Forthcoming in March: Album of “Rediscovered” Neil Young Teasures

Announced at the website of Third Man Recordson

Third Man Records unearths NEIL YOUNG’s “A LETTER HOME”

An unheard collection of rediscovered songs from the past recorded on ancient electro-mechanical technology captures and unleashes the essence of something that could have been gone forever. — Homer Grosvenor

And Rolling Stone provides a brief Q&A with Neil himself in which he discusses his fondness for old microphones, his belief that “We’re entering a very good period for recorded sound” and calls the new album, due out in March, “one of the most low tech experiences I’ve ever had.”

Cross-posted at Honourary Canadian

Neil Young at Glastonbury Fest, 2009

Stunning video from BBC Four of Neil Young playing his song “Words (Between the Line of Age)” at the Glastonbury Festival in England, 2009. Pegi Young is singing backup, the late Ben Keith is on pedal steel, Chad Cromwell is drumming, Rick Rojas in playing bass, and someone I can’t ID is on keyboards. This song first appeared as the final cut on Neil’s album “Harvest,” in album in 1972. A number of songs from the festival are viewable via this youtube link. Enjoy!

May 4th, a Key Date in My Life at 3 Critical Junctures

I published a version of this post on May 4, 2012, and have now updated it for 2013-14 with additional material, such as Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s “Ohio,” as you’ll see below. The comments below are from the 2012-13 posting–you are welcome to add your own.

May 4, a big date on my personal calendar

On this date in 1970 I was fifteen. That afternoon, around 4:30, I was standing on a sidewalk in downtown Cleveland, waiting for my sister Pamela to get off her job at Halle Bros., a local department store. Nearby, a delivery van pulled up, with the name of the evening paper, Cleveland Press, emblazoned across its side. The back door of the van rolled up and a worker began tossing bundles of that afternoon’s edition off the truck. It was a real “Front Page” moment, as in old movies when a swirl of numbered calendar pages and newspaper print resolves in to a splashy headline of bold, readable type and a brash reporter rushes off to get the rest of the story. Only this time, it was not a funny, Capraesque moment. In weirdly unfolding slow-motion I watched a particular bundle roll toward me until it landed above the fold, headline up. Like seeing a license plate in front of one’s eyes during a car accident—and remembering the combo of digits and letters forever—I read the inches-high black type: Four Students Shot Dead On Kent Campus. For several days prior, I had been following the antiwar demonstrations at Kent State, about thirty miles from Cleveland, and I knew that Ohio Governor James Rhodes had deployed armed troops to the campus. Pam soon joined me on the sidewalk and I told her the disturbing news. We shared our shock and dismay and probably dropped whatever we had been planning to do, though I have no memory after telling her about the newspaper headline. I recall that little more than a week later I heard on local radio Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s recording of “Ohio.” It was as if Neil had written a musical version of an instant book, as is still done in the book world after a terrible catastrophe. In fact, in Neil’s recent memoir Heavy Peace he recalls quickly writing the song and the alacrity with which they recorded it, pushing the acetate copies of the song out to radio stations, before the vinyl 45s had even been pressed. Here’s a youtube version of the song with many photos taken that week on the Kent State campus. Thanks to Hard Rain Productions for assembling the photo montage with the song.

