ON ARC/WELD, THE STUNNING audio-verite documentary of his 1991 American tour, Neil Young levels more fire and brimstone than players half his age. Young isn’t about to be pushed into his own past by anyone.
Given your onstage abandon, are you hard on guitars?
No. I don’t have any guitars that are broken because of me playing them. I treat them pretty gently, actually. I don’t think I have to break a guitar to get a violent sound out of it.
What’s the source of your feedback?
Volume. There is no amp gain, and we don’t use a distorted effect at all. It’s just the Fender Deluxe.
Of all the players who emerged in the ’60s, you alone still seem capable of really thrashing.
Well, that’s nice. I think I took that as far as I’m going to take it for a while. I don’t know if there’s any reason to continue with that thrashing about.
The punk attitude…
No—it’s just rock and roll, but it’s real rock and roll. Punk and rock and roll are all the same thing. What has degenerated from it—what “rock and roll” is now—is not rock and roll. It’s pop. It’s fabricated for the masses. It’s an imitation—a shoddy semblance of what it was. It’s Perry Como music compared to real rock and roll. Remember when it all started? There was real rock and roll, and then that other music your parents listened to. It’s like rock and roll now is the music that our parents listened to. It’s like gone.
What do you look for in a solo?
Elevation. You can feel it. That’s all I’m looking for. You can tell I don’t care about bad notes. I listen for the whole band on my solos. You can call it a solo, because that’s a good way to describe it, but it’s really an instrumental. It’s the whole band that’s playing.
What are your views on people going to college to learn guitar?
It paints a pretty doomed picture of the future, doesn’t it? [Laughs.] First of all, it doesn’t matter if you can play a scale. It doesn’t matter if your technique is good. If you have feelings you want to get out through music, that’s what matters. If you have the ability to express yourself, and you feel good when you do it, then that’s why you do it. The technical side of it is a complete boring drag, as far as I’m concerned. I mean, I can’t play fast. I don’t even know the scales. A lot of the notes I go for are notes that I know aren’t there. They’re just not there, so you can hit any note. I’m just on another level as far as all that goes. I appreciate these guys who play great. I’m impressed by metal bands with their scale guys. I mean, Joe Satriani and Eddie Van Halen are genius guitar players. They’re unbelievable musicians of the highest caliber. But I can’t relate to it. One note is enough. — excerpted from Jas Obrecht’s piece in the March 1992 Guitar Player