Review: In Neil Young on Neil Young, the musician gives his opinion on other musicians, politics and being Canadian

Neil Young on Neil Young: interviews and encounters
By Arthur Lize
Chicago Press Review

“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 he has made: ‘It’ is how journalist Jaan Uhelszki described the Canadian musician in a 2011 interview in American Songwriter.

Arthur Lizie’s book is part of Chicago Review Press’ Series Musicians in their own words. Lizie, a communication studies professor in Massachusetts, has compiled a few dozen interviews and articles about Young in the music press from 1967 until almost present. They focus heavily on the early years – from Buffalo Springfield, Young’s solo work as well as his work with Crazy Horse and CSNY.

The intriguing parts of these interviews are when Young voices his opinions about his fellow musicians. In 1969, for example, he said the Beatles were “not 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, JJ Cale and Jimmy Paige. And he talks about working with the late rhythm guitarist Danny Whitten during the Crazy Horse era; he was a phenomenal player, says Young. 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 got together and played dual guitars on ‘Tell Me Why,’ it was fantastic!” (Lofgren plays 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 freelance work.)

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Greil Marcus wrote an article for 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 tari, nothing more to say or a hell of a goodbye. You’re not exactly following Neil Young: he’ll hold your hand one minute and ignite the next.

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

Some of the articles discuss Young’s political attitudes and how politics is sometimes linked to his music. In the American songwriter’s 2011 article, “Neil Young and Daniel Lanois: Love and War,” Uhelszki asks him if working with Canadian producer Lanois has made him feel more Canadian. Young responds, “I feel pretty Canadian. And Uhelszki continues: “After freeing living with war [an album critical of Bush administration poIicies], I thought you might consider running for office and applying for US citizenship. And Young replies emphatically, “No, because I’m Canadian. I was born Canadian. You can’t change some things. You cannot change that. As if a piece of paper wouldn’t change anything…. You can’t become something you’re not just because it’s convenient.

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Neil Young on Neil Young is a book primarily for Neil Young fans. Some of the interviews, especially the early Q&As, are pretty dry. One exception is a 1974 article by Constant Meijers for a Dutch music publication that is part diary and part travelogue. Another rich example is a Nick Kent interview for MOJO on Young’s 50th birthday in 1995. But this 2009 Guitar World interview includes several pages of Young detailing the development and production of his 1963-72 archive. , its technology and non-musical ephemera included.

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

“When I retire, people will know because I will be dead. They will know: “He will not return! He has taken his retirement ! But I’m not going to say, ‘I’m not coming back.’ What kind of bullshit is this?

Neil Young on Neil Young is available from the editor or at your favorite bookstore.

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