Eight years later, May 4, 1978

Pamela, our brother Joel, our parents Earl and Sylvia, and I all opened Undercover Books, the bookstore that would define our lives for many years. When I was graduated from Franconia College a year earlier, with a BA in Philosophy of Education and History of Religion, I had imagined I might work for the Anti-Defamation League or some similar organization. I certainly hadn’t thought of working in a bookstore, but my siblings—with Pam having worked in department stores, and Joel at Kay’s Bookstore in downtown Cleveland–had the idea of opening a bookstore in our home suburb of Shaker Heights, where despite it being an affluent and well-educated community, no bookstore had ever been located. We were fortunate in our timing, for in Cleveland, as in several other midwestern cities, book retailing was migrating from the downtown core to the suburbs. Undercover Books caught on right away, and I got what amounted to a graduate education, provided by bookselling. As buyer for adult books for what would become our three-store indie chain, I met every day with bookbuying customers and browsers. We were regularly called upon by publishers’ sales reps, and became a go-to store for houses eager to break out books on the national scene. Notable authors who launched books at the store included Mark Helprin (Winter’s Tale), Richard North Patterson (The Lasko Tangent), and Walter Tevis (Queen’s Gambit). I was with the bookstores for seven years before moving to New York City, and have written more about the transition here on this site. The bookstore proved to be a gateway to my career in the book business and it all began on this date thirty-six years ago today.

Another nine years, May 4, 1987

Now working as an editor at Walker & Company, my first full-time position with a publishing house, I was in the happy position of telling my author Ellen Hunnicutt that her novel, Suite For Calliope: A Music and the Circus—the first book I signed up on arriving at the company, and which was to be published that summer—had just received a starred review in Kirkus. Ellen was very excited as I read her the whole review with lines like these, “An extraordinary first novel that, in its remarkable inventiveness, intelligence, and charm-struck humanity, should draw—and more than richly reward—readers of almost every inclination. . . . A prodigiously masterful novel of profundity, breadth, and continual delight: waiting now only for what ought to be its very, very many readers.” Note I read it to her, and didn’t fax it, probably because neither one of us had one. What added to the special quality of the occasion however was that this day, May 4, was also Ellen’s birthday. You can read more about how I came to discover Suite for Calliope in this essay elsewhere on this blog.

Nowadays, when May 4 rolls around again, even if nothing so deeply tragic or personally historic is occurring in that given year, I marvel at it all. For now, I’m just really glad I created this site over the past couple years, so that this year, I have a proper venue to share my memories of May 4, from 44 years ago, from 36 years ago, and from 27 years ago.

The pictures seen here were taken in what we called “the middle room” at Undercover Books, where we placed a comfortable rattan couch. The black Labrador is our dog Noah, whose ear Joel is massaging. I am wearing the same style of pink eyeglass frames as I wear nowadays. I’ve told the story of how Joel and I came to get Noah at a dog pound in Deadwood, South Dakota, on a cross-country road trip in the summer of 1970, on a biographical blog post I tweeted out it a few months ago, with a picture of Noah and me that I cherish. I miss them both, Noah who passed in 1982, and Joel in 2009.

So Sorry to Lose Jay Smith, Rock n’ Roll Musician

I’m still shocked and saddened with Wednesday’s news that Jay Smith–guitarist in the great rock band led by Matt Mays–died suddenly, only hours after the group played a live show in Edmonton, Alberta. His death was disclosed in this Facebook message from Matt Mays:


Our guitar player and dear friend Jay Smith passed away this morning in Edmonton. As you can all imagine, we are completely devastated. However, in our heart of hearts we know that we need to Play on. Jay’s family as well as the band know he would have wanted it that way. All the proceeds from the remaining shows will be put into a trust for his two beautiful children. Jay’s wit, charm, and unparalleled love of music will never be forgotten.

He was our brother and he will live in our hearts and song forever.

Matt, Serge, Damien, Adam and Matt

A cause of his death has not been announced. Exclaim magazine reports “no foul play is suspected.” Smith was 34 or 35 years old (b. 1978).

When I visited Toronto last June for the North by Northeast festival (NXNE) I heard Matt Mays and band play live at Lee’s Palace, a tremendous show. Jay Smith was a key part of the group that night, and I remember the steaming guitar solos he played. I’m sure the band will be a long time mourning his loss, personally, creatively, musically, and humanly. Photos from that show are published below. Smith had had a lengthy career as a rocker and presence on the music scene of Canada’s east coast, haling from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, with a band called Rock Ranger, that Mays featured in a song of his own, “Rock Ranger Record.” In fact, the group played it last June at Lee’s Palace, and Smith seemed to take special delight in playing on a song that was, after all, about an alter ego of his own. Mays is also from Canada’s east coast, a native of Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, a locale he wrote about in a 2002 song, “City of Lakes.” Unaccountably, the song ends with these lines:

“I lost a friend here in this past year/I miss his guitar playing in my ear/Be a friend, take away all my fears/Nice and easy, nice and easy, nice and easy.”

