Neil Young talks to Charlie Rose: “I’m not happy about it now”

Canadian singer-songwriter Neil Young was interviewed on PBS‘s Charlie Rose show. The show, almost a complete hour, can be watched at this link. (Thanks to Jay for the tip.)

If you can get past some of the political baggage, and you like Neil Young, it’s an entertaining interview, where Young comes across funny, sincere and kind of sweetly naïve.

With regard to the politics and his Let’s Impeach the President phase, Young certainly is giving the distinct impression of having second thoughts. Some of what he says when Charlie prods him on the war:

I look at it Charlie as “why”? Why are we doing this? And why is the human race doing this? I try to step back and see it. And y’know on this record I got really involved in the present, which is like turmoil, it’s terrible. To be involved in, y’know, criticizing the president, and doing this and that, and talking about things in the first person and getting right in there. It’s like I got sucked into it. I was part of the turmoil myself. Which I wasn’t happy about. And I’m not happy about it now. But it happened.


I was sucked into it and I got angry. I was angry about things that were happening, and I thought this is just not right. This is not the way it should be. I felt like we were being lied to and things weren’t true and we were getting sold a bill of goods […] but I don’t want to harp on that.


I did the album. I said all of what I had to say, and now I don’t like to do it again. I don’t like singing the songs. I did it. I’m not CNN. I don’t play it over and over again.

Ahem. One can’t help but be reminded of Bob Dylan’s quote about hearing Neil Young’s Let’s Impeach the President and how he thought, “That’s crazy, he’s doing a song about Clinton?” That little dig of Bob’s, as I thought at the time, put a finger on what was wrong — just artistically speaking — with what Neil Young was doing. He was making music that was more like (lousy) opinion journalism, with a definite expiration date.

Well, I guess Neil realizes that it’s now expired. Too bad there are some fans out there who probably still listen to those tunes as anthems, manifestos and mantras.

Moving on: Bob Dylan’s name comes up several times over the course of the hour, and here’s some of what Neil says:

I love Bob Dylan — I think he’s great and in the very beginning I knew he was great. And yesterday I was walking down the street and there’s this guy in a Lincoln Navigator or Continental or something, one of those black cars, and he’s in there and he’s BLASTING Like A Rolling Stone and singing at the top of his lungs. It’s an Afro-American [sic] guy sitting there, he’s about 30 years old in a suit, just rockin’! And I could hear Bob’s voice, and this is Bob, this is the essence of his feeling and everything, in the moment when he was delivering that song. And I went, wow this is so powerful. You can’t keep that. That comes and goes through you. You can’t strive to be that. There’s no way you own it. [… ] It’s a gift that keeps on giving and then it goes away and then it comes back.


I’ve heard Bob say that he doesn’t know the guy who wrote those songs anymore … I understand what he was saying … I look at it and I go, wow, I must have been in a really different place doing that. But I was. And that was it. I wrote those words and I said that and I believed it.

Other than some reflections on songwriting, there’s not a whole lot in the interview about music, and some of the reason for that is how much time is spent talking about Neil Young’s newest goal. Let him explain it:

YOUNG: I look at what’s going on and I go, “Why can’t I be one of the people who tries to do something to replace the type of transportation that we use?”

CHARLIE: You’ve got this hybrid car.

YOUNG: Yeah, that’s what I’m trying to do. And I want to do that. I’ve set a lofty goal for my organization of my friends that I’ve met, to eliminate road-side refueling. And you talk about the audacity of hope.


The goal is to eliminate road-side refueling. The goal is to build a car that creates its own fuel. And to take that car home and plug it into your house, and not take energy from the grid but put energy into the grid. If everyone had cars like this, then it would be a distributed power system. We wouldn’t have to have power plants, we wouldn’t have to have brown-outs.


I guess, if it keeps him out trouble …

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