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Saturday, April 03, 2021

ESSAY: Young Shakespeare by Neil Young | Bob Lefsetz

_#7    #6- "Young Shakespeare" - Neil Young
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As Neil Young's astonishing surge in productivity continues to amaze folks half his age -- or even a third or quarter his age, for that matter -- rusties continue to revel in the fact that "The focus was the gift".

As an "avalanche of an embarrassment of riches" cascades down the mountains -- or as we characterized previously -- Expecting to Calculate Neil Young 2021: Numbers Add Up To Nothin' ... or "A Rusties Holy Grail" -- we bring you a rather personal essay by the inimitably irreverent music industry analyst Bob Lefsetz and his thoughts on Neil Young's newest archival release "Young Shakespeare", recorded in 1971. 

Young Shakespeare by Neil Young 


From Bob Lefsetz's newsletter on Young Shakespeare Neil Young

So “Young Shakespeare” starts off with…


And then picking, it’s “Tell Me Why,” but it’s solo acoustic, the notes are still there, but Neil’s vocal dominates, and the sound is pure, assuming you’re listening on a good system you’re jetted right back to the era, when a good system was everything, when we needed to get closer to the music. It’s fifty years later, but Neil is right there in the speakers, as if not a day has gone by.

But it’s the second song, a left turn, a new one, that makes you realize this project is different, memorable. Neil gives an intro, an explanation, in an era before you could excavate the meaning of all these songs, but if you were in the hall… “Old Man” is intimate, in all iterations, but especially here, sans the penumbra, stripped down to just the core elements, A YEAR BEFORE IT WAS COMMERCIALLY RELEASED! You’re listening, wondering what it was like being in the venue. Sure, most people see new music as anathema, but there’s a thin layer of artists, a very thin layer, who can pull it off, draw your attention and keep it. And one of those is Neil Young. Here “Old Man” is a song, not a statement. Long before it emanated from everybody’s speakers throughout campus.

But the real surprise is “Ohio,” which we always saw as a record, not a song, something that was of a time and place, the spring of 1970, not 1971, when this version was performed. And I’m listening and I’m thinking how much worse things are today, how we never could have predicted this, how back then if you were a music fan, if you listened to Neil Young, if you were a boomer, you shared a mind-set. The thought of rednecks, conservatives loving this music? IMPOSSIBLE! We had an army, and we all belonged. And it wasn’t so much Woodstock itself, but the movie and the triple album set nearly a year later, in April 1970, that made us realize we were more than a tribe, that we were the dominant force.

And if you bought “Everybody Knows This is Nowhere,” you knew the concomitant track to “Down by the River” on the second side, “Cowgirl in the Sand,” with a memorable melody and lyrics, but it was the instrumental interludes that made it stick out, don’t forget, this was when the Allman Brothers were starting to stretch out.

Even more interesting than “Old Man” is the medley of “A Man Needs a Maid and “Heart of Gold,” once again a year before they were released commercially. I’m sitting here thinking how you can’t say that anymore, that a man needs a maid, whatever your intention might be, it just sounds bad. And “A Man Needs a Maid” is the opposite of today’s music, it’s heavy and meaningful, that’s one of the main reasons you listened to “Harvest,” to marinate in not only the sound, but the words, this was a personal statement and it was clear that not only did we need to listen to it, we had to embrace it. AM music was disposable, FM music was not. And the funny thing is sans the strings, all that production, “A Man Needs a Maid” is just as heavy, just as meaningful, but more direct, there’s no scrim between the performer and the listener, it’s all up front and personal.


Hard to think that music was once scarce, where if you didn’t own it you couldn’t hear it. They sold live albums back then, usually as doubles, a career retrospective, a cheap dash for cash. But unreleased live recordings? Those were gold! Maybe you snuck your cassette deck into the gig, but there was no trading online, to have a recording of what once was…was nearly unfathomable. And “Young Shakespeare” is like the Dead Sea Scrolls, the past come to life. Not only was this show recorded, unlike with the scrolls, the sound is pristine, better than most records today! It’s not squashed, the bandwidth is not filled up with detritus to the point it’s impenetrable, “Young Shakespeare” is naked! Despite all the social media platforms, that’s what we’re looking for today, the stripped-down version, the raw truth, not for cash, but because it must be told. We don’t want endless memoirs in search of notoriety, we don’t want people online testifying to how bad they have it, what we’re looking for is someone not so dissimilar to ourselves laying out their truth, and we can listen or not, it’s our choice. That’s how music was back then, you were either in the know or you weren’t. Then again, albums like “Harvest” changed that paradigm.

But “Young Shakespeare” was recorded before “Harvest.”

How can something so old be so new? I guess that’s what happens when you lose your way, see the goal as being a brand as opposed to an artist.