Those lyrics, in turn, prompted me to reflect on the episode in 1972 when Danny Whitten, then the lead guitarist in Crazy Horse with Neil Young, died of a heroin overdose. I’m not presuming any similar reason for Jay Smith’s death–in fact have heard from someone close to the band since I posted this item that it definitely was not drug-related–only imagining what it’s like for a band to lose a brother in arms, as this extremely tight band now sadly has. To understand the dimensions of their loss, please see the photos below where in one the whole band literally took a bow with arms linked, and then waved goodnight to the jubilant crowd. These reflections prompted me to tweet the message shared above, as a prelude to this post.

Jay Smith album artSmith released a fine solo album in 2011 that I’ve been listening to often in the days since his death. You can listen to it at his, where I bought a download of it for $7. It’s really a terrific recording, deserving of airplay for such standout songs as “My Luck,” “Partner in Crime,” and “Perfect View.” Please note also that at his website Matt Mays has set up a donation page for those who want to contribute to a trust for Jay Smith’s wife and two children, at this link. My sincerest condolences to his family, friends, and bandmates. RIP, Jay Smith. Please click on this link to see all photos.

Neil Young, K’Naan in Central Park for the Global Citizen Festival

Hadn’t realized until today that a big benefit concert’s going on today in Central Park. K’Naan, Band of Horses, Foo Fighters, Black Keys, and Neil Young with Crazy Horse are all playing on the Great Lawn. Might’ve tried to go, but I have other plans for the rest of the day. Some free tickets were drawn by lottery at teh site of the worthy organization coordinating this push to end “extreme poverty” worldwide. Many organizations like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Earth Institute are coordinating to pull it all together, under the rubric of So far, K’Naan has played, brilliantly. Also, Band of Horses, who were good too. It’s all being livestreamed at this link, and maybe cached there later, too. I hope so, because I’m going out in a few minutes, and would really love to see Neil and Crazy Horse. Meantime, here’s a photo I took of K’Naan in the livestream. He only played three songs, but he absolutely killed with those three, including with a rousing finale of his global hit, “Wavin’ Flag,’ telling the crowd he was at last reclaiming the song as his own, after seeing it used in so many different situations, like at the World Cup. He sang the personal passages in the lyrics, about leaving Somalia as a youngster, very quietly and intimately. He is a very inspirational figure.
Got home just in time to hear Neil and Crazy Horse’s two closing songs, “Fucking Up” and “Keep on Rockin’ in the Free World,” on which the bands from earlier in the concert joined in. It’s been a Neil Young kind-of-weekend, with his new book, Waging Heavy Peace, one of my #FridayReads for this weekend.

#FridayReads, Sept. 28–Chris Bohjalian’s,”The Night Stranger” & Neil Young’s “Waging Heavy Peace”

#FridayReads, Sept. 28–The Night Stranger, Chris Bohjalian’s unusual haunted house novel, set in a town much like Franconia, New Hampshire, where I went to college. What does it mean that the number of passengers who died in a crashed airliner–thirty-nine–is the same as the number of bolts in a mysterious basement door? Though about mortality and  hidden things, the novel is told with an oddly calm narration that is all the more unsettling for it.

Also, just picking up Waging Heavy Peace, Neil Young’s long look back on nearly seven decades of living and music-making, a rock memoir written in a calm tone of voice and in a pensive and thoughtful frame of mind. With Neil so much a part of my life and musical DNA, I’d really been looking forward to this book, especially after hearing him in conversation with Patti Smith at BEA last June, and now that’s in my hands, I couldn’t be happier to be reading it, with the voice of Neil coming through on every page.

