At Book Expo America 2012, music legends Patti Smith and Neil Young sat down in front of a packed house to discuss Neil's new book, Waging Heavy Peace (Blue Rider Press) and Neil's new album, Americana. What follows is a touching, funny, and thought provoking discussion on life, music, the 1960's, trains, and the spirit of song writing.
Patti Smith: Hello, everyone. Hello Neil. Neil has agreed that we can just sit here and giggle for the next hour. Like everyone else, Neil, I’m really happy to see you.
Neil Young: I’m happy to see you.
PS: Two things. First, congratulations on your record coming out yesterday, Americana. And of course here at the Book Expo as Neil and I were talking about back stage, all of these things for us [happen] the same way. All the things that one creates comes from the same soul, the same heart, the same hopes. I just wanted to say a few things about the record. I just love this record.
What surprises me, if you haven’t heard it yet, it’s Neil and Crazy Horse doing many versions of traditional American songs. The one that nearly killed me was Jesus’ Chariot.
NY: That was the original title.
PS: That was the original title? I didn’t know that.
NY: The folk process… because if you use the word “folk process”, I’ve found you can change almost anything.
PS: So Jesus’ Chariot is your title?
NY: Jesus’ Chariot was my title.
PS: That was my favorite thing about this song
NY: It’s like when they “she’ll be coming around the mountain when she comes” they’re talking about Jesus’ chariot. That’s where the song came from. It’s an old spiritual. It’s sort of about the second coming or the end of times. So that’s what I found out about the song when I researched it.
PS: I was really excited about that because here’s a little song we’ve sang since we were little kids by wrote. And we’ve sung “she’ll be commin’ around the mountains when she comes” with no sense of the lyrics, not really listening, just singing along and memorizing. And your re-working of it with that title, but also the energy of it, there’s a foreboding and a heralding in it that gave it this mystical quality.
It was like I’ve never heard this song before.
NY: It’s a wild song. It’s very crazy, religious, cultish, weird song and I didn’t realize it, obviously, when I first heard it. But then I read up on the history of the song and read the lyrics, and I went back and read the original lyrics and chose special verses that were from the 18th century or something, whenever it was.
I found it was just a little bit over the top and had this edgy religious thing happening with the killing of the red rooster, and portals.
PS: It’s like H.P. Lovecraft.
NY: Exactly. It’s not that quaint.
PS: Also, just listening to the lyrics of all these songs through your performance of them, like with Get a Job. I suddenly realized it wasn’t just a novelty song. This is a song about strife and desires of people. He’s got to get the job.
I could feel what the inception of each song originally meant. What I learned was the original intent of the song was. Not just some grade school song. Did you try to channel the original intent of the song?
NY: I originally did these songs and was half way through the album and I broke down. A lot of the first songs that I had done had run out and one of my record company friends who’s always nurturing artists and helping, he couldn’t help himself, so he started sending all kinds of songs, sometimes ones that I had already done, just to help me finish the record. That’s what he wanted to do, he wanted to help.
Now I’m thinking there are new folk songs that are real obvious, and Get a Job is one of the most obvious American folk songs. And a lot of people talk to me about it's do-wop and I go “no, this is chain-gang music.” This isn’t sha-na-na-na. There’s a lot of this by the side of the road, we used to see it in Florida.
And they’re down there in the winter and I’m driving with my friends and we see them by the side of the road and we’d hear them singing. So to me, Get a Job is a lot deeper than do-wop. It’s about this part of history. So the message of this woman and her husband who live in this house and the guy is coming down and she’s throwing a paper on the table and says “get a job!” We got this…
PS: Preachin’ and a cryin’
NY: He tries to get a job, but couldn’t find it or couldn’t get.
PS: That’s Americana. That’s America right now.
NY: It’s the same as Oklahmoa River and that song was written in the 50’s or early 60’s and arranged by The Silhouettes and I think it’s great, it’s a folk song, so I put it in there.
