Uncle Neil Gets Cool Again
"I tried to leave my past behind / but it's catching up with me." -- Neil Young, "Hitchhiker"
As a Canadian living in the U.S. for some years now, I have gotten over the loathing of Canadian icons.
In a culture that lives in fear and envy of the much larger and more influential United States, intense admiration for people who've made it in the big bad world outside of Canada is almost enforced when you live there.
When a country has so few musical and literary icons, you tend to hear about them over and over again. This leads to a sense of revulsion after awhile -- I couldn't even look at a picture of Margaret Atwood for a long time without wanting to vomit.
Only Leonard Cohen, maybe because he seems exotic even in Canada, being a Jewish guy from French-Canadian Quebec, somehow escaped this syndrome where I was concerned.
Which brings me to the case of Neil Young.
For a long time, I was the biggest Neil Young fan around. In high school, I even used to dress like he did during his Harvest period. And this love affair lasted for quite awhile -- until he was on TV in the 1980s at some Farm Aid event talking admiringly about (ugh) Ronald Reagan.
From that time onwards, "Uncle Neil" has been only intermittently cool. He has periods of genius where he comes into focus -- as he did during the Freedom / Ragged Glory era at the start of the 1990s -- and then fades out again. But I try to keep an open mind where Young is concerned, because he is capable of producing inspired work at any time.
So I shouldn't have been startled -- though I was a little -- to see Neil's new video for the song "Hitchhiker" from his latest album, Le Noise, produced by another Canadian icon, Daniel Lanois.
A strikingly honest autobiographical song in which Young surveys his long journey from Toronto, Canada to world stardom -- and the many drugs he ingested along the way -- is coupled in the video to footage of Neil playing his electric guitar in what looks like an abandoned mansion, as a storm rages outside, matching the inner storm of the singer' s battered psyche.
---Johnny Walker (Black)