(Continued, Page 2) The Billboard Q&A: Neil Young
Continuing the Billboard.com Q&A with Neil Young, page 2.Over the past 10 years, we've seen a kindler, gentler Neil Young emerge. At Farm Aid a couple years ago, I was struck by how often you sincerely thanked the crowd, and, obviously, you look happier than ever onstage with your wife, Peggi. It just seems like you've lowered a wall of defense.
Well, there's no pretense. I am who I am. They know who I am. I think the older you get, there is some mellowing that happens. But at Farm Aid, I feel like thanking people for being there and for giving their money for the cause.
Seeing you performing with Peggi, it just seems like you're genuinely happier onstage than you've ever been.
Well, we were having fun. We had a good time. We had a great Farm Aid in Chicago a couple years ago. It was unbelievable. It was just after I shot "Prairie Wind." It was in September of the year Katrina hit, and we played Farm Aid, and I had the choir with me from the "Heart of Gold" movie, and Wayne Jackson and the Memphis Horns. That was a great Farm Aid. Anyway, I digress.
There's a moment in the film where Stephen tumbles over a light onstage. It was surely hugely embarrassing for him. Did you hesitate to include the footage?
Well, I showed it to him. I wondered, "What's he going to do. Is he gonna like it or is he not going to like it?" But we were all who we were, and it's a movie. The more uncool we are, the more real it is. These things happen. We certainly didn't plan on that happening [laughs].
In terms of planning out the film, did you sit down and draw out an outline? Did you say, "I want to get X, Y and Z in this film, I want these people in the film?"
No. I met Mike Cerre, who was a correspondent who had been to Iraq and Afghanistan five times. I said, "Embed in this tour and do what you do -- travel in one of the buses, come with us everywhere, and do whatever you want to do, and cut together 10 episodes, like you were cutting together episodes for CNN or MSNBC, and give 'em to me, and that's it. I'm gonna do whatever I want with them. They're mine from that point on. You do what you do, give 'em to me, and I'll do what I do." And that was my direction. I just went for the people, the humanity of the people.
Your publicist told me that you called the film's soundtrack the greatest CSNY record ever yet.
Because it's CSNY. Because it really is CSNY. It's not overdubbed. There's no fixes. It's straight from the board. Every once in a while, we make something a little louder, maybe a little bit of bass here and there. But the basic mixes are the mixes that people heard when we were playing it. So it's got rough spots all the way through it, which I think it refreshing, especially considering the subject matter. Why should we polish? Why polish this? Who gives a shit whether it's polished or not? It is what it is, and that's the message of the music. It's what we're doing. If you don't like, you don't like it. If you like it, you like it. But it is what it is. Chroming it is not going to help it.
The more raw, the better, the more exciting.
I think so, and nobody's heard that from CSN.
In the late 1990s, you began singing the song "Buffalo Springfield Again," which seemed like an open letter to your former bandmates in the Springfield. When it was released on then "Silver and Gold" album, it seemed like something of a message to those guys that you were interested in reforming. But, instead, CSNY reformed, and has been an on-again, off-again entity for nearly a decade? Will we ever see a Buffalo Springfield reunion?
I just wrote the song one afternoon sitting in the garden, I guess, somewhere up by my house. No, I don't know, I don't think there ever will be a Buffalo Springfield reunion. There may be for us, but I don't think there will be for anybody else. But, you know, never is a huge word.
You're nearing the long-anticipated release of the first volume in your "Archives" project. What took so long? Has it just been exhausting finishing this first edition?
It has taken a long time. But we had to build a platform for it, because it's a new way of listening and looking at things. We had to build the whole program that it sits on, and that took a long time. We conceived that in the '90s, and we worked on it right until the technology was available to do it. And we couldn't have done it without Blu-ray. I've already started work on the second volume.
Do you have any sense of when that second volume will be released?
No, but it won't take nearly as long, because we have the platform, so now we just tag things and drop them in and they show up in the right place, and the whole thing's organized. We had to build this thing. It took a long time to build it.
In the liner notes to "Living With War," you thank Bob Dylan for inspiration. Did you give him the album? Has he heard it?
I don't think so. I know I didn't give it to him. I imagine he may have heard part of it. He may have heard all of it. I really don't know. I talked to him a couple years ago, maybe a year-and-a-half ago. He really liked a performance that I did of "Walking to New Orleans" on TV. He saw it and he called me to tell me that he liked it. I call him to tell him when he's great, when I see him being great. I like to call him and tell him: "You're fuckin' great. You're still rockin'. You fuckin' really got it." Ya know, somebody's got to tell him. And he is great. You may think that everybody is telling him all the time how great he is, but I don't know about that. Coming from me, I just wanted him to know how I felt, because I love the guy. I think he's a great artist. So I want to be supportive, whenever I see him really step up. So he returned a favor to me. We have a friendship.