PS: It’s seamless, it really felt like a Depression-era song. And High Flyin’ Bird, we’ll move on, but I can’t resist talking about this record. High Flyin’ Bird just could have been a Crazy Horse song, lyrically and everything. Did you feel a sense of kinship with that song?
NY: I love that song because when I first heard it, it was how I started this album, Americana. I was writing this book, see it all comes back to books. I was writing the book and thinking about some place back in Kansas, Thunder Bay 1964, when my band was playing.
This band called The Thorns comes to town with Tim Rose, who had been in this band called The Big Three with Cass Elliot and a guy whose name I can’t remember [James Hendricks, ed.]. The Thorns come in and they do Oh Sussanah. So they did an arrangement I didn’t dislike. Instead of doing the song in C, it’s now in A-Minor with this pulsating back and forth grooving, background vocals that are pulsating and big changes to every part of the song.
I listened to that and said “hey, that’s pretty good. I’ve got a drummer, and they don’t have a drummer.” So we did the song and we started playing it and I loved the arrangement so much that I also did Clementine, Tom Dula, She’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Mountain, Jesus’ Chariot. Did that.
So we’re playing and we get to do Saturday and Sunday afternoons and sometimes we get to play between when the headliners play on the weekends. So I’m playing these songs and we’re doing really well. The next band that comes to town, because they all come from New York. So they come through and it’s this goofball comedy group which was put together.
It was like a twelve man folk. So this guy comes out and does one song and it’s High Flyin’ Bird and loved it. I loved High Flyin’ Bird and I loved him and I said "we should get together and do something, come to New York and we’ll do something." So I took the song and changed it a little, not too much. So I’m writing my book and writing all this stuff in the book and when it’s time for me to get together with Crazy Horse, they came to town and came to the house where I was writing the book.
PS: So Neil, you were writing about these songs and your long relationship with these songs. Did you want to work with Crazy Horse because of the writing or was it already planned?
NY: You know it was like I was thinking about Crazy Horse almost from the beginning of the book. It’s not like a memoir; it’s more like a diary and a projection. So I would write about what I was thinking and I was thinking about playing with Crazy Horse. But I had to call every one of them. “Lets talk. How are you doing?”
PS: You could have done it telepathically. I’ve seen you guys play before. Telepathy could have worked. I’ve read a lot of the book and what I really love is that there is no barrier between the reader and you.
I started reading it and I felt like sometimes it’s after hours late and night and you’re talking or in your tepee with a fire and talking. It’s intimate. You’re talking. It’s not chronological, but memory is not chronological.
To me, it’s perfect the way you talk about life without giving a linear narrative because our memories are like that. We don’t remember things in chronological order. I like it so much because it seemed like you were talking to me. You were, right?
NY: Yeah, I was.
PS: I think everyone here will feel that it’s a beautiful thing.
NY: That’s great. I just let it come out. My memory, not only does it not work chronologically, sometimes it just doesn’t work. Whatever was happening I would write about, and I suppose it’s a little unorthodox that way, but it was real. We kept everything in the same order, we didn’t try to change the order even though at our first reading people looked puzzled.
PS: I liked it because it seemed so intimate. It’s just like when you’re talking to your friends. That I feel is one of its strengths because when you talk to a friend, you do go all over the place.
NY: You should be able to.
PS: And you accept that. I want to ask you a question that my daughter texted me because she’s in Detroit. My daughter’s late father was a musician and when Jesse plays the piano, she feels connected with her father. She wonders if you feel connected with your father when you’re writing.
NY: That’s a beautiful question and of course I do. I always remember, my dad used to call me Windy because I always had ideas. First of all, his typewriter was on the third floor of our house, up in the attic with two little windows and the peaked ceilings and a couple doors and some saw-horses up there, and that’s where he wrote his books.
