Neil Young is not, in fact, Canada’s most pompous and pretentious male singer-songwriter.
That would be Burton Cummings, whose musical sins are elevated from venal to mortal because he wasted a strong, singular voice on hogwash. Young’s “instrument,” in contrast, is so reedy you could use it to weave baskets.
You’d need a shipping container full of “Cortez the Killer”s to balance out the incomprehensible bombast of Cummings’s “Albert Flasher.” The fact that salt-of-the-earth Randy Bachman put up with the guy for so long makes me think there just might be something to this whole Mormon business after all.
(And no, Leonard Cohen doesn’t even come close to winning this title, because he’s ingeniously practiced preemptive, smirking self-deprecation from an early age.)
In fairness, I’ll grant that Young’s poignant song for the movie Philadelphia deserved the Oscar that Bruce Springsteen picked up instead, mostly because I hate Springsteen even more than I do Young. Harvest Moon is a tender, sincere, and (I’m now finding out) emotionally accurate meditation on the onset of middle age, and “Pocahontas” is one of my guilty pleasures.
But at the end of the day, Neil Young is the kind of musician you really “get into” while dating a certain guy, then after you break up, you hide his records when your friends come over until you can finally bring yourself to throw them away in the middle of the night when you hope your neighbors won’t see you.
Speaking of dating, Young collects model trains, which is on every sane single woman’s list of deal-breakers, somewhere between “does magic tricks” and “owns a tarantula.”
However, Young’s best-loved hobby has always been bandwagon-jumping. He’s endorsed Ronald Reagan, then Ross Perot; squeezed out a cringe-inducing 9/11 anthem, then called for Bush’s impeachment; name-checked Johnny Rotten, then embraced Kraftwerkian electronica (which didn’t hug him back).
Neil Young’s latest hobbyhorse is “green energy,” naturally. He drives a million-dollar custom “1959 Lincoln Continental that’s powered by electricity and cellulosic ethanol.”
That automobile’s inconvenient breakdowns have been widely reported. Better yet, in 2010, the car’s engine blew up, setting off a three-alarm fire in Young’s California warehouse.
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