I am reading Neil Young’s autobiography “Waging Heavy Peace.” My first impression is that this is some batty old guy talking into a tape recorder. Then, upon further reading, his true genius comes out. In between all of his ramblings, the soul of an extremely passionate environmentalist comes out. Who else would fund the building of a zero energy automobile, then when one of his guys burns it (and the garage that it was being invented in) to the ground, get some new guys and start over?
I have had the opportunity to hang with Neil many times (mostly at Farm Aid each year) and see his true passion come out. His speeches at the Farm Aid press conference each year are the high point of the day, and show how much he cares about the farm community and it’s survival.
I had the opportunity several years ago to go to his house on the top of a mountain overlooking San Jose, Ca. I was touring with Brian Wilson and we were asked to play at Neil’s Bridge School Benefit. The night before, all the bands are invited to his house for a bar-b-que. At the appointed hour, two vans pulled up at the hotel and we jumped in. Fifteen minutes later, we were on a terrifying ride up a one lane road around the mountain to the top. My only thought was – If it was this scary with daylight, what would it be like when we came back down in the dark?
We came to the top and saw llamas and ducks walking around on the front lawn, and the host manning the bar-b-que grill. After a night of great food and music (Sheryl Crow and Eddie Vedder were singing campfire songs around a bonfire) we made the perilous journey down the mountain to our beds.
The next day, we came to sound check, and I heard some of the other bands check, and I knew we had to do something to make Brian stand out. So, I walked around backstage and asked every headliner I knew (and some I didn’t know) if they knew the wrds to the classic Beach Boy’s song “California Girls.” Everyone said they did, so I asked them to meet me on the side of the stage during the preceding song. During that song, I looked around and saw myself surrounded by:
When the song ended, I turned to them and said “Go out and grab a microphone- you are on.” That song got a huge standing ovation, and Brian was thrilled- so thrilled, in fact, that he asked the crowd if they wanted to hear “Good Vibrations” a song the band had not turned acoustic and had not rehearsed. Somehow they played it and the crowd went crazy. So, in the middle of the night, It dawned on me that Neil had a pump organ on stage, which sounded just like a theramin. So at 7AM, I called Neil’s road manager and told him to tell Neil that he was playing the pump organ on Good Vibrations that afternoon. When I saw Neil backstage, he gave me a dirty look and said, “What are you doing to me- I don’t know that song!” I hooked him up with one of our keyboard players for a quick lesson, and the song was done to perfection!