So he was up there every day. So first thing in the morning I hear chatter, chatter, chatter, tap, tap, tap. I could hear him up there, he was up before everyone else writing. There was a rule that no one could go up there when he was writing, so of course I went right up. He would always look at me and go “what’s going on today?” and I go “what are you writing about?” And he said “I don’t know.” I found that if you just sit down and start writing, all kinds of nice things happen.
PS: Which is a nice, it’s like improvisation, which of course you’re a master of [in] playing guitar. I’ve seen you go on with a Hurricane that went on for ten minutes like Coltrane. Did you ever think about writing a song called Windy? It’s such a beautiful title.
NY: Not yet. When I think about my dad calling me Windy it means a lot to me.
PS: It’s very evocative for many reasons.
NY: So yeah, he always used to spy on me. But yes, I do think of my father all the time when I’m writing because it feels so natural. So that’s why I started another book right away and kept on going.
PS: There’s something in the book that was answered for me that I always wanted to ask you, but I’ll ask it again, if you don’t mind. You talk about writing Ohio, could you tell us about how you wrote Ohio?
NY: [David]Crosby took me to a place in the Redwoods that our lighting director and our road manager had this house they were renting. It was at the end of this road up in Redwood Canyon in Northern California and it was an old house. People back in the day used to make these redwood cabins and you’d go out by the stream and build fireplaces. They’d use redwood from trees that had fallen.
They built these beautiful cabins and there were maybe 15 or 20 of them along the creek and this was the last one and it had a nice deck and everything. So Crosby and I had gone out to visit these two guys, Steve and Leo and so we got there, smoked some weed and hung out on the deck looking at the trees from the deck. So we’re sitting there and someone walked in, not sure where from, and they threw the Time Magazine or Newsweek down on the table where we’re sitting and the cover was the picture of the girl with the guy that had been killed by the National Guard.
And she’s just looking up screaming, I’m not sure if you remember that picture. It was just an unbelievable picture and gives me chills just thinking about it. It was very touching. So picked up my guitar and played some chords and I wrote the song right there in about a minute and Dave listened to it and said “okay, let’s go.” And I said “what?” He said “let’s go, let’s go, let’s go.” I didn’t know what he was talking about.
So we got into the car and headed down to the record plant in LA down in PSA and we got there and we got the band together so the next day we were recording this Still’s song called Find the Cost of Freedom for Easy Rider. I’m not sure if they used it, but he wrote it for that movie, so we recorded the two songs so they go together and made the album. It was kind of the social networking of the time.
PS: It was on the radio like that.
NY: We pressed acetates and you only get seven or eight plays out of them, and we pressed a hundred of them and sent them all over the country. The record company made 45’s right away and they got them out about two weeks later.
PS: Were you aware how much that song ignited the people in America to step up the action in terms of the war protest?
NY: Not really, no. I really wasn’t. I noticed in the heat of things we were really intense. Crosby really put a lot into it. Crosby added punctuation to the song. We just did it so quickly and he kept punctuating at the end and we’d be jamming and he’d be yelling and it got very intense when we were doing it.
I remember those were the high points for me a lot of the concerts that we did. And then I said I really don’t want to do this song so much anymore because I didn’t want to take advantage of all this and making money from this. And that got me thinking about all these things that were unrelated to the actual event. There were complications on a conscientious level I hadn’t even considered.
PS: I think that was one of the burdens for our generation is that we wanted, as artists, to do our work, but the guilt and the concern about Vietnam made it so that when you were successful you were questioning everything you did or check and balance everything you did. Did that happen to you?
NY: You didn’t want to become that which we were separating ourselves from. And our whole generation is about being together. Our audience and the band were one thing. It wasn’t like we were trying to impress them, we were them. So we were all together in one place, it was the beginning of something. It was a great moment.
PS: And the radio was so important for us.
NY: Very important. And now it’s a different deal. Even with songs I did later in life, things had changed so much that you really get put down a lot for saying whatever you thought or [people say] “who the hell are you to say that?” But when we did Ohio, it wasn’t like [people said] “well you’re Canadian.”
