Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Neil Young

Of all the rock stars I’ve admired, I think Neil Young is the most approachable, relatable and just plain human. I’ve always seen him as a regular guy who had the courage to follow his muse. It turned out he was an artist of rare sensitivity and profound performance skills. When I first moved to Denver in 1968, one of the first places my brother took me was Underground Records on 724 So. Pearl Street. Twenty years later, I would buy that store at a tax auction and turn it into Twist and Shout, but back in the day I bought my first bootleg LP there. It was called Young Man’s Fancy Live On Sugar Mountain. I still have it; in fact - I'm listening to it as I write this. It still sounds great. I was already a fan of Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere and Déjà vu, but hearing him speak in that same quavery voice he sang with was extraordinary. And the unreleased songs like “See The Sky About To Rain” and “Love In Mind” blew my mind. It’s been a long affair. I’ve never lost interest in Neil and have excitedly awaited every new release over the years. He’s had so many peaks in his career. After the initial run of classics there was the Ditch Trilogy, Rust Never Sleeps, Ragged Glory, Harvest Moon, Sleeps With Angels, Psychedelic Pill. Just like Dylan, Neil has defied expectations and surpassed my hopes so many times. During the recent pandemic madness, the kaleidoscopic depth of his website (https://neilyoungarchives.com/) has provided a daily balm to the negativity all around. I can’t count how many times I’ve seen him in concert, but many of them have been highlights. 

Some of the best:

-C.U. Fieldhouse, November ’76 w/ Crazy Horse - blistering through material from his mid-period masterpiece Zuma, the energy just poured off the stage.

-McNichols Arena, 1978, Rust Never Sleeps tour - entire audience is handed 3-D glasses so they can see the band rust in real time. With oversized props and everyone wearing the glasses it was surreal.

-Cheyenne Frontier Days, 1984, International Harvesters tour - pouring rain, Neil and his band played a total hoedown.

-Red Rocks, Freedom Tour - A fog-shrouded stage revealed Neil by himself opening and closing with "Rockin’ In The Free World."

-Red Rocks, Alchemy Tour - Neil’s manager Elliot Roberts (one of the coolest guys ever- may he rest in peace) arranged for a few record store owners to meet Neil in Elliot’s tour bus after an incendiary 2 1/2 hour guitar-fest. We sat on the bust admiring Elliot’s orange plastic bong, when Neil came bounding in full of energy and enthusiasm. He looked amazing and was totally friendly and excited to talk about his new Pono device. After a couple of questions from me he realized I had concerns about the Pono cutting traditional retail out of his music. Instead of being taken aback, you could see the wheels turning in his head and he said, “Well, we’ll still make you records and Blu-Rays - nothing sounds better than that.” He was so gracious and open. My party walked off that bus two feet off the ground. We knew we had been in the presence of not only a great artist but a truly kind human soul.

Through each new album, every tour, the books and movies, even the technology projects Neil has been an artistic and spiritual companion to me since the 1960’s and he means more to me each year. I hope he never stops!

- Paul Epstein

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