Saturday, 21 February 2009

Hey Hey My My...Into the Black

Those of you who remember the 1950s (ahem) will recall the rise of what the media dubbed, ‘The Angry Young Man’. All you needed was a beard and a chunky knit sweater and you were typecast as the scourge of society pointing to falsity and injustice with rapier-like accuracy.

The creative arts articulated this stereotype throughout the 60s (protest singers and satirists) and even into the 70s (punk, alternative comedy). But note the emphasis on ‘Young’. All protagonists were of tender years and used their youthful energy to harass the establishment mercilessly. As the years rolled by they became less influential and mellower in outlook. After all it takes effort to be angry all the time and damn tiring it is too. There comes a time when a pair of comfy slippers and a box of Quality Street are more inviting than chaining yourself to railings in the driving rain.

I was ruminating on all this whilst listening to a Neil Young ‘Best Of’ compilation as it seemed to me that as the chronologically correct CD ran its course, Neil got older and older yet angrier and angrier in direct contravention to the above. The CD starts in peaceful mode with his folksy Laurel canyon roots (‘Heart of Gold’) interspersed with some manic guitar (‘Southern Man’) and slowly becomes spikier, grungier, more distorted (‘Hey Hey My My (Into the Black’)) and more political (‘Rockin’ in the Free World’) as time goes on. You can almost feel the bile building track by track.

I remember seeing a documentary on Young a while ago where Nils Lofgren recalled a UK gig they did in the 1980s when they played nothing but new material from an album that hadn’t even been released. They finished with a reprise of the first song from that evening’s set (can’t remember what it was called) and left the stage. On returning for an encore, Neil promised the crowd ‘something they knew’, only to play the first song for a THIRD time! Bloody minded or what. Seems he was well on the way to angry-dom by then and has settled in for the long haul ever since.

Neil Young is a WYSIWYG artist and you take him or leave him on that basis. He doesn’t really pander to consumer demand nor does he seem to care what we think of him as he rants and raves. But, strangely, this is his attraction. Perhaps there would be a bit more integrity in the world of rock if there were more like him. Just don’t be surprised if you don’t enjoy his gigs. And not a comfy slipper in sight.


TR1-Guy said...

I have to admit Neil Young's music always annoyed me. His voice is a total distraction to me, and CSN was so much better when he wasn't in the fold.

As for his later, more "rockin" tunes, you are dead on that they come from an angry man who wants those "damn kids" off his lawn. I have to pass on Neil Young completely.

Too bad, as he's done some work with Randy Bachman's solo albums and it just didn't quite hit the right notes.

musicobsessive said...

He's not one of my regular listens, hence the 'Best Of' but I do quite like a bit of 'grumpy old man' occasionally. Can't leave the world to these youngsters all the time. :)