patti makes a number of observations like what an Angel sounds like versus what an Angel feels like -- and the importance of both, or the recognition that Neil delivers feelings to people rather than product. At the conclusion, Patti is heart warming when she encapsulates "Wayfarin' Stranger" where the arc of a career delivers hope in the face of pain and cataclysms: "I know dark clouds will gather over me. I know my way, my way is rough and steep. Yet beautiful fields lie just before me." (Thanks for recollections Greg M.!)

Back in 2012, Neil Young had just released his latest album, Americana. They also discussed Neil's upcoming memoir, Waging Heavy Peace, which he described as more of a diary than a memoir. Patti says to Neil about WHP, “It’s not chronological, but memory is not chronological.”

“When were you aware of the impact that the song [Ohio] made?” Smith asked, referring to the Viet Nam protesters of that era who took up “Ohio” as their anthem. The question prompted Young to reveal his discomfort that he had profited financially from the upheaval, declaring, “You didn’t want to become that which you were separating yourself from.” Smith, who recalled working at a New York City bookstore at the time the song was released, praised him for “translating that picture,” and for “making us more aware of what was going on in our world.”

Neil revealed that he was reading Smith’s memoir about her relationship to Robert Mapplethorpe, Just Kids. “I’m the highway and landscapes. You are cities,” Young said, praising her book as effusively as she had previously praised his. “We’re on similar paths, but in different geographic places. Our [books] represent that.”

Neil Young: “If a song happens, it happens.

If it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen. It doesn’t matter. That’s why I will write a lot of material, and why I’ll suddenly not write any material — because there is no reason to write it. It has to come to me — and if it doesn’t come to me, I don’t want it. 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, nothing about lyrics that should be working on it — trying to be something that you’re not, trying to act like somebody that you think is good.”


“I had to avoid all Dylan records, because I am such a sponge.

If I listen to it too much, I would start being that. I knew that that would disturb what I was doing. I admired what he did so much — the lyrics, and the way he sang, and the melodies, and the groove and the band that he played with — especially (the late guitarist Mike) Bloomfield. There were all of these great musicians that supported him. I had to ignore it. I just had to stay away from it.”


"Writing a song is like catching a rabbit. You hang out by the rabbit hole, waiting for it to come. "


"Guitars talk. If you really want to write a song, ask a guitar."
Patti Smith & Neil Young
Photo by The New Yorker

More on Patti Smith Interviews Neil Young at BookExpo America in New York City.

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