But if you were around back then…

Pull up “Young Shakespeare.” Even cherry-pick the tracks. You’ll be stunned they’re all there, in faithful renditions.

And we listened to these songs so much back then we knew them by heart, not only the hits, but the album tracks, listen for the applause of recognition on these cuts. There are few things better than when you’re at the show and the act plays your favorite, you think they’re doing it just for you, you beam, you glow, you want the experience to last, but it does not.

But this show we were unaware occurred has been unearthed and it’s just like being there way back when.

And this album ain’t going to the top of the chart, nothing is gonna happen with it, it’s just for you, you either care or you don’t.

And if you do…

You yearn for the experience of yore, when it was just you and the music, that was all you needed, and when you push play, that’s where you’ll go, back to that seventies cocoon, when music drove the culture, when it was everything. Don’t let it bring you down, as long as these recordings are hiding in plain sight there’s a chance young people will be inspired and go down the road less taken, deliver ubiquity through the personal, satiate us, make life worth living.


Full review and analysis on Bob Lefsetz's newsletter on Young Shakespeare Neil Young:.

Also, see Notes on Neil Young Album "Young Shakespeare" - A Telegram from the Scotsman.

Young Shakespeare Deluxe (CD, LP & DVD) 
Neil Young's new release  "Young Shakespeare" is now available.
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At 4/03/2021 01:00:00 PM, Blogger Dan Swan said...

My local record store (The Record Exchange) in Boise have a weekly top sellers list, and for the last seven days Neil Young’s Young Shakespeare is #1 on the list. Followed by the new Joe Strummer compilation.

Peace 🙏

At 4/03/2021 06:13:00 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

I see the alarmist paranoid statements from Neil about eating seafood have been modified - albeit barely.

I wish I had taken a screenshot the other day when I saw 'eating fish will kill us all' -

now it's 'industrial fishing will kill the EARTH and us all if we let it'


aren't most people just trying to live their lives & eat every day?

Can any of us stop the overfishing of Earth's vast oceans?



I know Neil's heart is in the right place...100%

but I'm kind of getting a bit fed up with being shamed (not just by Neil) for eating meat...or for driving my truck...or for being a white male...or for owning firearms...or for...

next I will be shamed for drinking water because water wars are coming...

what's a boy to do?

turn off the news (and the internet)

At 4/03/2021 06:14:00 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

above comment is from me - Jonathan - don't know wtf is up with my gmail crap

At 4/04/2021 02:18:00 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

With regard to Young Shakespeare, has anyone received a lithograph yet from Greedy Hand?

At 4/04/2021 08:04:00 AM, Blogger Minke said...

Meanwhile, far away in the Low Countries, the top 30 chart of independent record stores lists three NY albums, Young Shakespeare ranking #2. When did that ever happen before? Just a minor detail in the big scheme of things, but somehow an uplifting (and therefore meaningful) one. There is hope, and good judgement.

At 4/04/2021 01:32:00 PM, Blogger Alan said...

People SHOULD try to eat healthy and save the Earth (and her creatures). At this time, the white guys are largely to blame for the state of the Earth and its rapid metamorphosis into Extinction of mankind, not just for the destruction of the rest of the animals and the land, sea, and air. I am very glad Neil Young gives a shit and talks about it. It is noble and great to be a Environmental Warrior. Mother Nature really IS on the run in the 21st century. We will see a lot of it ourselves before we die, but we fight for the future generations more than for ourselves. That may not mesh with the Capitalist system, but so be it. Unmitigated consumtion of Earth's resources is a threat, especially the fossil fuels. Water wars are not just coming, they are already HERE. The Pentagon knows very well that Global Warming is a threat to "our security" not just from thirsty armies. Future lives without war will be challenging simply due to changes in the water supply, weather, increasing heat, and with superstorms rolling around frequently (since warm air holds more water). Yes, the 500 year storms happen all the time. Sacramento and Houston will flood. They are both built on flood plains! Hello! Louisiana and Florida will be submerged by the ocean in a short period of time; its already happening. Just because the average American is ignorant of these threats does not mean they are in question. In fact, it is a certainty. Fish stocks will be subject to rapid changes due to heating ocean temperatures. Many people rely on seafood to live in equatorial regions. Those fish are moving towards the poles already. Many people will starve. And, Earth is overpopulated, big time. Kudos to Neil Young for giving a shit and trying to raise the alarm. Too many people are entirely unaware of our near future troubles. You folks with no children or no conscience are best prepared to not get your feelings hurt. Alan in Seattle

At 4/04/2021 01:47:00 PM, Blogger Alan said...

