Some questions linger in the mind, constantly bubbling up to occupy your thoughts when you least expect. For me, they are questions like: What makes a creative person creative? What gives an individual the ability to write songs or produce great art? And, perhaps most important, just what was it that motivated people whose careers reflect enormous outbursts of stunning artistic accomplishment during a finite period of time?
Consider Neil Young, for example. He’s been a fixture of the rock ‘n’ roll scene since the 1960s and has had successful musical releases in each of the intervening decades. But, even by the high standards of his career, the 1970s were remarkable. Consider the astonishing albums he produced during that magical decade: After The Gold Rush (1970), Harvest (1972), Tonight’s The Night (1975), Zuma (1975), American Stars ‘N Bars (1977), Comes A Time (1978), and Rust Never Sleeps (1979). Many musicians would gladly claim what he produced during that single, prolific decade and call it an entire career.
And what a range! He moved effortlessly from acoustic work that included all-time folk classics like Old Man (performed live below), Heart of Gold, and The Needle And The Damage Done, to country songs like The Old Country Waltz and Hey Babe, to crushing power rock, with Like A Hurricane and Hey, Hey, My, My (Into The Black). He wrote great political anthems (Ohio), funny, boozy ballads (Saddle Up The Palomino), raggedy, ironic songs about losers (Tired Eyes) and long, dreamy ruminations about ancient civilizations (Cortez The Killer).
We can all be grateful for whatever it was that impelled Neil Young, again and again and again during the 1970s, to pick up his guitar or sit down at his piano and let his awesome creative juices flow. As a diehard Neil Young fan, I can’t imagine what the music world would be like if he hadn’t done so, and I was left to face life alone, without songs like World on a String. But I will always wonder — just what was it?