Lit

Review: In Neil Young on Neil Young, the Musician Opines on Other Musicians, Politics, and Being Canadian

Neil Young on Neil Young: Interviews and Encounters
By Arthur Lizie
Chicago Review Press

“Serious, intense, with hooded, blue-gray eyes that always seem capable of pinning you to the wall, Neil Young looks like a man who has forged an uneasy peace with himself and the choices that he’s made:” That’s how journalist Jaan Uhelszki describes the Canadian musician in a 2011 interview in American Songwriter.

Arthur Lizie’s book is part of Chicago Review Press’ Musicians in Their Own Words series. Lizie, a professor of communications studies in Massachusetts, has compiled a couple of dozen interviews and articles about Young in the music press from 1967 to the almost-present. They focus heavily on the earlier years—of Buffalo Springfield, Young’s solo work plus his work with Crazy Horse and CSNY.

The intriguing parts of these interviews are when Young expresses his opinions of fellow musicians. In 1969, for instance, he said the Beatles are “not nearly as good as the Stones…. The Stones are incredibly talented.”

In a 2009 interview with Richard Bienstock of Guitar World, he names his favorite guitarists as Jimi Hendrix, J.J. Cale and Jimmy Paige. And he talks about working with the late rhythm guitarist Danny Whitten during the Crazy Horse period; he was a phenomenal player, Young says. He also expressed his appreciation for Nils Lofgren, who was 18 when he joined Young for After the Gold Rush. “I just loved his guitar playing. When we matched up and played dual guitars on ‘Tell Me Why,’ it’s fantastic!” (Lofgren has played guitar with Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band since 1984; he also plays pedal steel, dobro, bottleneck, lap steel and six-string banjo. He continues his own independent work.)

Greil Marcus wrote a feature on Young for Spin magazine in January 1994, when Young was named Spin’s 1993 artist of the year. Marcus says, “… with Neil Young, at least every other record sounds like his last word, a dried-up, nothing-more-to-say, or a damned farewell. You don’t exactly keep up with Neil Young: he’ll hold your hand one minute and burst into flames the next.”

Neil Young performing in Norway in July 2016. Photo credit Tore Sætre / Wikimedia.

Some of the articles address Young’s political attitudes and how politics has sometimes tied into his music. In the 2011 American Songwriter article titled “Neil Young and Daniel Lanois: Love and War,” Uhelszki asks him if working with Canadian producer Lanois made him feel more Canadian. Young replies, “I feel pretty Canadian.” And Uhelszki continues, “After you released Living With War [an album critical of Bush administration poIicies], I thought you might consider running for office, and applying for  American citizenship.” And Young replies emphatically, “No, because I’m Canadian. I’m born Canadian. You can’t change some things. You can’t change that. Like a piece of paper’s not going to change that…. You can’t become something you’re not just because it’s convenient.”

Neil Young on Neil Young is a book primarily for Neil Young fans. Some of the interviews, especially the early ones in Q&A format, are quite dry. One of the exceptions is a 1974 article by Constant Meijers for a Dutch music publication that’s part diary, part travelogue. Another rich example is an interview by Nick Kent for MOJO in observance of Young’s 50th birthday in 1995. But that 2009 Guitar World interview includes several pages of Young describing in great detail the development and production of his 1963-72 archive, its technology and the nonmusical ephemera included.

Some chapters conclude with highlighted Young quotes. In one of them, from a 2018 Rolling Stone interview, he comments on retirement.

“When I retire, people will know, because I’ll be dead. They’ll know, “He’s not coming back! He retired!’ But I’m not gonna say, ‘I’m not coming back.’  What kind of bullshit is that?”

Neil Young on Neil Young is available from the publisher or from your favorite bookseller.

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