Neil Young to Patti Smith: Don’t Chase the Rabbit

June 12 Update: Happy to have had this post linked to by music writer Chad Childers, with the websites of radio stations like Kool 100 FM in Abilene, TX, and 98.3 FM in Twin Falls, ID, picking up his piece. It looks as if Childers’ piece is being syndicated on the Web. Childers reports on the conversation between Patti and Neil, quoting from my post below, and properly attributing it to this site. Childers also recently reported on a great performance by the Canadian band City and Colour, led by Dallas Green, who at this year’s Bonnaroo festival ended their performance with a scintillating performance of Neil’s, “Like a Hurricane,” which you can listen to via this link.

The BEA conversation between Patti Smith and Neil Young was one of the most anticipated events of this year’s convention, and I had previewed it with this blog post a few weeks ago, with a recollection of hearing Neil live when I was only fourteen years old. It turned out that last Wednesday’s program was not only a highlight of the convention, but a life highlight. The two artists shared a comfortable rapport and their dialogue reached a serious level about how songs are written, art is created, and artists and audiences connect in a reciprocal space where creative work flows.

Patti’s first remark, at seeing dozens of photographers below the stage snapping pictures of them was lighthearted: “I feel like Sophia Loren at the Milan airport.” Referring to Neil’s new album “Americana” and his forthcoming book–and her new album “Banga,” which David Shanks of Putnam, Neil’s publisher, had cited in his introduction–Patti said “all the things that one creates comes from the same soul, the same heart, the same hopes.” She asked Neil about a song he’d retitled for the new album, a cover of “She’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Mountain,” which he’s retitled “Jesus’ Chariot.” He chuckled and attributed this to “the folk process” and new understanding of the song he gained through working with it, in which he now sees an unknown composer’s long-submerged intimations of “the Second Coming and the end of time.” Patti marveled at how a song we’ve sung “since we were little kids by rote, with no emotion” is totally reimagined by Neil and Crazy Horse.

After about fifteen minutes, the event organizers finally remedied a low-volume mic that Neil had been equipped with, or that his serape was perhaps masking, which until then had left the more than one thousand bookpeople in attendance uneasy and dissatisfied, leading one person to call out “May we have more volume on Neil’s mic.”

Much of the rest of the talk has already been reported well and comprehensively, by John Mutter in Shelf Awareness, Claire Kirch in Publishers Weekly, and Bob Minzesheimer in USA TODAY, and yet even with bad audio at the outset these two consummate and uncompromising artists engaged in such a full and wide-ranging converation that there are a few aspects of it I want to emphasize in this space.

  • The first concerns Neil’s father, Scott Young. Judging by Patti’s first question on Waging Heavy Peace–about how his dad happened to call young Neil by the nickname “Windy”–Scott is an important figure in the book, and well he should be. It is too little known in this country that long before Neil became a musician and creative force, Scott was a prominent sportswriter and author in Canada, publishing bestselling books of fiction, nonfiction, and YA titles, and a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame (tantamount to a baseball writer in the States being inducted into Cooperstown). The book of his that I’ve read and treasure the most is Neil and Me, a heartfelt, double portrait that offers a mea culpa for the divorce and family break-up his constant travel as a working journalist caused, at least in part. Listening to Neil’s “Helpless” I hear echoes of that family pain. It’s a beautifully written book, as revealing as anything written about Neil, with the exception of Jimmy McDonough’s comprehensive Shakey. I recommend it highly.
  • The next was the discussion between Patti and Neil over the writing of “Ohio,” and how the song came forth from Neil unbidden as a spontaneous response to the cataclysmic events at Kent State. He explained how CSN&Y got into the studio within days to record it, and how they rushed acetate copies of it out to radio statios so disk jockeys could respond to the shock and outrage provoked among their listeners by the campus killings. Neil described this as “the social networking of the time” and added “you could only get seven or eight plays off” the acetates, which degraded quickly. The ephemeral quality of the recording materials prompted an unlikely association in my mind, but an apt one, I think.