PS: I don’t think that mattered.
NY: I didn’t think it mattered either. I was shocked to find out that I was Canadian.
PS: You were such a strong part of our cultural voice, you were “Young” on every level; in name and person. But that song, for myself, I was working in a bookstore, what that picture was for you, for those of us that didn’t even see that picture, you translated that picture where it was less likely to reach young people and we all heard that song on the radio and it made us much, much more aware of what was going on in our world.
Even though we’re the same age, I was really a late-bloomer as a worker. I was a 70’s worker, in the late 70’s. I learned what was happening in our world, whether it was protests or Vietnam, through people like you, or Bob Dylan, or Phil Ochs. People that write songs and giving them to us through the radio. The radio was such a beautiful, powerful network for us all.
NY: It was. It was great.
PS: No programmers.
NY: Yeah, no programmers, the DJ’s played what they want and had personalities and that was really cool.
PS: I think that we can appreciate the positive aspects of modern technology, but it’s alright, as a cautionary tale, to mourn what we have lost.
There’s another thing you said in your book, you said that because of our present technology, for a performer the stage used to be a laboratory where you could try stuff, but now our stage has been hijacked. Can you say a few words about that?
NY: I used to always play new songs in front of people to see how they worked and that was great. That was a really honest thing to do because you could gauge what was happening and it was a private moment between you and the audience and I loved those. Often I would record those and then I would take the audience off and that would end up being my record.People thought I was recording in the studio but really I was just removing the audience.
And since it was a band new song, people were usually pretty quiet because they weren’t yelling. And back in those days I didn’t have enough hits that people were yelling for songs from 30 or 40 years ago. They weren’t doing that. So it was quiet, so you couldn’t tell the difference.
And I’m usually better live than when I’m in the studio, so I try to play live. That was my lab, now it’s on YouTube and you can’t do that. Maybe you write a song and get it halfway, and you think “it doesn’t bother me, it’s only half done. Maybe I’ll think of something while I’m out there so I’ll make up a new verse in front of the audience.”You do that now and people go “he can’t even remember his own song.”
The other thing that’s wild about the technology today, someone was talking to me about my record deal the other day, they seemed to feel they were very knowledgeable, and we were discussing the sound of the record and how rough it was and how it sounded very under-produced. And I said “what did you listen to it on?” Of course they listened to an MP3 on a Mac. And I’m just going “God, what happened?” We used to struggle to make these things sound great so everyone could really hear them.
PS: Layers and layers of sound.
NY: Yeah, details, echo, little things in the background, all the depth. It’s like reducing a Picasso to wallpaper. Painting over it and going “look at that! Picasso!” and someone else says “So what? Who cares? I can’t see it, can’t feel it. They said that guy used to be good.” It’s interesting, but there are problems.
PS: I like how you bring, just like in your songs, the train and the car and the dog. All of these things. Family friends, how you build songs and your adventures and misadventures. But what’s really touching is your love of the train. I was wondering if you could... I’m sorry I don’t have a specific question.
NY: Other than “trains, Neil?” The long track.
PS: Very straight rails
NY: Straight ahead. Like the spirituals.
PS: I love trains. Is it true you used to have a train set backstage when you were touring?
NY: I did. I did when I was first at Lionel when I did some development for sound systems and control systems and I became an owner of the company. And I used to have a big layout we’d take with us. We’d take it with us when we were doing the HORDE Festival and we’d set it up everywhere and there were cameras on the trains and you could see it on TV. It was kinda wild, actually. But we did that once.
PS: Every boy’s dream. You went as far as not only collecting rare trains, you also gave them back to the people. Didn’t you also reproduce some rare trains?
NY: We did. At Lionel we went back and reproduced all the ones people liked during the 50’s. Around the time the Chinese manufacturing and overseas manufacturing was crippling a lot of American companies and companies that manufactured in the United States were dying because they couldn’t compete with Chinese manufacturing costs. That was happening to a great amount of iconic American companies, and Lionel was one of them.
