‘I could never listen to his records': Part of Neil Young’s creative process was avoiding Bob Dylan

Neil Young didn’t listen to fellow 1960s rock legend Bob Dylan for years — not because Young doesn’t admire him, but because he feared turning into a mimic.

For Young — who just released Psychedelic Pill, the second of two 2012 collaborations with Crazy Horse — there seems to be a constant battle against polluting his muse with too much outside information, with too much of this world’s competitive distractions, with too much of anything else besides his own voice.

Young insists, during a newly posted talk with Patti Smith via Flavorwire, that he strives to stay as in the moment as he can be.

“I really hate things that people work on,” Young says, speaking at this year’s BookExpo America. “There’s nothing about music that should be working on it, nothing about lyrics that should be working on it — trying to be something that you’re not, trying to act like somebody that you think is good.”

A perfect example, Young says, can be found in Dylan, someone whose work Young would rarely actually listen to during his formative years.

“I had to avoid all Dylan records, because I am such a sponge,” Young says. “If I listen to it too much, I would start being that. I knew that that would disturb what I was doing. I admired what he did so much — the lyrics, and the way he sang, and the melodies, and the groove and the band that he played with — especially (the late guitarist Mike) Bloomfield. There were all of these great musicians that supported him. I had to ignore it. I just had to stay away from it.”

Perhaps predictably, this can lead to a lengthy creative process — but one that’s then followed by sudden outbursts of songs. Young only issued one album in 1973-74, for instance, but then put out two in 1975. He also put out a pair of records in 1989, and in 2006. But Young didn’t issue a new album at all between 1996 and 2000, nor from 2010 through to these new recordings in 2012. That’s all part of his goal to keep things as organic as possible.

[SOMETHING ELSE! REVIEW: Neil Young’s second collaboration of 2012 with Crazy Horse is an angry push back against the comfy nostalgia that’s grown up around the 1960s.]

“If a song happens, it happens,” Young says. “If it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen. It doesn’t matter. That’s why I will write a lot of material, and why I’ll suddenly not write any material — because there is no reason to write it. It has to come to me — and if it doesn’t come to me, I don’t want it. I don’t want to have anything to do with it. I don’t want to see it, I don’t want to look for it.”

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  • Dan

    This is an interesting idea being put forth by Neil, But I have also read, Neil’s own words, that the Basement Tapes are the only recordings played in the studio when He records. I am not accusing Neil of ever losing his own voice, just that he said that.