Neil Young Bob Sarlin - Essay

Bob Sarlin

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Of] all the talents that came together … to form [the Buffalo Springfield], Neil Young is the only one who I believe has come close to artistry in his subsequent writing and performances….

Young's music is simple, and many of his lyrics share this simplicity…. [He] is capable of turning out songs that are ice-clear reflections of the times we're living in and the way young people see them. Most of the songs are very personal affairs, but when Young does attempt a political song, he is likely to come up strong, with a number like "Ohio," on the killing of four students at Kent State University. "Ohio," with its anger and powerful musical stance, is one of the best of the political songs of recent years. Since "Ohio," Young has attempted two other politically oriented songs, "Alabama" and "Southern Man," but neither of these has matched its intensity.

Perhaps the best songs Young has ever written can be found on [Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere] and Neil Young. Here one can find love songs that bite, and long ambiguous Dylanesque statements, some of which hit the mark. The music is prime rock-and-roll on both albums, and the pounding sound adds to the lyrics.

Neil Young contains a few more complex songs like "The Loner" and "Last Trip to Tulsa." "Tulsa" is a long affair, half surrealism, half a sort of road smarts. Each verse is a little more ambiguous than the last; the effect is starkly bitter and resigned. There are some strong lines: "He's a perfect stranger/Like a cross of himself/He's a feeling arranger/And a changer of the way he talks"—"The Loner." "I've been looking for a woman with the feeling of losing once or twice/I've been waiting for you." Or "Well, she's a victim of her senses/Do you know her?/Can you see her in the distance/As she tumbles by?/Veteran of a race that should be over/Can you hear her sigh?/I've loved her so long." (pp. 154-55)

I believe Young has the potential to become a major song-poet if he … overcomes the tendency toward oversimplification and repetition of ideas and melodies. (p. 155)

Bob Sarlin, "Others," in his Turn It Up! (I Can't Hear the Words): The Best of the New Singer/Songwriters (copyright © 1973 by Robert Sarlin; reprinted by permission of the author), Simon & Schuster, 1973, pp. 153-70.∗