They had competitors that could produce more detailed models for about a third of the price. And we’re going “oh my god, what can we do?” I had just become owner of the company and at that time we put all our money into these old molds and old caskets and reproduced everything from the 50’s with painstaking care, just like it was then.
PS: I love trains. We had a coal stove at home in Philadelphia and we’d go out on Sundays when they were transporting coal, and the rumbling of the trains would drop a lot of the coal onto the ground, so we’d go there with our baskets and fill them to get coal. And my mother always said “wave to the guy on the caboose and say thank you.”Advertising them like we were celebrating our greatest hero and put all this new technology into it and we were able to traverse this rocky terrain of the transition of Chinese manufacturing, which we ultimately did do, by selling our history with new technology. So we were able to do it and maintain. If we didn’t, there wouldn’t be a Lionel anymore, so it was good we did that. Unfortunately now a lot of the trains are manufactured in China, but we’re turning a corner and are now starting to manufacture again in the United States, starting with little things we can do here.
NY: They don’t have cabooses anymore.
PS: Well I’ll still wave.
NY: They have a little blinking light they put on there instead of a guy.
PS: That’s like everything. Everything is "instead of a guy." It’s like the metaphor for the 21st century; "instead of." I think we have some questions people sent. I’ll look at some. This is gonna be scary. “Patti, you’ve never looked lovelier…” [laughs]. It says what was it like to have Rick James as a roommate? Is that true?
NY: Yeah. It was quite wild.
PS: You don’t look ready to talk about it.
NY: It was a long time ago and I was very young and so was he, and we had a good time. Ingested a lot of pharmaceuticals.
PS: Someone would like to know what your inspiration was for the song Heart of Gold.
NY: That’s straight ahead.
PS: I didn’t ask it.
NY: Let’s move on.
PS:You’re writing a book, finishing a book, working on a new one. What do you like to read?
NY: I’m not a voracious reader. I don’t read a lot. Right now I’m reading you, and I love it. It’s like I wanted to do this and the book is really terrific. It’s like soul searching and I feel like I’m there with you and Robert and all the things we did together. It’s a great book and that’s what I’m reading.
PS: So I spent the last couple of days reading you, and the books are so different, but what’s common is the humanity inherent in them. I don’t think our books were written vindictively or to settle scores. I think your book is so humanistic. Any trials or tribulations you never place blame on anyone. You just talk about life.
NY: I think our books are quite the same and we both have the same heroes. The Stones and The Beatles. Well, The Stones and Dylan.
PS: And The Animals.
NY: And The Animals. So we love that. And when I look at it, I’m kind of like a highway and landscapes, and you are cities, and bricks, lots of bricks, painted bricks, bricks with things hanging on them, canyons of buildings. I’m out in the prairies and highways and I really travel a lot, that’s what I like to do. And you’re traveling too, on streets, and corners, and parks. We’re on similar paths, but we’re on different geographical corners. It represents that.
PS: I remember the first time I saw you play. Bobby Neuwirth took me to the Filmore East, I think it was 1970 and you were just starting out with Crosby Stills and Nash and I didn’t even know their work that much. But I was with Bobby in the wings and I saw you and you had a red plaid shirt on, and long hair, and really lanky and I said “There’s a person I can understand.” That was the first time I ever saw you.
Like I said, I was working at a bookstore, I was lucky to just be on the sidelines then. I related right away to your songs and to your voice and I had always wondered… I know this is a question you’ve been asked a million times because I get asked similar questions, but just because I wanna know, what is your process in writing a song?
NY: First of all, let’s get a little refreshed and take a minute to remember Bobby Neuwirth. He did the same thing for me as he did for you. I only met him once, but I could feel when I met Bobby Neuwirth that I was a writer. That I was a song writer and I should be writing songs.
PS: When was that?
