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Neil Young

Love To Burn

Thirty Years Of Speaking Out 1966-1996
Paul Williams


Copyright © 1967, 1972, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1992, 1994, 1996 and 1997 by Paul Williams

This edition copyright © 1997 Omnibus Press (A Division of Book Sales Limited)

Cover designed by 4i Ltd

ISBN: 0.7119.6160.3 Order No: OP47860

Exclusive Distributors:

Book Sales Limited, 8/9 Frith Street, London W1V 5TZ, UK

Music Sales Corporation, 257 Park Avenue South, New York, NY 10010, USA.

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Music Sales Limited, 8/9 Frith Street, London Wl V 5TZ, UK

Cover picture: Jay Blakesberg/Retna

Printed and bound in Great Britain by MPG Books Ltd, Bodmin, Cornwall

A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.

Lyrics by Neil Young are copyright © 1966, 1969, 1970,1972, 1973, 1975, 1978, 1981, 1982, 1989, 1990, 1992, 1994 by Ten East Springalo Cotillion Music, Cotillion/Broken Arrow Music, Broken Arrow Music and Silver Fiddle Music, used by permission; all rights reserved.

For information about Paul Williams's Crawdaddy! newsletter, visit or write to Crawdaddy c/o Baldwin, 57 Tempsford, Welwyn Garden City AL7 2PA UK, or write to Crawdaddy, Box 231155, Encinitas CA 92023 USA


Preface 9

(by author and subject)

1. I Sing the Song Because I Love the Man 11

(Paul's pre-Decade retrospective, written 1/76)

2. Buffalo Springfield 21

(written 1/67, the month the album came out)

3. Rock ‘N’ Roll Cowboy, Disc 1 27

("Nowadays Clancy," "Birds," "Cowgirl in the Sand" and more, all live. Written

4. Searching for a Heart of Gold 57

{Harvest, written in Japan, 2/72, again the month the album came out)
5. On the Beach 63

(written 7/74 - yes, the month the album came out)

6. Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young 69

(live on Long Island the day Ford pardoned Nixon, and deader on a greatest hits

album. Written 9&10/74)
7. Rock ‘N’ Roll Cowboy, Disc 2 77

(1974-78 live selections)

8. Tonight's the Night 111

(written 6/75, the week it came out)

9. Decade 113

(written 10/76, for the record company, a year before the album came out)

10. Rock ‘N’ Roll Cowboy, Disc 3 117

(live 1982-85)

11. "Rockin' in the Free World" 147

(written 8/92, three years after the single came out)

12. Harvest Moon 151

(written 12/92)

13. Sleeps with Angels

(written 11/94)

16. Ragged Glory and Weld 157

(written 2/97, six years later in the Valley of Hearts)

14. Neil Young's - and Rock and Roll's - Finest Moment 175

(The Complex Sessions videotape. Written 3/96)
15. Rock 'N' Roll Cowboy, Disc 4 185

(live 1986-94, and into the sunset...)



i) Checklist of Neil Young albums 233

ii) Checklist of selected Neil Young films and videotapes 241

iii) Checklist of Neil Young tours 245

iv) Other sources 251

I'd like to dedicate this book to my old friend Philip K. Dick, because "Cinnamon Girl" was his favorite rock song.

And to the Neil Young Appreciation Society and other keepers of the faith.

And to Zeke, Ben, Amber, Pegi and himself.


Dear reader/listener:

"You've got to let your guard down."


I Sing the Song Because I Love the Man

This essay was written in January 1976. I first became aware of Neil Young in 1966 (see chapter 2) and that interest was continued and indeed increased as each "solo" album came out, 1969, 1970, 1972, '73, '74, 75. So I was already in 1975 very keen to address the question that drives this book: "who is Neil Young and why is his work-as-a-whole so important to me?" A very hip guy I met in Los Angeles named Charlie Haas, later a film writer, had a day job editing an in-house newsletter (cleverly called Circular) for Warner Bros. Records, and he asked me to write about anything that interested me, and this was it. It appears out of chronological sequence here because it didn't make any sense for me to write a new introduction for this book when I had already written down most of what I want to say, twenty-one years ago.

I hope you saw Bob Dylan singing "Hurricane" on television (the salute to John Hammond) - he was very good. You couldn't see that performance - I hope you couldn't - without feeling and thinking about the strength of the man, isn't it incredible, what is it, where does it come from, how does it contribute to or relate to his work?

