As a girl, it took me a long time to get into Neil Young and as much as I wanted to have my musical horizons broadened by my friend Bill and the greatly appreciated mix tapes he'd send me over the years (at different times in our lives he introduced me to Tricky, Radiohead, The Girl from Ipanema…) his inclusion of Old Man on one particular tape just left me faintly annoyed. Annoyed by the hard to love voice and annoyed that I just didn't get what the boys saw in it all.
The song that recently made me a believer is from the classic After the Gold Rush: Don't Let it Bring You Down. I like this song firstly because I feel that I can sing it exactly like he does (and I do at the top of my lungs erractically – of course, like some things that I assume I do well, this may not actually be the case) and secondly, it also happens to be the best song on the album and with the most vivid lyrics. The song that first started to change the tide long before that one was aided by Freaks and Geeks. I'd pretty much be able to fall in love with anything featured on that show, and Only Love Can Break Your Heart was an easy one – much easier than Old Man, because A. it's about love and not and old man, and b. It's just really pretty.
Pretty is a word I never associated with Young before, but After the Gold Rush, which is now becoming a fast favorite, is introducing me to a squishier side to the grizzled old time rocker. The names of some of these songs would make a lesser man seem sissy: “When You Dance You Can Really Love”, “I Believe in You”, “Oh, Lonesome Me”. It would seem that 1970 was a year of serious romance for Young, but in reality he was breaking up with his first wife Susan Acevedo who in this article is awesomely described as “A wild one? city chick.” And,?”Maybe the first women's libber.?She was in hate with men.” Here's a photo of her, dressed all in black as was her habit.
And who knows if he was already smitten with actress Carrie Snodgrass whom he later dedicated songs to and had a child with before things grew steadily more bitter at the time of writing these songs, but ideas about relationships and love were certainly pouring from his pen and on his mind.
Of course, so was social injustice by way of “Southern Man“, a song that angered the proud members of Lynyrd Skynyrd and prompted them to include this line in Sweet Home Alabama: “Well, I hope Neil Young will remember / A southern man don't need him around anyhow”.?Take that Neil – how dare you point out the woes of racism in the South! But contrary to my vision of the prolific singer songwriter, this album is not teeming with social commentary. In fact, there is quite a bit of joy to be heard here. Cripple Creek Ferry is the kind of song you could see the Country Bears singing and Till the Morning Comes is brief and wonderfully playful.
While now considered a classic, it didn't receive the warmest reaction from Rolling Stone (a magazine that's more relevant now than ever) when it came out. Their critic described Young's singing as “pre-adolescent whining” and claims, “I can't listen to it at all,” then goes so far as to condescend anyone who does like the album by saying, “Neil Young devotees will probably spend the next few weeks trying desperately to convince themselves that After The Gold Rush is good music. But they'll be kidding themselves”. What a jerk!