NY: Same time you saw me. Early 70’s. Maybe a little later. I was impressed with him because he was such good friends with Dylan and I thought anyone that’s a friend of Dylan’s must be a pretty cool guy. But when I did meet him we just discussed song writing and songs. And in the book you talk about the same thing
PS: He did the same for me.
NY: It gives you a feeling. I’m sure you still have that memory. It was a catalyst to make music happen and he touched a lot of creative people.
PS: [Like] Kris Kristofferson, he of course he helped Janis Joplin so much. He was very strong and important in Bob Dylan’s life. He’s the guy you keep in the sidelines, just like in Don’t Look Back, next to Bobby, he’s the other guy with cool sunglasses. He gives encouragement over and over.
But he took me specifically to see you because he was trying to get me to write songs and I said “I don’t think I have it in me” and he wanted me to see you. It’s amazing that he had the same effect on you as me.
NY: It’s just amazing that this guy has been shadowing through all these artistic communities. He’s almost a Biblical character. In our community anyways. I just had to mention that because I read that in your book and it just struck me.
Now about my own process of writing, it’s based on nothing. It’s just based on feeling. I avoid trying to write like a play. When I write like that, that’s when I write some of my worst shit. Really terrible.
And I still sing it. It’s like a child. If it got out, it got out. I still have to take care of it, and that’s the way I know. Because of that process I try to be a good editor, but I’m not that good. Sometimes it’s better than other times, sometimes I come up with stuff people love, and sometimes I come out with stuff people hate. People keep bringing that up. It’s not as bad as that one. But then I keep going, because I really don’t care.
PS: Your songs come out so naturally. I sing a lot of them, and to sing them is to sing something that’s like it’s always existed. That’s why I ask. Even ones that are produced from pain, they seem so effortless, like they came out of the wind. Maybe that’s why your dad called you Windy.
PS: Like a cat.NY: Could be. They do come that way. I don’t try to think about them, I just wait for them to come. A metaphor for that may be… if you’re trying to catch a rabbit by the hole, the idea is to hang out by the hole.
NY: I’ve always been here. I’m free. And then the rabbit comes out and says "hi" and then you try to ignore it, but ultimately the rabbit is friendly and the song is born.
PS: And then he’s a stew.
NY: And then he’s a stew. Might be a good jam. The idea is he’s free to come, free to go. I don’t want to intimidate or disrespect the source of the rabbit. And then that way, if the song happens, it happens. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t matter.
That’s why I don’t write a lot of material and why [sometimes] I suddenly don't write any material. There’s no reason to write, it has to come to me. If it doesn’t come to me, I don’t write it, I don’t want to have anything to do with it, I don’t see it, I don’t look for it.
I really hate things that people work on. There’s nothing about lyrics that you should be working on or trying to be something you’re not or trying to act like someone you think is good. Like with Bob, I had to avoid listening to his records for years because I’m such a sponge. If I listen to it too much, I would start being that. And I knew that would discourage what I was doing because I admired him so much.
I learned so much from what he did. The lyrics and grooves from these bands he played with, especially Bloomfield. I had to ignore it. Had to stay away from it.
PS: Do you have a relationship with guitars?
NY: Guitars talk to you. Go to a pawn shop. Wanna write a song? Go ask a guitar. If you really wanna write a song and have no ideas, but don’t want to go thinking, go pick up somebody else’s guitar and wait.
PS: It’s heartbreaking, they can just sit there for decades. You could pick up an old 31 Gibson, and I only know a few chords, so I always say to an important guitar “Find someone that can translate better. If you have an A minor or B minor song, I’ll take it.”
But I feel that about instruments. They are softer, they cry out.
NY: The music just lives in them, people souls are in them. And I find that’s also true about cars. If I’m in a car, I’m gonna feel all the people that were in the car before me. It’s really just like that. That’s why a lot of people go to junkyards.
PS: I never thought of cars that way.
NY: You could just get in an old junked car that’s totally had it, and you can feel everything right there. They’re alive.
PS: An old hobo car.
