sexta-feira, janeiro 20, 2006
The Open Man - Inside Neil Young's private world (by Alec Wilkinson for RollingStone.com)
The filament tethering Neil Young to the actual world is delicate. One is aware almost on meeting him that nobody else appears to be quite as real to him as he is to himself, and that behind his seerlike eyes is a capacious landscape that is just as absorbing as the one that he sees in front of him. He doesn't seem so much defended or reserved as singularly constituted, one of the small tribe of artists for whom responsiveness is a creed. He receives songs as much as he writes them. The exchange is a mystical one, and mysticism, as G.K. Chesterton somewhere remarks, keeps people and cultures sane. Logic, too emphatically embraced, is what undoes the mind.
In the past few months, Young has released a CD of new songs, Prairie Wind, and with Jonathan Demme has made a movie, Heart of Gold, that will be released on February 10th. The movie features Young performing most of the CD's songs. Both projects record the deeply felt testimony of a maverick mind that has been at work for forty years. The songs' arrangements are restrained and unembellished; not a note is played for show. The themes are those of mature life, both backward-looking and hopeful, the expression of a sensibility determined to preserve its integrity. They are suffused with mortality and with ardent feelings for his wife and family and his friends. In the movie, he talks disarmingly about his love for his daughter, a college student, and because his manner is typically so subdued, even remote, the profound sentiments have the quality of being nearly a revelation.
It is well known that Young's circumstances while writing and recording Prairie Wind were dire. Last spring he had an episode of blurred vision, which turned out to be the result of a migraine. In performing tests to arrive at the diagnosis, however, doctors in New York discovered that he also had a cerebral aneurysm. It had likely been in place for years, but it might fail at any time. Surgery was scheduled to take place in four days. The procedure was not notably ambitious, but any invasion of the brain includes the possibility that a person might not wake up as who he was before he went under the knife. Young and his wife, Pegi, a singer, flew from New York to Nashville and stayed at the Hermitage, a hotel Young likes especially. On an old guitar that had belonged to Hank Williams, he began writing songs and recording them with musicians he had played with for years. He recorded three or four songs a day, then came back to the hotel and wrote three or four more. They appear on the record in the order in which they were written. Young says that he has never been very good at determining the sequence of songs on a record -- "too impatient," he says. He finished all but one song, "When God Made Me," a hymn, then had the operation. He was to play at a Canadian awards show in Winnipeg, where he was partly raised. Several weeks before the show, he was walking with a friend when blood appeared on his pants leg. He began to bleed heavily from an incision made in his leg to remove a blood vessel used to patch the aneurysm. When he came to, he was staring into a bright white light. He was in an ambulance, but for a moment he thought he might have gone to glory. Needing more time to heal meant missing the awards show, and canceling meant having to explain his absence. Otherwise, he wouldn't have let anyone know.
Young's father, Scott, a sportswriter famous in Canada, died last year, in his eighties, after a period of dementia. As a child, Young would watch his father writing. On those occasions when he pointed out to his father that he appeared to be doing nothing, his father would say, "That's when I get my best ideas." Waiting for an idea is a hallmark of Young's method. His father's death was not unexpected, but it haunted Young, especially in light of his own mortality. He felt blessed to have escaped any lasting consequences and fortunate to have discovered his problem by means of an MRI and not as the result of having a stroke in a backstage hallway of a stadium.
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Young lives in Northern California, south of San Francisco, on property he calls the Broken Arrow Ranch. On the Rand McNally Road Atlas, a small fir tree appears more or less where the ranch is. He bought the place thirty-five years ago. Before moving to it, he lived in Los Angeles, in Topanga Canyon. Leaving L.A., he drove through a brush fire. "The freeway was in the middle of it," he told me. "Both sides of the road were in flames. It was very dramatic. I was driving out of town, and the place was burning up."
Young said this a few weeks ago, in Northern California, while we were riding in an old Plymouth he owns and more or less widely circling the borders of the ranch. He has a fleet of cars from the era of his childhood -- he is sixty. His fascination with cars has its genesis in an early misfortune. When he was six, he went swimming with his father in the Pigeon River and woke that night with his shoulder hurting. Before the morning was through, he was so stiff that his father described him as moving like "a mechanical man." In Shakey, Young's biography, written by Jimmy McDonough, there is a description of his being taken to the hospital and how the polio he'd contracted in the river nearly killed him. When his parents came to take him home, he said, "I didn't die, did I?" The nurses sang "Beautiful, Beautiful Brown Eyes" to him, and he wept. He had lost so much weight, his mother told McDonough, that "he looked like hell on the highway. Skin and bones." He had been a fat baby, as wide as he was tall, she said.