Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Everlasting Neil

I look to Neil Young as a model, an artist whose music clearly permeates the way he lives, feels and thinks. And the way he lives, feels and thinks becomes his music. His practice is him. No matter when or where, he’s always being Neil Young.

But, this quality can’t really be described as continuity. As Young says in Sunday’s New York Times profile:

“How did I get to where I am? I mean, what happened? Where’s the guy who wrote the other songs? Where’s the guy who wrote a lot of the early songs? There are some songs I can’t even sing. I don’t even know who wrote them. But I know I did. When I listen to myself, I go, ’O.K., but I can’t do that now.’“

This is every artist’s truth. We change, art changes. But at the same time, there is continuity. I think it somehow lies in adaptation, in allowing a work to change to fit a moment. Young explains:

“I want every song to be coming from me, not coming from who I was or who I’m trying to be or who people think I am or who they want me to be […] All those things are out. It’s just got to be: ‘Is this going to flow like water through me? Can I swim in this sound?’”

Although conclusions are boring, you could say an artist does write the same song over and over again, just in different ways.


Vito Polly-Vincent said...

I like what you have to say about Neil, Molly. I'm a big fan, too, though I must say that sometimes his authenticity (with or without quotes around it) leads him to say some pretty silly things - things that are even downright ignorant. His authenticity, as you point out, takes the form of, 'I'm just gonna say what I feel and not think about it too much,' or 'I'm not gonna try and be somebody other than myself.' Well, that sounds admirable on the surface of things, but sometimes one should actually think before they speak, or reflect a little before they put their art and their statements out there. Otherwise you run the risk of getting caught up in the raw emotion of a particular moment. Maybe that's not such a bad thing. But how else would you explain Neil's post-9/11 song, "Let's Roll"? I also think about his pro-Reagan albums, "Old Ways" and "Hawks and Doves" (Bet'cha didn't know Neil supported Reagan in '84, did ya?). ...None of this invalidates what you're saying, Molly, because Lord knows I love me my Neil Young, too. But there's a certain anti-intellectualism to his 'authenticity', which is satisfying a lot of the times, but at others it's just downright reactionary. ...Not to over-intellectualize things too much here...

Molly Stevens said...

I knew about the Reagan phase, but tend to rationalize it with "everyone makes mistakes."

And while "Let's Roll" sounds militaristic, wasn't it about the final words of someone on the plane? And somehow didn't he make up for it with "Living With War," and even "Greendale"?

In any case, I tend to over- intellectualize, so I put anyone who doesn't on a pedestal.

Good point about dispassionate distance. But, isn't it hard to be dispassionate with music?