Neil Young has come up with a canny way to disarm those who have periodically criticized the veteran Canadian singer and songwriter’s most pointedly political songs or public statements about life in the USA on the grounds that “he’s not even an American.”
As of next month, that argument will no longer hold water.
“I’ve passed all the tests; I’ve got my appointment, and if everything goes as planned, I’ll be taking the oath of citizenship” shortly after turning 74 on Nov. 12. The salient point being, “I’ll be able to vote,” said Young, who has lived roughly two-thirds of his life in the U.S. since arriving in Los Angeles in the mid-’60s and first making his mark on the rock ’n’ roll landscape with Buffalo Springfield.
“I’m still a Canadian; there’s nothing that can take that away from me,” he said. Young was at a studio in Santa Monica where he and his wife, activist-actress Daryl Hannah, assembled their new film, “Mountaintop,” documenting the recording of Young’s latest album, “Colorado,” which arrives Oct. 25.
“But I live down here; I pay taxes down here; my beautiful family is all down here — they’re all Americans, so I want to register my opinion” about this country. He means doing so at the ballot box; he’s often registered his opinion musically, in songs such as “Ohio,” about the killing by National Guardsmen of four students at Kent State University during campus Vietnam War protests in 1970, or “Rockin’ in the Free World,” a 1980s commentary on the inequities of Reaganomics.
More recently, that compartment of his songbook has expanded with “Shut It Down” from “Colorado,” the project for which the two-time Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee has reunited his long-running band Crazy Horse for the first time in seven years. In that song, Young takes a jab at the many ways he thinks the country has veered off course, his remedy being “shut the whole thing down” and start again.
Why become a citizen now, after living in the States for more than half a century?
“We’ve got a climate emergency, and governments are not acting,” he said, between bites of the omelet and sautéed spinach that constituted his lunch, part of a healthier diet and lifestyle he’s embraced in recent years.
Climate change surfaces as a theme in another song from “Colorado,” “She Showed Me Love,” in which he owns up to his station in life at this point in life, singing, “You might say I’m an old white guy … You might say that,” adding that “I’ve seen old white guys trying to kill Mother Nature.”
The song spontaneously stretched out into a signature Crazy Horse jam that extends for more than 13 minutes on the album during the recording session high in the mountains of Colorado earlier this year, for which he reunited with longtime Crazy Horse bassist Billy Talbotand drummer Ralph Molina. This time out, Crazy Horse also includes guitarist Nils Lofgren, who first played in Crazy Horse back in 1970 and has periodically collaborated with Young over the years when he hasn’t been occupied with his duties as a member of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band. Lofgren has stepped in for guitarist Frank “Poncho” Sampedro, who has retired to his home in Hawaii, according to Young.
When Young talks about Crazy Horse, he sounds less like he’s simply discussing a group of musicians and more like he’s alluding to another form of life, one that somehow exists beyond the limitations of human musicians.
“The Horse is not on a schedule,” he said when asked what moves him to reactivate the group time and time again. “It’s really the feeling: certain songs, locations, places, times. It’s the way our instrumentals are: How do we know where we’re going? How did we end up jamming and having it be really melodic when I’ve never played this before? So that’s where we want to be. It’s almost like jazz — but it’s not that.”
Crazy Horse has earned its reputation as one of rock’s noisiest, brashest, most magnificently ragged ensembles. So one potentially surprising aspect of “Colorado” is its quieter moments, songs built on some of the most poetic and graceful lyrics Young has written in at least a decade: the opening track “Think of Me,” in which he envisions life from the perspective of a bird; a melancholy benediction for compromised ideals titled “Green Is Blue”; a reverie for loved ones who are gone, “Olden Days”; and “I Do,” a paean to nature’s wonders with a hint of foreboding: “Show me that garden/In the sun that you saw/Let me see the flowers/And the bees before they fall.”