In one word, the career and legacy of Neil Young is simply transcendent. From the early days in Toronto scraping by on canned beans while trying to gain momentum for his first band, to playing sold out at shows at New York City’s Carnegie Hall as a seasoned veteran and an integral figure in so many musical disciplines, Neil Young has found a way to remain in the current moment while bringing elements of the past and the future into focus. Today, the foundation that he has laid is quite durable, but he still finds a way to build more on top of it with each passing day.
Neil Young will start his first tour in quite some time on July 5th, 2015 at the Marcus Amphitheater Summerfest. He will not be alone throughout this tour as he will be accompanied by Promises of the Real, a band formed by Willie Nelson’s sons Lukas and Micah Nelson. The tour will only make eleven stops, with two dates at Colorado’s esteemed Red Rocks Amphitheater and other dates scattered throughout the Midwest and the Northeast. If this were a tour by any other artist that would all be well and good, but there is a looming danger upon the conclusion of this tour and I am not being dramatic.
Neil Young was born on November 12th, 1945, making him currently a spry 70 years old. The road is quite hectic for even a new musician at age 20, let alone a 70-year-old man who has spent more than 50 years of his life on the road accruing incomparable experience. Remember the looming danger? This danger is materialized in the fact that Neil Young might be moving through his last tour this summer.
Unfortunately, we can only speculate as to whether or not this is Neil Young’s final tour. However, there are a variety of different factors that we can look a to tell us whether or not he still has some more touring left in him after 50 years of life on the road. Is there some mileage left on his aluminum paneled 1993 Eagle Bus, a replacement for a wooden-winged 1973 Eagle Bus named Pocahontas? As the man himself said in “Ambulance Blues” off of the album On The Beach, “I saw today in the entertainment section, there’s room at the top for private detection.”
First, let’s focus on the positive side. What has happened recently to tell us if this is potentially Neil Young’s final tour? Well, he has released three albums in the last two years alone. That definitely bodes well for the chances of more touring after the upcoming summer tour. First, a December 2013 release of Live At The Cellar Door would divulge some amazing live material from three different shows at Washington D.C.’s The Cellar Door in December of 2013.
For the release of A Letter Home in April of 2014, Neil Young and Jack White spent days in Jack White’s 1947 Voice-O-Graph vinyl recording booth in Nashville, Tennessee to combine the timelessness of vintage recording procedures with Neil Young-infused covers of many different notable songs. Jack White would eventually receive credit as producer on the album along with playing some guitar, piano, and vocals. The video below puts you right in the booth with Neil:
Neil Young’s latest release, titled Storytone, features the combination of big band, orchestral symphonies, and solo acoustic tracks. This wide-ranging album was released in November of 2014 was recorded at the MGM sound stage, which also served as a recording studio for famous works like the Wizard of Oz sound track. Neil Young took a completely different approach with this album, and it definitely shows:
This video places you in the midst of a recording session at MGM. I would think that Neil would be itching to try his new style out in live fashion, and incorporating works from Storytone into a tour would be a great way to start. Once he settles down after this summer’s brief tour, I could definitely see him planning a way to bring the symphony on the road.
Back on April 16th When Neil Young announced the upcoming Rebel Content Tour at a surprise show in San Luis Obispo, California, he hit us with not one but two great developments in his career. Not only would there be an eleven-stop tour this summer, but he would be collaborating with Promises of the Real for an upcoming album titled The Monsanto Years. The surprise show featured many track debuts of The Monsanto Years’ tracks and we can expect this album to comprise most of the set lists at multiple stops throughout the Rebel Content Tour.
Moving past this summer, is there enough longevity for more tours without Promises of the Real? Sure! Neil Young has always maintained a high level of flexibility when it comes to whom he plays with and what he plays. He can take a song that he recorded 30 years ago with Crazy Horse and come out on stage with a brand new individual rendering of that song. This flexibility makes Neil Young who he is as an artist and he is able to apply it in every setting possible. Combined with the rapid-fire releases that have come in the last two years, I think it is safe to say that there will be more tours to come, but there are signs that might point towards the opposite.
In an effort to determine whether or not this could be Neil Young’s last tour, we are provided with a great resource to help us answer this question, and it comes directly from Neil himself. No, it is not a tweet posted to his rarely updated Twitter account or an appearance on a talk show. Rather, this invaluable resource is his autobiography, titled Waging Heavy Peace.