I was reminded me of the samizdat editions that writers in the Soviet bloc produced of their work during the Cold War. Without access to printing presses, they would roll multiple sheets of carbon paper into their typewriters, and with each key struck they hammered another ringing blow for creative expression. The medium had limitations, however. A Czech writer and publisher I met in Prague in 1991–post-Cold War–Vladmir Pistorius of Mlada Fronta Publishers, showed me his samizdat editions and explained that a rebel author could only put about five sheets of carbon paper in their typewriter, inter-leaved with as many sheets of typing paper, because each succeeding copy became more faint and less readable. It was humbling then to see what writers had done to create and share their work.

The writing, production, and perforce distribution of “Ohio” also reminded me of the genre of the “instant paperback,” like the Watergate Hearings books published by mass-market publishers back in the day, Norton’s edition of the 9/11 Commission in more recent years, or The United States v. I. Lewis Libby, which I pulled together with reporter Murray Waas at Union Square Press in 2007, after Scooter Libby’s trial in the leaking of Valerie Plame’s CIA identity. Neil and his bandmates were responding authentically and spontaneously to events around them, and meeting their audience in the public square, much as publishers have long tried to do for their readers.

  • The last point is Neil’s discussion of how he never forces the writing of a song. Patti observed that Neil’s songs, “even ones produced from pain . . . seem so effortless, like they just came out of the wind, maybe that’s why your dad called you ‘Windy.'”

Neil answered, “Well, they do come that way. I don’t try to think of them. I wait till they come. A metaphor may be that if you’re trying to catch a rabbit, you don’t wait right by the hole. . . And then the rabbit comes out of the hole, he looks around. You start talking to the rabbit, but you’re not looking at it. Ultimately, the rabbit is friendly and the song is born. The idea is, he’s free to come, free to go. Who would want to intimidate or disrespect the source of the rabbit? And in that way if the song happens, it happens. If it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen. It doesn’t matter. That’s why I’ll write a lot of material and why I’ll suddenly not write any material. There’s no reason to write, it has to come to me, if it doesn’t come to me, 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. I really hate things that people work on. There’s nothing about music that should be working on it. There’s no reason to be something you’re not. Or trying to be somebody that you think is good.”

I am more eager than ever to read Neil’s book when Blue Rider Press publishes it in October. Patti and Neil seemed like old friends, to each other, and to us in the audience. It was a treat to hear them in conversation, a BEA moment I’ll treasure forever.  If you couldn’t be there I hope this report and the photos will make it come alive for you, and if you were in the hall, I hope I’ve lent some useful perspective on such a special occasion. / / More . . . please click through to see all photos.

Days 2 & 3 BEA Photos

The final two days of BEA, Wednesday and Thursday, were very productive. The whole convention turned out to be one of the most upbeat book industry gatherings in several years. After a total of four days walking the halls of Javits Convention Center–Monday was the BEA Bloggers Conference, followed by the three days of the actual convention–I am sifting through the mound of catalogs, reading copies, business cards, and promo materials that Kyle and I lugged back to our home office, and replaying in my mind all the great conversations, book ideas, and collegiality we enjoyed. Following up our first day’s photos, here are pictures from the final two days, again taken by Kyle. The photo above was taken at the booth of Zola Books, which had a great response at BEA to their new social reading platform. In it, Joe Regal (2nd from right), made a happy group with his colleagues, under their banner, “The first eBook retailer from the community–for the community.” Additional photos, including the ones we took at Neil Young’s appearance with Patti Smith, will be posted in coming days.
Update: Publishers Weekly’s Rachel Deal has published a good article about Zola. Click through to see all of this post’s 40 + photos.