Every time I see that strength (it has been my good fortune to see it more than once over the years, in Dylan, in Neil Young, in Philip K. Dick and others) and feel the greatness of the music or art that goes with it, I am forced once again to confront the realization that strength in the Emersonian sense (to thine own self be true) is the absolute prerequisite of artistic greatness. God-given talent is nothing without the stamina and the will to use that talent again and again in the face of all odds, in the face of doubts and terrors that other people (those who don't make superhuman efforts of will over and over) can never imagine nor hope to experience.

To me, a great artist is someone who says "I am" more honestly, more powerfully, more beautifully, more straightforwardly, more inclusively than anyone else except other great artists. This is not a yardstick I use to judge people or their works; rather, it is a hypothesis I've been forced to consider after years of reading and looking and listening and saying, "Hey, that's great!" and then wondering why... especially wondering why certain people can do it again and again, without really repeating themselves. Why are they great? What are they doing that's different?

My answer, my deduction, my hypothesis is: they are being themselves more completely. That's all. This is an essay about Neil Young.

Neil Young has made a lot more great music than most people seem to realize. I have all nine of his Reprise albums, and I listen to all of them (exception: Journey Through the Past, a soundtrack; it was released as an album against his wishes) frequently, with great pleasure and (sometimes) fierce identification. In addition, there are numerous fine songs spread through the CSNY/Buffalo Springfield catalog, and at least one superb bootleg recording variously known as Young Man’s Fancy or "I'm Happy That Y'All Came Down." The bootleg was recorded at a concert in southern California (Los Angeles) in early 1971, and has been continually available on various non-labels ever since. No music-lover should be without it.

In fact, since I don't know where to begin this survey, maybe we should take a look at Young Man's Fancy. What a record! It contains fifteen songs, on four sides, plus some talking between songs (and during one song, a hilarious version of "Sugar Mountain"). As near as I can tell, it's all Neil alone, accompanying himself on either piano or acoustic guitar. The sound of the voice and guitar/piano is extraordinary - as is so often the case on Neil's albums, but this is unlike anything you've ever heard, there's a certain resonance, it's magic . . .

Context: this was months after Gold Rush was released, but still a year prior to Harvest. The concert includes two songs from After the Gold Rush ("Tell Me Why" and "Don't Let It Bring You Down"), one song from Neil's second album ("Cowgirl in the Sand"), two from the last Buffalo Springfield LP ("I Am a Child" and "On the Way Home"), one from the Crosby Stills Nash 8c Young repertoire ("Ohio"), one legendary B-side ("Sugar Mountain" - it was the flip of "The Loner" and "Heart of Gold" among others), four songs that were to be central to Harvest ("Heart of Gold," "Old Man," "The Needle and the Damage Done," and "A Man Needs a Maid"), two songs that showed up on Time Fades Away and one that surfaced on On the Beach ("Love in Mind," 'Journey through the Past," and "See the Sky about to Rain"), and finally one song so far unreleased ("Dance Dance Dance," a classic, identical in melody and rhythm to the Young-penned Linda Ronstadt hit "Love Is a Rose" except that this early version is much better). A great collection, and certain to turn the heads of those who think only Neil's electric stuff makes it.

One of the songs on this album, "Heart of Gold," inspired me to write a book (it was the bootleg version, not the single, that I heard first and that got me off); there are others that hit me almost as hard, and I hope to get in a word about them later in this article.

Of the "regular" N.Y. albums, the first four are best known, and the most recent, Zuma, looks like it will be another big crowd-pleaser (deservedly - whether there's a hit single depends on how well "Drive Back" is edited and promoted, but the whole LP is remarkably appealing and accessible on a lot of levels).

When the first album, Neil Young, came out in November 1968, none of the former members of the Buffalo Springfield were "names" to the public yet, and in fact the whole bit of a group member going solo was a new idea and regarded with suspicion. Add to that the fact that the mix was bad (the album was later remixed and reissued) and the material uneven, and you have a career off to a slow start. I am just beginning to get into that album now - maybe partly because my impression of it was based on the earlier mix. Neil has said in several places that the problem with the first album is that it was a lot of overdubs - his general preference is the "live shot," vocals and instruments recorded at the same time. He's also said he likes the record. So do I, increasingly. Lately, "Here We Are in the Years" and "What Did You Do to My Life?" are in my head all the time. My God, the man has such a gift for melodies. . .

