Neil Young

Searching For A Heart Of Gold

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Neil Young - Searching For A Heart Of Gold
By Jason SchneiderIf anyone deserves to be the godfather of Canadian rock, it's Neil Young. Much like our country, he has never fully defined what he is. Sometimes he's an acoustic troubadour, sometimes a raging rocker. Sometimes he's a passionate critic of government policies, other times an unexpected proponent of conservative values. He's a model train enthusiast, vintage car collector, golfer, and devoted father to two physically challenged children. But his first love remains the muse he has instinctively followed for over 35 years. It has led him to record some of the best albums of all time, and a few of the worst. Yet, even at these low points there is still an unmistakably magical quality in Neil Young's songs, whether it's the eternal longing in his voice or his often transcendent guitar playing. With each new release, fans brace themselves for what it might contain, and even if it isn't brilliant, it is never less than interesting. That's certainly true of Greendale, out this August. A concept record surrounding a fictional small town where the lives of the Green family are irrevocably altered following a traumatic incident, it has all the earmarks of Young at his iconoclastic best. It's hard to imagine any of Young's peers attempting something so ambitious, but then again few were ever as ambitious in the first place.

1945 to 1960
Neil Percival Young is born in Toronto on November 12, 1945, the second son of respected journalist Scott Young and Edna "Rassy" Young (nee Ragland). The family remains in Toronto for two years before moving to the town of Omemee, near Peterborough, Ont. Neil enjoys an idyllic childhood there until contracting polio at the age of five. The vicious disease sends him to Toronto's Hospital For Sick Children for a week and leaves the left side of his body slightly damaged. It is also suspected to be the root cause of seizures he will experience in years to come. In the late ‘50s, the family moves back to Toronto when Scott lands a job as an interviewer on Hockey Night In Canada and begins publishing books. Neil's favourite pastime is listening to rock and roll on the radio, but he also envisions himself becoming a chicken farmer. That all changes when Scott begins seeing another woman and his marriage falls apart. Following the divorce in 1960, Neil is shipped off to Winnipeg to live with his mother and her extended family.

1961 to 1965
With Rassy becoming a fixture on a local television quiz show, Young attends Winnipeg's Kelvin High. He is quickly absorbed into the city's thriving music scene, and is inspired to pick up the guitar after encountering Randy Bachman of Chad Allen & the Expressions, later the Guess Who. Young forms his first band, the Squires, in 1963, and plays local teen dances. That year they record an instrumental single, "The Sultan" b/w "Aurora," at a Winnipeg radio station. The band proceeds to doing Beatles covers, but Young soon becomes enamoured with the work of Bob Dylan and acquires an acoustic guitar. Young also gets the travelling bug in 1964 and the Squires begin playing regularly in Thunder Bay, making the trip in Young's hearse, nicknamed Mort. During one residency there in 1965, The Squires catch the ear of Stephen Stills, a member of the Company, a New York-based folk group passing through town. The pair immediately hit it off and make a point of staying in touch. Frustrated by the Squires' limitations, Young decides to visit his father in Toronto before moving to either Liverpool or Los Angeles. On the way, Mort breaks down in Blind River, ON, leaving Young to ponder his circumstances.

1965 to 1966
Now determined to break into the Toronto scene, Young wavers between putting a new band together or becoming a solo artist, while working as a stock boy at a Coles book store. The band lasts one gig in Vermont, but on the trip Young meets folk singer Richey Furay (also a friend of Stills) and shows him some of the new songs he's been writing. Furay is especially impressed by one, "Nowadays Clancy Can't Even Sing," and starts adding it to his own sets. Once back in Toronto, Young concentrates on playing the Yorkville coffeehouse circuit as a solo act without much success. He accepts an offer from bassist Bruce Palmer to play guitar in the Mynah Birds, fronted by future funk star Rick James, and bankrolled by heir to the Eaton's fortune, John Craig Eaton. The band lands a contract with Motown, but the opportunity sours when their manager runs off with the advance and James is arrested for being AWOL from the U.S. Navy. In early spring, 1966, Young and Palmer hatch a new plan. Unbeknownst to Eaton, they sell all of the Mynah Birds' equipment, buy a new hearse, and head for L.A. with the faint hope of finding Stills. Young is so nervous on the trip that when he's not driving, he lies in the back of the hearse listening for knocks in the transmission. Upon arriving in L.A., they are caught in a traffic jam. A few lanes over are Stills and Furay who, after noticing the hearse with Ontario plates, assume it must be Young. In a few days they have a new band.
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Article Published In Aug 03 Issue