And now for a few comments on the Young Shakespeare album. I do like it better than Massey Hall. The crowd noise is a bit too noticeable at the Massey Hall show and therefore the vibe is more intense. I like recordings of shows that have a subdued sound level for the audience or none at all. Way Down in the Rust Bucket's faced and erased audience track is totally fine with me. I go to shows to hear the music. I have fun with the rest of the folks too, but we are not the show. I hit a show in Seattle in 1999 in which the crowd was very quiet and respectful in this intimate indoor venue, The Paramount. One loud-mouthed moron felt he had to scream "YEAAAAAAAAAA!!!!!!!!!!!" at the top of his lungs every time Neil sang "Har-ley David-son" during Unknown Legend. Might as well spray paint on the Mona Lisa.

Young Shakespeare is a tremendous performance. Phenomenal. And an incredible moment in time for us Neil Young fans. I am so glad to have it, right at this moment in time. Sure, a lot of people would have loved it for 50 years if it had come out. But not everything comes out as the world turns. It is a wonderful gift that we have it today. Thank you so much, Neil! This show is ample evidence of the Triple Threat that is Neil Young as a musician. He can write, he can sing, and he can play! He doesn't need a band to blow us away! Harmonica, acoustic, lead, rhythm, and vocals. And he can plug in and send Thunderbolts down from Heaven. Lead guitar on Old Black -or another axe- sure to please the Gods of Grunge, and whoever else can gaze upon it. We are the lucky ones who get to listen back in time. It is as if we have a time machine, and rather than bet big money on sporting events and heist cash and riches, we are driven by a higher purpose! to listen to Young Shakespeare, or Colorado '76. What a priviledge! Long Live Neil Young! Thanks for the music and NYA! Alan in Seattle

At 4/04/2021 01:54:00 PM, Blogger Alan said...

The above line should read "Rust Bucket's FADED and erased audience track."
And, as I was listing off Neil's many talents, I meant to throw in "and Piano!"

Thanks for this Blog, Thrasher and Thrashette!

Alan in Seattle

At 4/04/2021 02:47:00 PM, Blogger The Metamorphic Rocker said...

@Jonathan, I don’t care about your firearms (as used responsibly) let alone your skin color. I do care a little about people driving gas guzzlers and consuming irresponsibly, but what’s really messed up is the cultural tendency to shift the blame, and burden, for environmental destruction and pollution onto average, every day, working people, most of whom are living pay check to pay check, hand to mouth. Instead, well-meaning activists need to redirect some of this ire to the big businesses and corporate interests most responsible for our lack of sustainability.

Although everyone should do their part, and it frankly sounds a bit fatuous to dwell on being “shamed” for driving a truck and being white, to expect sea change to solely from the bottom up, from working people reliant on these exploitative multi-nationals, is unrealistic and unfair.

I can thus understand folks feeling unjustly harangued for problems beyond any one person’s control. What’s frustrating is, people who talk about being shamed are often the same people who get even more outraged when you dare try to suggest that the problem could in any way be related to unregulated, runaway capitalism. If I try to clarify how it may not be your fault, I’m liable to be written off as some sort of crazed stalinist, because obviously, if I’m at all critical of capitalism, I must be in favor of full-on state socialism. The problem, as with a lot of communications and institutional breakdown in our culture, stems from this black and white thinking, where there is seemingly no middle ground or grey area that people can agree.

If you want peace only on your own terms, you don’t want peace at all. So the question is how to compromise in productive, healthy ways. That starts with listening. It also means short-circuiting a lot of the kneejerk cynicism that previously shut down meaningful discussion even on some of these threads. And yes, there’s a difference between recognizing problems and reflexive cynicism.

That being said, Young Shakespeare is a great listen, If I still give preference to Massey Hall, it’s because I feel those piano renditions of Love in Mind and See the Sky may be definitive. I’m glad, in hindsight, that Massey Hall rescued a few of those relatively obscure ditch songs.

At 4/04/2021 03:08:00 PM, Blogger The Metamorphic Rocker said...

Speaking of the Ditch, I recently watched JTTP—part of revisiting Vol I on blu-ray and Easter is kind of fitting for watching this one. Of all the questions this movie raises, why Neil’s song with the same title wasn’t used (or put on the soundtrack LP) is a notable one.

However, the concert footage is powerful and there is a story and message(s) in there. Worthwhile for those who appreciate non-linear, “art” movies and/or want a change from the Neil we’re all used to. Not that NY is Fellini, Bergman, or Ken Russell, but it’s a valuable curio for those interested in idiosyncratic cinema of a certain vintage.

At 4/04/2021 03:21:00 PM, Blogger Shakeyjrc said...

Mine is being delivered tomorrow.

At 4/05/2021 02:31:00 PM, Blogger thrasher said...

@ All - thanks as always for all the comment passion.

One of the main reasons we clipped & linked the Lefsetz essay above are his lines:
" And this album ain’t going to the top of the chart, nothing is gonna happen with it, it’s just for you, you either care or you don’t. "

After reading that we looked around for chart positions and saw how well YS was doing. And 3 releases in the top 50 -- all well over a decade or more old.