Each of Neil's next three albums is regarded by many critics and fans as "his best album" or even "his only good album." (The Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere contingent won't even speak to the Harvest contingent, and vice versa I guess.) This was the period of Neil's greatest commercial success. The second solo album, Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere (recorded with Crazy Horse, who got co-billing; Neil and Crazy Horse had only been together a few weeks when they started recording the album), came out in May 1969 and began attracting listeners right away; then in August Neil joined with Crosby Stills & Nash on a part-time basis. Woodstock was their second gig together. CSNY mania swept the nation, as it were, and by September of the following year, when the extraordinary After the Gold Rush was released, Neil was unassailably a major 1970s superstar. Gold Rush cemented his personal popularity, won him many new friends, and paved the way for the huge success of Harvest (released February 1972). Fat years for Neil, at least from the public's point of view. (In 1973 he offered his own view: "Now I'm a pauper in a naked disguise, a millionaire through a businessman's eyes. Oh, friend of mine, don't be denied...")

Neil Young. I don't want to put the man on a pedestal. In fact, as the years have gone by and I've grown to like Bob Dylan and Neil Young and the music they make more and more, I've also found that they've become more human to me, I identify more and more with their actions as well as their words. I was never sure, for example, of Dylan's motivation in writing "George Jackson" - but the reasons for "Hurricane" are unambiguous, self-evident, real. The song is an action. I respect it. I love it.

All of us sitting out here in the audience relate to the person as well as the music. We can't help it. We take things in context. If all we know of the person is the image, we relate to the image. If the music is good enough, and if our ears are open enough, we hear the music and the image is destroyed, and a new more personal relationship takes its place.

Neil Young had problems with image in his superstar years - or rather, his audience had problems - maybe we should say the difficulty was mutual. "What do you want from me?" cries the star, muttering under his breath at an open mike. "We want to eat you raw for dinner, you look so delicious!" his audience responds, though of course they'd be shocked if they could hear themselves. Still, for all the sensitivity of individual audience-members, the mob won't change. So it's the star who has to make the adjustments.
Journey Through the Past, a two-record miscellany which hit the public with all the impact of Self-Portrait or early Plastic Ono stuff (except that the ambiguous packaging and Xmas '72 timing made it seem even more of a rip-off), was, accidentally or not, a good step towards lowering the mob's expectations. The next three albums, Time Fades Away, On the Beach, and Tonight's the Night, each more iconoclastic than the one before, completed the process nicely.

The public gave up waiting for another Harvest, and Neil was a free man again. He escaped from the clutches of his hungry fans by giving them more truth than they wanted.

Which is not to say the post-Harvest stuff isn't terrific. At the moment, Time Fades Away is my favorite Neil Young album.

Like John Wesley Harding, it starts with a title track that happens to be the least important song on the album, lent dignity by having the record named after it. "Time fades away." The phrase - not the song - suggests that this guy is a has-been. It's a self-deprecatory gesture. The real message of the album is more along the lines of "you can live your own life" - but it took me dozens of listenings to realize that, to open up, to feel it.

I couldn't get into the record at all at first. I didn't even like 'Journey Thru the Past," a song which used to make me almost cry every time I heard it on that Rita Coolidge album. I guess the whole thing was just too raw, too unconnected with my idea of what it was I liked about Neil Young. I passed. A year later, On The Beach came out, and I listened to it, and liked it, and that plus some intelligent words by Robert Christgau on Time Fades Away sent me back to the earlier album. And I discovered "Don't Be Denied." Also around that time I heard Neil perform "Don't Be Denied" live (on the CSNY tour) and the intensity of that moment just burned into my brain, electric guitar like a rivet gun, human being like a human being:
'The punches came fast and hard

Lying on my back in the schoolyard."

And I listened to the album more and more, especially for that one song (ooh, such guitar), and eventually I began to hear the whole thing, the melodies, the rhythm, the performance, even the words and intentions . . . And one day I realized that there was a song for this decade even better than "Don't Be Denied," and it was on the same side of the same album.
* * *

What I have to say about Neil Young is in no way simple. It's as hard for me to get to him in words as it is for me to get to me. I've been writing this essay for months, maybe years - I've wanted to write it very much, kept asking different editors for the assignment - and still it's difficult, still I have to fight my way forward, trying to release my passion, trying to make my peace.

Trying to learn something, I guess.

I don't write about music. I write about listening to music, which is an experience, which is personal, and also about as universal as sex. Nine and a half years since I first heard "Nowadays Clancy Can't Even Sing," and I'm still reaching towards Neil's music, and he's still making new music that reaches me, and that's got to mean something (and it isn't something you'll ever read about in Newsweek).

