I came to know the music of Neil Young much the same way that many people of my generation did; through the MTV Unplugged sessions. I got the Neil Young Unplugged cassette (yup, cassette!) and I really enjoyed it. I always liked folk music and my growing understanding of the musical landscape actually took me back to my old Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young records of whom Neil Young was a member! “How exciting,” I thought; “not only does he have a solo career but he’s also on these great old records I’ve got.” Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young became Crosby, Stills, and Nash and still Neil Young chugged along.
As anyone who knows Neil Young is aware, he’s got something of a whiny, meandering, warbling voice. When I first heard his records it was in the then present moment for this aging rocker; he was an old dude so I just figured that his voice had deteriorated. Leave it to You Tube to school me on this front. The attached 1971 videos of a quite young Neil Young playing almost forty years ago show the same voice projecting from this wonderful folk singers performances.
Still, it’s instructive to listen to the delivery of a song from the younger Neil Young and hear how it’s changed later on. Like a Hurricane (1) appears to be rocking out and rollicking when Neil Young is younger. Still, if you listen to his borderline pensive delivery it’s almost as though Neil Young were preparing himself for the eventual rediscovery of his music of a later generation. The elder statesman Neil Young appears walloped up in this Hurricane, for sure.
Another Neil Young song which actually is a lot more appropriate when watching it during the time it was originally recorded is the song Old Man (2). Apparently not about his father, this song makes a whole lot more sense when taken in the context of this time in his life. (Still a line like “doesn’t mean that much to me to mean that much to you” has daddy-issue overtones). The story goes that Neil Young bought a ranch in California and his experience with the caretaker of the ranch was the conversation he’d had with the old man in the song. When you listen to Neil Young in the twilight years of his life sing the same song, it’s with that much more resonance because now he’s been in both stages of life’s journey. The line “Old Man look at my life, I’m a lot like you were,” really strikes a chord as the young man and the old man in all of our lives really are one in the same.
If you like Neil Young you should definitely check out some of these videos (3) of him playing as a younger man. Especially for those my age and younger who’ve never really seen these things, the visual sight of this young man singing like the old man we all know is a trip.