music, guitar

There is a world… Neil Percival Young - Part 1

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Some time ago, LOGON Magazine published an article about Bob Dylan [i] and his qualities as a profound lyricist. Neil Young, a contemporary and colleague of his, has a lot in common with Dylan and is also friends with him. Soul mates, it seems. Both are of the 'rough shell, white pit' caliber, with an unpolished, unsteady singing voice (which is not appreciated by everyone). Both are very headstrong and unruly, both self-taught singer/lyricist and instrumentalist (guitar, piano, harmonica), raised in the sixties, with all the innovative forces, associated pitfalls and deep ravines. And they have a certain melancholy in common.

Dylan, and subsequently also Young, brought about a radical innovation in the phenomenon of pop song/lyrics; they added depth to the text. They exposed abuses in US politics and did not mince their words. However, where Dylan sometimes comes across as a mischievous rebel, Young can give the impression of an old, wise and quirky Kiowa chief [ii], who traverses earth life without getting too attached. There is also a difference in the field of their lyrics: Dylan is a master of ingeniously constructed, long, narrative lyrics, Young, on the other hand, is often a genius in simplicity.

He was born in Toronto, Canada in 1945. As a young child he was in poor health, in his twenties he also developed serious back problems and later an aneurysm. In the mid-1960s he moved to the US and eventually ended up in Los Angeles, where he co-founded the group Buffalo Springfield and later Crazy Horse. He became famous with the formation Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, and their album 'Déjà Vue'. However, his willfulness never kept him in a fixed formation for long and he refused to conform to anyone or anything; here again a similarity with Bob Dylan. He eventually rose to worldwide fame with his 1972 solo album Harvest, which sold over two million copies.

Beautiful songs have ended up on this album, poetic lyrics with multiple expressiveness. The most famous that can be found on it is 'Heart of gold[iii]. That came to the top of the charts in both the US and Canada, and reached the top 10 in the Netherlands. When Bob Dylan heard it, he thought it was so similar in style to his own songs that he actually thought that not Neil Young but himself should have been the writer of this song [iv]. The fact is that Young wrote one of his simplest and most appealing songs here. For me and many like me it was just a beautiful, sweet love song at the time. But now I can also hear in it a longing for another heart of gold, the heart of gold that wants to unfold deep within each of us, either through the mirror of a human love partner or directly.

 

Heart of gold    

I want to live

I want to give

I've been a miner

For a heart of gold

It's these expressions

I never give

That keep me searching

For a heart of gold

And I'm getting old

Keep me searching

For a heart of gold

And I'm getting old

 

I've been to Hollywood

I've been to Redwood

I crossed the ocean

For a heart of gold

I've been in my mind

It's such a fine line

That keeps me searching

For a heart of gold

And I'm getting old

Keeps me searching

For a heart of gold

And I'm getting old

 

The fine line of which he speaks can also be read as the luminous line of force from the heart of the world, which flows through us and connects us all, and which impels us to seek. This luminosity was particularly strong in the 1960s, at the beginning of the Aquarian age. Has it touched him, the fine line, which asks for our conscious cooperation and urges us to turn to our deep inner self? A sensitive person like Young might have been receptive to that. He wrote this text about his twenties, and yet he says of himself that he is getting old. An old soul? He also speaks of this in 'Old man', another song on 'Harvest':

Old man, take a look at my life, I'm a lot like you.

But the lyrics that strike me the most are those of a lesser-known song on 'Harvest'. It is the magical, imaginative and almost apocalyptic 'There's a world'. On the album it can be heard in an arrangement for a large orchestra, with timpani and harp; a beautiful arrangement, a wide, spatial piece of music. However, there is also a sober version from 1971 [v], in which Young accompanies himself on a grand piano and in which his voice sounds almost shy, like someone who has experienced major events and perhaps also foresees them for the future, who knows? He lets a subdued, almost lovingly pleading beginning slowly swell into what appears to be a cry for awakening. A call to everyone to be guided by the new spirit of the times, the new wind blowing through the world. It's a song that now, many decades later, resonates deeply with me.

(To be continued in part 2)


Sources:

[i] Dylan, interpreter of the Zeitgeist | LOGON MAGAZINE  

[ii] Kiowa (tribe) | The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture (okhistory.org)

[iii] Neil Young - Heart of Gold (Full HD) - YouTube

[iv] Why Bob Dylan hated Neil Young's song 'Heart of Gold' (faroutmagazine.co.uk): ’The only time it bothered me that someone sounded like me was when I was living in Phoenix, Arizona, in about ’72 and the big song at the time was ‘Heart of Gold’. I used to hate it when it came on the radio. I always liked Neil Young, but it bothered me every time I listened to ‘Heart of Gold.’ I think it was up at number one for a long time, and I’d say, ‘Shit, that’s me. If it sounds like me, it should as well be me,’ he added.

[v] There's a World (Live at Massey Hall 1971) - YouTube

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