Neil Young traveled back through time to write this book, covering every single nook and cranny of his life from life shuffling around different parts of Canada to present day, where he spends his days on Broken Arrow Ranch in La Honda California, cleaning and maintaining his expansive Lionel Train collection. In doing so, he has provided us with so much insight into what has molded his career as a musician and himself as a human being. Using this introspective autobiography as a reference can help us get inside his mind and give us some clues in our quest to determine whether or not we will see Neil Young on the road.
When we take a look at the intricate medical history of Neil Young, the outlook for future tours may seem grim. This began with a polio diagnosis at the age of six and while he made a quick recovery, the blows kept coming. In the first few months when he had arrived in Los Angeles and connected with Stephen Stills, he collapsed at a fair which would lead to the diagnosis of epilepsy soon after.
In 1971 while fitting the walls of then-newly purchased Broken Arrow Ranch with Cedar wood panels, he injured his back to the point where his legs lost function. After seeing a spinal specialist Los Angeles, Young would receive a double laminectomy, removing two vertebrae in his lower back. This would force him to wear a rigid back brace under his clothes for quite some time until his spinal structure was corrected. Young played so many shows and endured so many recording sessions wearing this painful back brace, but you could never tell from his stage presence and his high attention to detail in all of his and Crazy Horse’s recordings during that time. There have been other health complications that have come about but in Waging Heavy Peace, Young acknowledges that his health does not define him, but that it is a part of him and that it makes him who he is.
Neil Young has been quite busy outside of the world of music. His most recent non-music pursuits have incorporated a degree of activism and social awareness. Specifically, Neil Young is has spoken out against the team of Starbucks and its ally Monsanto. Monsanto is one of the first companies to apply biotechnology to agriculture and has developed a long line of agricultural products with genetic modifications, many of which are spread throughout the United States food system.
Recently, Starbucks, and Monsanto have joined forces to sue the state of Vermont for passing a law requiring the incorporation of accurate labeling on every food and beverage product sold in the state. This legally required accurate labeling conveys whether or not there are genetically modified contents in a given product.
Neil Young has enacted a boycott of all Starbucks products and in an open letter to Starbucks, titled “Goodbye Starbucks!!!” If this were the only non-music pursuit that Young was involved in, I would say that this would not detract from the possibility of a future tour. Unfortunately, he has more on his plate than just activism and spreading social awareness.
Lincvolt is a company that Neil Young founded in 2010 with the purpose of providing the nation with a more fuel-efficient hybrid vehicle alternative that is fitted with the body of a 1959 Lincoln Continental. In the “Vision” section on the company’s website, Neil Young writes “our main goal is to inspire a generation by creating a clean automobile propulsion technology that serves the needs of the 21st Century and delivers performance that is a reflection of the driver’s spirit.”
He also speaks of the project’s roots in Waging Heavy Peace: “Basically I just love the car. The idea to do this just sprang to my mind one day as I was looking at the car, knowing what a guzzler it was. Since I was a kid I have loved big cars. It’s just in me. I wanted to do something. Try to make a difference. I didn’t care if I failed or not, I just wanted to try.” Strong words from Neil Young. In 2015, Lincvolt is still in the development phase and could require a large amount of Neil’s attention, which could mean less time spent touring moving forward.
PureTone, now called PonoMusic, is where Neil Young’s music pursuits and non-music pursuits merge. In Waging Heavy Peace, Neil provides us with a simple summary of his goals with PonoMusic: “I have an idea to build a portable player and online distribution model to present a quality alternative to MP3’s with the convenience of today’s consumers demand. I want to bring the soul of the music industry and the technology of Silicon Valley together to create this new model using artists as the drivers.”
While it was founded in 2011, PonoMusic has gained a lot of momentum in the years since. To arrive at this point, Neil Young would invite various different artists across the music community into his one of his vintage cars and show them directly what PonoMusic can do. Check Out the video testimonial below, which features legend Mike D of the Beastie Boys and Eddie Vetter of Pearl Jam:
After its release in October of 2014, PonoMusic seems to be doing well nowadays and may not require so much of Neil Young’s time. But if Neil unable to quit his ice cream habit, which he reveals at the 3:25 mark of the video testimonial, there is no telling what will happen.
So now that we have all of this information, what is the final word? I firmly believe that we have not even come close to the end of Neil Young’s touring days. His music runs through every system in his body on a daily basis and he has often spoken about his incessant need to create. If he is not creating, he feels useless. This creation does not come in the form of just studio recordings, or startup companies, or social awareness campaigns, but with live performances and tours as well. I think that Neil Young will be the first to acknowledge that and get back on the road every chance he gets.