You Almost Had Me, Neil

It was so close.  I almost understood the fuss about Neil Young as an artist.  And then in a flash, it was gone again.

Young is considered a national treasure but his reedy, warbly voice is definitely an acquired taste.  It’s something that true fans overlook and almost dismiss as unimportant because of his songwriting prowess.  Young was chosen as this year’s MusicCares Person of the Year for his heart of gold when it comes to worthy causes including almost singlehandedly keeping open a leading school for kids with autism.  (Two of his sons are autistic.)  

Stories about Young’s eccentricities are legendary.  Although he was in the midst of one of his famous falling-outs with David Crosby, Steven Stills and Graham Nash, Young briefly healed the rift in May of 1970 when he wrote a song after the Kent State massacre and asked his on-again, off-again bandmates to join him on it.   The song, Ohio, was written, recorded and in the hands of radio stations all within ten days.  It’s still a great song.

Young performed a haunting and stripped down rendition of Long May You Run on the final Tonight Show hosted by Conan O’Brien.   Why he turned up later that night on the Hope for Haiti telethon looking like a homeless person who just rolled out of a ditch is a mystery, but so is Young.  His song catalogue is mind-numbingly deep and he is cited by countless bands as an inspiration.  And this is the problem. 

The guys in possibly the worst band to ever gain a public following, Wilco, said this week, “There would have been no Wilco without Neil Young.”  That does it.  I’m back to not understanding the man!  We once sat through part of a Wilco performance on the PBS show, Austin City Limits and agreed that it sounded like a tone deaf guy attempting to sing while his colleagues continually tuned their instruments.  I suppose Neil can’t help who he inspires but it’s got to stop somewhere – let’s stop the madness!