Neil Young – “Music just takes you wherever you want to go”
ND: In “The Painter”, you sing, “It’s a long road behind me, it’s a long road ahead.” Does it shake you up a little that you’re about to turn 60 years old?
NY: Well, it shakes me up a little bit, but not much yet. Actually, I had a dream last night about my daughter. And she was singing. She doesn’t sing. She’s got a great voice, but she doesn’t sing. And, in this dream, she was singing this song. And she had a guitar she was playing that her boyfriend had modified for her. Her boyfriend’s very handy and a very talented kid. And he had taken the strings and moved them so that there were two stings on the bottom, the thick strings. They were separated from the middle two strings by a whole space where there was nothing. And then the two strings on the top were separated from those. So there were like three sets of two strings on this guitar.
And my daughter was standing there and she was not moving. Sort of like Emmylou. She doesn’t move very much. But her fingers were going. And I was hearing this bass line going and this little rhythm and then this really fast picking, while she was singing. There were three different things going on. And she was singing away. And all of these words are just flying out of her mouth. And then at the end, she said, “Well, Daddy, what do you think? Has it got too many words? Is it too…” — and I’m going, “How do you do that on the guitar? What are you doing?” You know, because she was like — it was like super fast things going on. And, you know, rhythm, bass, and lead all at once. And she’s singing nonstop words. And it was like great. I mean, I still can’t get it out of my head. But she’s not a musician, she’s a painter.
ND: Well, speaking of dreams, in “The Painter”, you sing, “If you follow every dream, you might get lost.” Were there times in your career that you thought you followed a dream and got lost?
NY: Oh, all the time. I think I got lost every time. You know, that’s one of my trademarks. (laughs)
ND: A few months ago, we heard that you had a brain aneurysm that resulted in you being hospitalized and having surgery. Exactly what happened and how are you feeling today?
NY: Well, they took care of it and I feel good. I have to take some medicine for high blood pressure. And I don’t like that, because it kind of puts a clamp on me. So I’m trying to figure out a way around that.
ND: Around the medicine?
NY: Yeah. I’m trying to figure out a way to keep a grip on that problem without taking the medicine. I’ve reduced it from a lot of pills down to a half a pill a day, already, you know, over the course of six months. But apparently, if I continued unchecked, that would be risk of another one and there’d be — you know, they’re dangerous. Don’t want any more of those.
ND: The album and the show, this is a very musical project. This is about, it seems to me, musicians being musicians. The arrangements are so beautiful, the subtlety of it. Did you envision those arrangements, or did the musicians also have a say in bringing them about?
NY: We did it all together. I choose the guys that can do it. All the guys that play with me are — they’re living right then. They’re not there for anything else other than making a mark and doing everything they can to bring the song to life. We’re all like brothers and sisters and we all have the same family, we’re all going in the same direction. And so I don’t have to think very much. I do lead them, but they all go real easy.
ND: On “No Wonder”, the chorus of singers is otherworldly. It’s haunting. And it’s unique in your work. I don’t recall you employing singers in that fashion before.
NY: Well, I’ve used a choir before. I used a choir in “Touch The Night”, I think was the name of the song on Landing On Water or some album. I can’t remember. But it was a whole other thing. This song has got three different vocal groups in each verse. So it starts off with the three guys singing with me. And then it’s Emmylou [Harris] and Pegi [Young, his wife] and Diana [Dewitt] singing on the tick-tock part. And then the choir comes in on the church part. So each verse has got these three different things going on. And then in the end, when it starts jamming more, then the fiddler comes in. And it’s just — you know, it goes on a long journey.
ND: In the song, you sing of hearing your friend Willie Nelson sing on the radio. And you mention fields of fuel rolling on for miles. I’m imagining that’s a reference to the potential for those fields to be used for biodiesel — that you and Willie both use to power your buses on the road these days.
NY: Yeah. Well, we’ve really got something going with that now. About a year ago, I called Willie and I said, “You know, we could power Farm Aid with biodiesel, with fuel grown by farmers. Do you think we ought to do it?” And he said, “Yeah, we ought to do that! Let’s do it.” So we did it first on the West Coast, up in Seattle. And all the trucks were running on it. We had farmers bringing in their tankers and filling up the trucks and we ran the generators off of it and we powered the lights and the sound system and the whole venue off of vegetable oil.