I still listen to the Bob Dylan 30th anniversary tribute live record, on which you appear. It's one of my favorite discs.
Is "Tom Thumb's Blues" on that one?
Yeah, and your version of "All Along the Watchtower" as well.
I'm doing those two songs on this tour in Europe. I'm opening with "Watchtower" and I'm doing "Tom Thumb" in there somewhere.
So many musicians say that what they are doing now is a reaction to their previous project. Obviously, you released "Chrome Dreams II" since the Freedom of Speech tour, and you've been working on "Archives." I'm guessing you want to leave politics alone right now.
Well, I'm not really focused on the music right now, as far as new music. I have a couple songs in the back of my head, and if they come to the front of my head, I'll write 'em. When they arrive, I'll deal with them and drop everything else. But I'm not focused on [it]. I'm not looking for anything. I'm just kind of here, musically speaking. But as far as my life goes, I'm totally focused on my car, building a car that ... Our goal is to eliminate roadside refueling, with a big car, not some little rinky-dinky thing. Something that a big guy like you could get and drive a couple hundred miles. An American car that doesn't need oil, that doesn't need gasoline. Doesn't pollute, doesn't need gas stations. That's what I would like to make.
Is this something you will patent yourself?
There's a Web site called linkvolt.com and it tells the story of the car and what the mission is, what we're trying to do. There's a lot of interesting scientific stuff in there about ways to do things that are unconventional power sources. We're really into onboard fuel creation -- you make fuel as you go. And we're into the people's fuel, something everybody can get that we can use as fuel. So that eliminates a lot of things, but that does leave air and water, so those are big, good things. I figure using dead stuff is not working anymore. We're paying the price for using dead stuff and we can't use any more dead stuff. It pollutes, it's ruining our environment and we're fighting over it now. It's killing everything. So we have to get by it.
My focus is eliminating roadside refueling. That's the goal of the project. Will I ever get there? I don't know. But I'm aiming at it and that's what we're shooting for, that's our goal. The closer we get to it, the happier we are. If we actually get there, we'll go down in history, but if we don't get there we'll go down trying.
Somebody's got to do it. We've gotta get by this. We can't do this anymore. I mean, we have wars being fought all the time. It's an endless damn war over energy. You take away oil, and what do you have to fight about? People are so addicted and reliant on it. We think we have to have it to maintain our lifestyle. Are we that stupid? I mean, it's the 21st century. What happened to ingenuity? What happened to the first ideas? What we were doing before gasoline came along? We used electricity. We used that, and it was working great. We were using ethanol and electricity. We were growing the fuel and we were using science, and physics, physicists, scientists and farmers, and it was working, and we weren't polluting.
So, you know, we're a lot smarter now. We have computers, we can track people around the world, we can track environmental things, and we can track science projects, physics projects around the world. There are French people doing experiments and putting them on YouTube. There are so many things like that out there by guys working in the garages and physicists working in labs at night, and making their own things on their own dime. We don't have to listen to Ford and GM and Mercedes and go, "Well, these engineers that work for them, that's not the Holy Grail."
So what is the Holy Grail? I mean, there must be a Holy Grail. We've got to have somewhere to go. We've got to have a way out of this. Having a way out of this is not fighting. It's not trying to work out the politics of who's right or wrong, red or blue. That's all bullshit. That's all a waste of time. It's like chemotherapy. You're not focused on the problem. The problem is, where the hell is the cancer coming from, and how do you stop it before it starts? What can you do? What can we replace whatever it is that's causing it? What is it?
So this is the problem with oil. How do we deal with it, how do we get rid of it? How do we eliminate the tentacles of power that come in and touch us at every gas station, where we make our contact with our biggest enemy? Not that they are our enemy on that, on one level, but on another level, they're the biggest threat to our existence. We're feeding it. We go up and down the road, we go from here and there, we stop off, we pay 'em some money, get more of the stuff, and get another jolt, and away we go. It's terrible. We can eliminate roadside refueling and we can change the world. That's bigger than a song. That's what the deal is.
I'm 62 years old, and I've got nothing else to do but something like that. That catches my fascination. And there's so many smart people around, and so many intelligent people in the country. There's laws being ready to be broken everywhere in physics, science, everything -- or bent, maybe not broken, but bent, or reinterpreted, re-understood. There's always something new being found that people thought wasn't there. That's where things come from. So that's my request.
There's a lot going on. I can smell it. It's close. We're close to having a solution, or getting close to a solution. We're moving in the right direction. This is the age of innovation. There's no way that we're not going to figure out a much better way of doing it.
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