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Q&A: Neil Young

On Crazy Horse’s new ragged glory and his ‘hippie dream’ memoir

Austin Scaggs Aug 29, 2012
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Photo: Kevin Mazur/ Getty Images

A few months ago, Neil Young got together with his old Crazy Horse buddies to jam on some tunes that he learned to play decades earlier with one of his first bands, the Squires. “Back in 1964 or ’65, the Squires were playing a folk club in Thunder Bay, Ontario,” says Young, 66. “A group called the Thorns did a version of ”Š”˜Oh Susannah’ that just knocked me on my ass.” Crazy Horse’s furious garage interpretation of ”Š“Oh Susannah” ”“ plus ragged covers of “Clementine,” “This Land Is Your Land” and more ”“ became the centerpiece of Americana, the band’s first album in nearly nine years. The sessions went so well that Young and Crazy Horse have released  another LP, and are plotting a major tour. “I wanted to play with Crazy Horse, and I wanted to rock,” Young says. “These songs could do that.”
Why do a covers album?

I didn’t have any new songs myself, and I wasn’t looking forward to writing any. Doing new songs requires a lot of nerve, because people are always comparing me to my history, instead of looking at the thing for what it is. I’ve grown tired of people pontificating. But that’s just my own problem.

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It sounds like you guys had a blast making this album. Is that why you made another one right away?

Yeah, it’s the same energy, because we’re in the exact same place. We never stopped recording. We just kept on going and made a record of original material.

So you wrote a few new songs after all?

Yeah, after I got ”ŠAmericana done. The songs are too long [laughs]! There are lots of instrumentals, lots of excursions, but they’re real songs. It has one song that’s 26 minutes long. It begs for a better sonic world.

Is that part of why you’re developing a new high-definition digital audio format?

Technology has moved at such a lightning pace that it needs a new format. With MP3s, people only get five percent of the data that we were giving them in the Seventies. It’s like listening to Fisher-Price records! I love music because of the visceral feeling in your body, your soul, your spirit, your mind, your heart.

You also have a memoir coming out this year. What are you writing about?

It’s not chronological, and it has a diary aspect to it ”“ about creativity in the 21st century, as well as the history of whatever I did. It also has a lot of fantasy projection into the future. It’s kind of a hippie dream, really, is what it is. I’m in the final editing stages.

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In 2010 you lost your friend and sideman Ben Keith. How has his death affected your music?

He was one of my best friends in this life, and I miss him dearly. It’s a huge void. No one can play those steel parts like Ben ”“ I wouldn’t want to hear anybody try. So I have  retired all of those songs he played on,  unless I do them solo. And that’s a lot of my songs! But since Ben’s gone, it has also opened up a huge space in my head to do more music. There’s an old saying, “The barn’s burned down, now I can see the moon.”

So what will the Crazy Horse tour be like? Mostly old songs or new?

It’s going to be the past, the present and the future.


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