NY: I like my own junkyards for that reason.
PS: I like them too. There’s a lot of dream imagery in your songs. Do any come from dreams? I know this is a silly question, but I found that dreams infiltrate things.
NY: They infiltrate the instrumental passages. They don’t affect the lyrics, but the guitar excursions of the band are based on dreams and those kinds of thoughts. There’s something there. From, strangely enough, if you smoke a lot of grass and drink a lot of beer or something, you’re dreaming right there.
But when you stop doing that, you start dreaming more in your sleep. But when you are doing that, you dream more when you’re awake. It’s very interesting.
PS: What you just said really clarifies for something for me because not being a musician, but I like to improvise and all the abstract principles come to me improvising with my band. Watching you go on long runs is like building cathedrals. Those abstract dream states are brought to fruition.
NY: They the architecture of the excursions on the instruments. And I’m lucky because I play with a lot of people that can go with me. It’s important that people listen and no one is trying to impress anyone. We’re all going together and no one is concerned with that cool riff or anything.
And if I can go and they can go with me, then it helps me to go further. And these dreams that we’re talking about, there’s a structure to them, and that’s what I take away from them. The fact that dreams keep on going. You can keep dreaming them and they keep on going.
PS: You can’t make a mistake in a dream. It’s like improvisation.
NY: It can be a terrible nightmare too, but you still can’t stop it, it keeps going. Structure is a great thing.
PS: It’s beautiful to talk about improvisation because in certain ways, it’s not accessed as much live with so much technology people use with loops and effects. Improvisation is such a beautiful part of performing because there are no stars in improvisation, it’s just group channeling.
NY: We mentioned Coltrane and it makes me think of all that incredible music that was made off the top of their heads. It’s interesting to note that the dying of improvisation in popular music coincided with the decline of resolution in digital playback. So you don’t have the freedom.
There’s a correlation between the lack of quality in what we’re giving people and what people in studios are creating is becoming more condensed and more organized, and even that ugly word, quantified, to make it perfect and balanced. Because tonality-wise, they’re losing so much depth. So instead of creating of our souls, the technology we emburdenedd musicians with by our content providers is very, very, very stifling and neglectful of the muse.
There’s no room for the huge areas of exploration that happened in the 50’s, the 60’s, the 70’s, and into the 80’s. The opportunity is there to rebuild the digital domain where we use all of it instead of five percent of it and deliver this total sound back to the people so that the art of sound and music has a rebirth. And I can see a rebirth of everything. Of recording, of artistry, of the sound of people listening to music and not treating it like background material and wallpaper.
It’s all based on the level of quality of the medium. We need a big thing creatively that can free up a lot of people. Listening to Coltrane on Equinox or on MP3 is not like listening to it on a Bluray or a vinyl, there’s no comparison. Which is why jazz is like the classics. Jazz musicians love to listen in high resolution.
PS: One is information and one is experience. I was thinking about this thing when Maria Callas and Reneta Tebaldi were beautiful opera singers with a friendly rivalry. They used to say that because Tibaldi was more technical. If you want to know what angels sound like, listen to Tibaldi. If you want to know what angels feel like, listen to Maria. We want both.
If we’re gonna be given all this technology, and there’s nothing we can do about it, [then] we’d like to embrace it if it will let us embrace feeling because we don’t want our artwork reduced to information. It’s like you said, if you don’t have a song coming organically, you don’t want t nothing to do with it. You’re not making product, you’re delivering feelings to share with people.
I’d like to go back to one small thing. On your record, Americana, you do a touching rendition of Wayfarin’ Stranger and I found it so touching because I feel like these words say so much about you and your life. You’ve had strife in your life, and physical things, and family things, but you always keep working, creating, and giving things to us. And I like these lines from the song you sang.
“I know dark clouds will gather over me. I know my way, my way is dark and steep, yet beautiful fields lie just before me.” I think it’s in parallel with everything you’ve been through and your continued optimism. God bless you, Neil