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Tuesday 20 February 2018

Music: Long may Young run

RETURN: Free-spirited Neil Young plays a gig in Cork in July. Photo: Kevork Djansezian/Getty
RETURN: Free-spirited Neil Young plays a gig in Cork in July. Photo: Kevork Djansezian/Getty
Barry Egan

Barry Egan

Tell me why I don't like Mondays? Last Monday, on the first of night of four shows he was performing at New York's Carnegie Hall, Neil Young stopped a song, perhaps mischievously, because thoughtless audience members were clapping and singing at the wrong moment during the proceedings.

"Mr Young seemed rattled by the precarious balance of worship and familiarity exhibited by the capacity crowd," noted The New York Times review of the concert.

"It's something that you probably don't know but there's a hell of a distance between you and me. Just another perspective on a happy crowd. Funny thing about music..." the celebrated Canadian singer-songwriter told the crowd after he halted Ohio -- a sad, angry song, written by Young, and released by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young in 1970 in reaction to the May 4, 1970, Kent State fatal shootings of four unarmed students (and the serious injuring of nine more) protesting against Nixon and America's Cambodian campaign.

He did finish the set with After The Gold Rush and Heart Of Gold -- followed by an encore of Comes A Time and Long May You Run -- so he must have actually been in a playful mood, folks.

You have to admire the idiosyncratic, often curmudgeonly old grandfather of grunge (remember that?) for it -- and his headstrong ways since the Seventies, in fact, where he has always followed his own muse. (He has just released Live At The Cellar Door. Recorded in Washington in 1970 during the epoch of his After The Gold Rush album, it features a piano-led Birds, a lovely version of Old Man, plus an always-haunting Only Love Can Break Your Heart. Forgive my sacrilege but I have always preferred the Saint Etienne version.

Young, who returns to Ireland with Crazy Horse this July (their thunderous, sometimes out-of-kilter show in the RDS in Dublin last summer desperately divided opinion), has been his own man from the beginning. Sometimes his music has seemed deliberately inaccessible to the mainstream. Like the man himself.

As he once said: "I'm not here to sell things. That's what other people do, I'm creating them. If it doesn't work out, I'm sorry; I'm just doing what I do. You hired me to do what I do, not what you do. As long as people don't tell me what to do, there will be no problem."

He has a son, Ben, a quadriplegic with cerebral palsy who is unable to speak. Young and his wife, Pegi, put everything on hold when he was born to help Ben try to develop his motor skills. Last year, Young told The New York Times that 34-year-old Ben goes on tour with him. "He's our spiritual leader in that way," he said. "We take him everywhere, and he's like a measuring stick for what's going on."

In his 2012 book, Waging Heavy Peace, Young spoke about his new sobriety and its benefits: "The straighter I am, the more alert I am, the less I know myself and the harder it is to recognise myself. I need a little grounding in something and I am looking for it everywhere."

This is the man, lest we forget, who was, once upon a time, busted for drugs. He recalled of his old mucker in Seventies supergroup Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, David Crosby's mind-bending stash of drugs: "I still remember 'the mighty Cros' visiting the ranch in his van. That van was a rolling laboratory."

At times, during Crazy Horse's show in Dublin last June, it felt like Young and the band must have arrived at the gig in The Mighty Cros' van. The guitar solo-ing was certainly interesting -- in that it went on for the length of a duration it would take to possibly score, roll and smoke some drugs with David Crosby back in the day. In a way, that is one of the main reasons I love Young. He doesn't care what people think of him; not even his own crowd.

He is the incomparably tender voice of Cinnamon Girl and Harvest Moon; and the ragged Old Testament prophet of of Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black) and Rockin' in the Free World. Complex, clearly. He still comes across like a free-spirited product of the Seventies. Yet he remains, at 68 years of age, more punk in his attitude -- even today -- than The Sex Pistols and their ilk ever were.

Long may he run.


  • Neil Young & Crazy Horse Live at the Marquee Cork, July 10, 2014. Tickets from: all Ticketmaster outlets nationwide; 24hour credit card bookings -- 0818 719300 (RoI) 0844 277 4455 (NI); www.ticketmaster.ie

Irish Independent

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