It means him and me are both alive. There are probably only about twenty-seven of us on the whole planet, so that's not a small thing at all, if you know what I mean.
* * *
After Time Fades Away and On The Beach (I really loved "Ambulance Blues") came Tonight's the Night, which some suggested shouldn't even be released. But in addition to his amply expressed self-doubts, the kid's got real courage-of-his-convictions - very rare, surprisingly rare in this and all businesses. "Great works of art have no more affecting lesson for us than this," says Emerson. 'They teach us to abide by our spontaneous impression with good-humored inflexibility then most when the whole cry of voices is on the other side." A (you should pardon the expression) transcendent album. (Almost any quote from "Self -Reliance" would fit nicely into an essay on Neil Young.)

Tonight's the Night is what I mean by good music. I've heard some people call it sloppy. To me, slick is sloppy (I'm dead serious about this). When I hear Tonight's the Night, every note is in place, is exactly where it should be - the hard work it takes to make a record like this is of a kind that the people who lay down 183 splices and overdubs can't even imagine. But it is in fact harder work than that other kind, and truer, and the music that results is far, far better.

Slick is sloppy because it's superficial. The real work of writing a story is largely done before one sits down at the typewriter. The same is true in making a record - however much effort may be required in the studio, the quality of the finished work is limited by what the artists brought into the studio in the first place.

I'm sick to death with producers - and critics, and fans -who think great guitar playing comes from the fingers rather than the heart.

Tonight's the Night (especially first track, first side) is about as high as recorded music can be. The only recorded performance I can think of that's as immediately alive and communicates as much of the human beings playing it is "Please Mrs. Henry" on The Basement Tapes.

Everybody has their own aesthetic. Mine is something like, "and the truth shall make you dance." I can even listen to Tonight's the Night in the morning.

* * *
Zuma is Neil's ninth. It's not as personal, not as intense, as his best stuff, but it's encouraging because it suggests new worlds of wonder beyond the old exhaustions. I like to listen to it, especially side two, especially "Drive Back," which has a great build-up-and-release structure, the sort of thing that rock 'n' roll is all about. And "Cortez the Killer" is a fine laconic dream & nightmare, slightly science fictional (did his girlfriend leave him and go to live with Montezuma?), highly effective and timely mythmaking. The hemisphere was raped and pillaged; she waits; is it time yet for redemption? This is where our thoughts are turning . . .

(State of California reports show that Neil Young contributed $5000 to a campaign to ban nuclear power development until reactors meet stringent safety standards. Members of the Union of Concerned Scientists gave at least $11,000; Robert Redford donated $200; Jane Fonda came up with $50. Right on, everybody. Don't forget to vote against the power plants when the time comes, this June.)

Zuma is pleasing. But I think it's a transition. I think there's undreamed-of greatness yet to come.
* * *
"Here We Are in the Years." "Last Dance." "A Man Needs a Maid." "Down By the River." "When You Dance, I Can Really Love." What can I say about these songs?

I can say there has been, and continues to be, no more to the man than meets the ear. He holds nothing back. He lets it all come through.

Melodies, guitars, silly images, awkward, expressive voice, driving rhythm even when it's just him alone with acoustic guitar, it all speaks to me, talks to me of affection for friends, fear of love, need for affirmation wherever it can be found, even in negation, plus loneliness, courage, desolation and a bit of madness and real, energetic joy. So human, human.

I keep listening to these records - each one seems very different from all the others - and I keep finding more of what I'm looking for in them, more of myself. It is nice to have ten years of a man's work to run around in. Consider a song like "Last Dance." I can't hear this one without getting charged up - the strength of the playing is so incredible, it always has me punching the air in front of me as I listen, dancing in my chair.

And so much to say! Listen to him in front of that audience . . . you have to hear Neil Young in front of an audience, and if there aren't any concerts to get to, the live recordings on Time Fades Away are the next best thing. There he is almost begging those kids, everybody, to wake up, and scorning them, mourning them with real compassion, in the same breath. Da-da da dom, da-da dom dom - it's a tour deforce, I feel so much from this one, comparable to what I once got out of "When The Music's Over." "Last Dance!"

"See the Sky About to Rain" - as full and gentle as individual raindrops hitting a pond - hits me just as hard at other moments, the bootleg version in particular can unleash a flood of emotion. There's no similarity at all between this and "Last Dance" and yet somehow the magic is the same, that intensity of impact. . .

Music/creativity is a clue to something bigger. "I sing the song because I love the man; I know that some of you don't understand. Milk-blood to keep from running out. . ." Basically, we just have to keep at it.

"Oh no, oh no. . ." Thanks, Neil, for everything.


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