It all started with Bob Dylan. My journey to being a folk rock obsessive, now forever armed with an ipod like a little black armoury filled to the teeth with whiny white guys crooning over acoustic guitar, all began with Dylan. I journeyed from the righteous anger of his protest songs to the surrealistic visions of Blonde on Blonde and beyond, falling deeper in love all the way. I found Leonard Cohen and Tom Waits and fell in love all over again. And then a fellow folk fan reliably informed me:
“Man, you would love Neil Young”.
I did a cursory web browse, as I do with any new artist, trying to get a sense of who this guy was. It all sounded fantastic. So I threw on the The Needle and the Damage Done, a song so devotedly loved that YouTube creaks under the weight of its many cover versions. I was prepared to be amazed. I was prepared to have the sweaty-palmed, heart-racing sense of musical romance.
My reaction was a resounding meh. It was alright I guessed. But hey, sometimes these things need a few more listens until they click. Listening to some of Dylan’s stranger work, like Bob Dylan’s 115th dream, it took a while before a line or a note caught you like broken glass embedding in your foot during a midnight stroll, and then you had to go back and investigate.
I listened and I listened but that moment of falling in love still didn’t come.
Eventually my desperate widened out to his entire legendary album Harvest. There was a lot to like. Young is Dylan’s absolute superior in terms of vocal delivery, with an enormous range and an ability to croon in this really sweeping and powerful way as evidence by the likes of Heart of Gold. It seemed like the kind of voice that should sweep you into the ocean of its sound, but I was left on the shore with the waves of audio just about lapping at my toes. His lyrics were heartfelt but they didn’t, for me, have the sort of literary heft I expected from the likes of Cohen. His guitar work was certainly beautiful and the whole album has this really rich sound that simultaneously seems carefully planned and, at times, improvised.
Still it didn’t click.
To this day a good friend of mine, a man whose musical taste I have the utmost respect for and with whom I have much sonic-simpatico, is utterly perplexed by my lack of affection for Neil Young. Most folk fans are and the reactions vary from amusement to something like rage.
“But..how?! He’s perfect for you!”
I sometimes feel as though people are trying to force me into a date, swearing it will be the most passionate and romantic night of my life, and I’m just not that into my respective partner. My search has broadened and I’ve listened to lesser known tracks such as Cortez the Killer. I found this shortly after reading a book on the Spanish conquest of the Aztecs, an area of history I find totally fascinating. And yet I found the song a little limp. The lyrics are good on paper, but the immense sonic chasm before we get to them leaves me craving something more meatily prosaic.
So that’s my story. Although all the ingredients are there, I just haven’t blossomed a love of Neil Young shared by so many of my folk-rock fellows. He seems like a really fantastic musician but he just hasn’t clicked for me. Is there a Neil Young album that might convince me? A killer live performance? Even an interview where I might get a deeper glimpse into the hidden world of his songs? Tell me in the comments!