Now why would this be? Without offending the competition too much, what we see are a lot of new "artists" on the charts who actually don't play a true musical instrument or actually sing or write their own material.

So we see a real hunger for true "artists" -- those who actually do play a musical instrument, who actually sing and who write their own material.

Almost as if a digital backlash against the digital sampling back to the old analog days.

maybe those times really are a changin' after all?

@ Ian - as you say: "If you want peace only on your own terms, you don’t want peace at all."

It really does come down to compromise in order to make a society work.

At 4/05/2021 05:27:00 PM, Blogger Jonathan said...

thanks for the thoughtful comments Ian

my eyes are wide open

there is a cultural war driven by the fake media against white people & it certainly didn't begin last Memorial Day weekend in Minneapolis

it's laughable if it wasn't so dangerous

Neil parrots every ridiculous far left talking point out there

waiting for the 'stop Asian hate' page on

it is indeed an angry world

sorry to be a buzzkill...

how do I get out of this society?

At 4/05/2021 06:26:00 PM, Blogger Alan said...

Is this a “Love it or leave it” moment? White people are not the victim here, that’s ridiculous. If the status quo being undermined is scary, maybe us white guys really are the problem. If you think you’ve got it rough, when was the last time you wondered if the cops were going to kill you for a broken tail light? I hope Neil Young DOES put a “Stop Asian Hate” section up, for guys like you who don’t see it as a problem. Didn’t Southern Man, Alabama, and Ohio resonate with you at all? It’s about peace through lack of terrible behavior on the part of the Racists and oppressors of the protest movement. We’re you one of those guys booing at the Living with War shows? Because War is patriotic or some bullshit like that? How are you even a NY fan? You can’t even hear his message.

At 4/06/2021 05:25:00 PM, Blogger Shakeyjrc said...

Received my YS lithograph from the Greedy Hand today! It is nice but also a piece of crap since on the final product one cannot see the words "Young Shakespeare". It is so dark you cannot even make it out in a light filled room.

At 4/07/2021 11:31:00 AM, Blogger Jonathan said...

I think for myself Alan.

Am I not allowed to be a Neil Young fan because I don't agree with some of his politics?

Am I not allowed to disagree with media narratives that are out there?

It is called discussion, engagement, intellectual discourse, etc.

maybe try it sometime

At 4/07/2021 12:13:00 PM, Blogger thrasher said...

@ Jonathan & @ Alan - we think both you guys know we actually do value diversity of opinion & freedom of speech here @ TW.

and we think all rusties can agree to disagree respectfully.

That is what we have found to be one of the best aspects of the neil fan community, how we can rally around great music, good times while having multiple perspectives. Particularly internationally.

not to get too far off topic here, but one thing we as Americans lack so often is a global perspective which certainly would help us all. likewise, many non-US folks have all sorts of perspectives on typical Americans based on the more outrageous incidents which seem to occur practically daily.

all of this said, we do go a bit back and forth about trying to keep this blog pretty strictly neil music related.

but we admit to going very far afield at times w/ tangents.

like w/ everything, we try to walk a delicate line. tolerating various perspectives w/o resorting to harsh judgments. we do try hard to make TW a space for neil fans of all varieties and flavors. and we're not just talking about acoustic vs electric fans.

all of that said, we seem to be at a point in time when the immortal words of Dr Martin Luther King Jr who had a dream to "one day live in a nation where they [his children] will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character."

and we have many, many fine folks here who's character -- based on their charitable actions, ect -- have the highest of character.

yet, repeatedly, we hear situations where "the color of their skin" completely drives the narrative.

we do think that if MLK was around today he would be appalled at how message has become completely warped into scorched earth identity politics. We posit that the "identity politics" of today is counter to MLK's message. It's about individual responsibility, not collective guilt or collective virtue.

Last we checked, here in US 1st amendment still says freedom of speech. Use it or lose it.

As we have paraphrased previously elsewhere on this blog: "If you do not believe in the right to contrary political and historical speech which you disagree with, then you are not for free speech at all."


"I prefer dangerous freedom over peaceful slavery."
~~ Thomas Jefferson

so we do say that we love both our rustie brothers Alan & Jonathan.

peace be with you both & all of our fellow rusties.

At 4/07/2021 12:30:00 PM, Blogger Dan Swan said...

I admire them both for their convictions, as the solutions reside somewhere. As long as we keep talking to each other with respect, and keep listening to each other with open minds, then there is hope.

Peace 🙏

At 4/07/2021 04:36:00 PM, Blogger Jonathan said...

thanks Thrasher - it was me that hijacked the thread lol...

I love you guys too - even you Alan!!!


rock on!!!!

At 4/08/2021 12:42:00 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

No lithograph. Greedy Hand UK don't have it and have said they have no idea as to when they might. Again very poor service from the UK store.


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