Neil Young

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About Neil Young

In an effort to understand the long, idiosyncratic career of Neil Young, remember that in 1983, Geffen Records sued him, effectively, for not sounding enough like himself. Even in his early days with Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, he was a mercurial presence, injecting the communal optimism of the hippie era with darkness and skepticism (“Ohio,” “Broken Arrow”) and pushing the conventions of folk rock to noisy extremes (1979’s Rust Never Sleeps). To the extent that he represents the spirit of the '60s, it’s in his uncompromising commitment to his own journey, no matter how surprising (1982’s electronic Trans or 1991’s guitar collage Arc). The Geffen lawsuit wasn’t just absurd for its efforts to litigate creativity; it was absurd because almost no artist in popular music has ever been as stubbornly themselves as Neil Young. Born in Toronto in 1945, he moved to Los Angeles in the mid-'60s, where his music—from introspective solo albums like 1970’s After the Gold Rush or 1975’s Tonight’s the Night to group workouts with Crazy Horse—helped define the sound of post-Beatles rock ’n' roll. If he fits so comfortably into so many musical lineages—country, grunge, folk, noise—it’s only because he’s covered so much ground and with so much unerring conviction; when his biographer Jimmy McDonough asked him if he’d ever want to go into outer space, Young said only if he knew he was going all the way. And if he gets under your skin, he just might be doing something right. As he sang way back in 1966, on Buffalo Springfield’s “Mr. Soul,” “I was raised by the praise of a fan who said I upset her.” And he’s been following that muse ever since.

November 12, 1945
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