Tin soldiers and Nixon's comin'Saturday, November 24, 2018
|Photograph -Gregg Kulick|
|Photograph - John Filo|
A few weeks back I did my usual search when I passed by a Vancouver Public Library branch. I went in to check out the reject books they sell. This one, Waging Heavy Peace by Neil Young (2012) may have been a reject as it has a note on the first page that reads: food stains f. 9-73 JM/SHL.
When my Rosemary and I moved from our big Kerrisdale house now almost three years ago to our small Kitsilano Duplex I found myself with the problem of having to deal with 4000 books. I soon learned that finding homes for some of my books was an impossibly stressful job. I gave some to my friend Don Stewart a Macleod’s Books and some mystery books to shop in East Hastings in Burnaby. But I believe that I loaded my Malibu with perhaps 800 books and went a couple of blocks from our house where there was a large metal bin. I threw every one of the books. I was too shocked to cry. I remember that the first book I threw, Dostoyevsky’s short stories was, one that sailed while I loudly said, "Goodbye Mr. Dostoyevsky”.
I vowed never to buy any more books so I would not have this problem again. But then there are those fifty cent or dollar books at the VPL that cry to be liberated in the same way those sad pooches and cats look at you behind their cages at the SPCA.
I saw the Neil Young book and I knew I had to buy it because I was sure I would find particular information in it from the horse’s mouth, how was it that he came to write Ohio, which happens to be my favourite Canadian song?
The citation I was looking for I found in Chapter 33 but the frosting was Chapter 21 where he explains how he writes songs.
As I have written before. Leonard Cohen is beyond being Canadian. He is of the world. Perhaps the same applies to Joni Mitchell. But Neil Young to me is Canada. The chords he plays are uniquely his and thus uniquely a Canadian sound that has no parallel anywhere.
When I write a song it starts with a feeling. I can hear something in my head or feel it in my heart. It may be that I just picked up the guitar and mindlessly started playing. That’s the way a lot of songs begin. When you do that, you are not thinking. Thinking is the worst thing for writing a song. So you just start playing and something new comes out. Where does it come from? Who cares? Just keep it and go with it. That’s what I do. I never judge it. I believe it. It came as a gift when I picked up my musical instrument and it came through me playing with the instrument. The chords and the melody just appeared. Now is not the time for interrogation or analysis. Now is the time to get to know the song, not change it before you even know it. It’s like a wild animal, a living thing. Be careful not to scare it away. That’s my method, or one of my methods, at least.
I was just thinking that I am putting a lot of pressure on myself to write a song. That never works. Songs are like rabbits and they like to come out of their holes when you’re not looking, so if you stand there waiting they will just burrow down and come out somewhere far away, a new place where you can’t see them. So I feel like I am standing over a song hole. That will never result in success. The more we talk about this, the worse it will get. So that is why we are changing the subject.
Chapter 21 – Waging Heavy Peace – Neal Young
So anyway, we are in Butano Canyon at Steve [Stephen Stills] and Leo’s place, and the tragedy of Kent State had just happened. Time Magazine had a picture a picture of the girl, Allison Krause, after the National Guard had killed her and three other victims. We were looking at it together. She was lying there on some pavement with another student kneeling down looking at her, as I remember.
These people were our audience. That’s exactly who we were playing for. It was our movement, our culture, our Woodstock generation. We were all one. It was a personal thing, the bond we held between the musicians and the people of the culture: hippies, students, flower children, call them what you will. We were all together.
The weight of the picture cut us to the quick. We had heard and seen the news on TV, but this picture was the first time we had to stop and reflect. It was different from the Internet, before social networking to say the least. So full of this feeling of disbelief and sadness. I picked up my guitar and started playing some chords and immediately wrote “Ohio” four dead in Ohio. The next day, we went into the studio in L.A. and cut the song. Before a week had passed it was all over the radio. It was really fast for those times; really fast. All the stations played “Ohio.” There was no censoring by programmers. Programming services were not even around; DJs played whatever they wanted on FM stations. We were underground on FM. There was no pushback for criticizing the government. This was America. Freedom of speech was taken very seriously in our era. We were speaking for our generation. We were speaking for ourselves. It rang true. The U.S. government has still not apologized to the families of the fallen four of Ohio.
Chapter 33 – Waging Heavy Peace –Neil Young