Take Five with Dan Durchholz
This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, May 12, 2010 - At the age of 64, Neil Young has become a certified musical legend. The Canadian-born singer/songwriter was a founding member of the legendary band, Buffalo Springfield in the mid-60s, quit the band to start his own solo career, then became the guiding force in the super group Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.
Over the 45 years since he joined Buffalo Springfield, Young has developed a discography of more than 60 recordings - and the unifying element throughout Young's music has always been his commitment as an artist to following his muse ... wherever it may lead him.
Dan Durchholz, a St. Louis-based writer who has contributed to many publications including the St. Louis Beacon and the Post-Dispatch, has co-written a new book that combines a solid biography of Young with a critical review of his music over the years - as well as great photographs and art from throughout his lengthy career. Recently I had the chance to talk with Durchholz about the new book - and his fascination with Young's music.
Q: How did you get involved in writing the book?
Durchholz: My friend Gary Graff and I co-wrote "Musichound Rock: The Essential Album Guide" several years ago, and we're always looking for opportunities to work together again on projects. Gary was approached by Voyageur Press about writing a book about Neil Young, but knew he couldn't do it all himself in the given time frame. He knew I was a longtime Young fan, so he told Voyageur he would do it if I could co-write it with him.
It turned out that we both had already written extensively about Young, so we were loaded for bear in terms of background and a framework. When they said yes, we were able to turn around the copy in two months.
Q: The book has a chronological flow following Young's life ... but there are also great sidebars focusing on everything from Young's love of model trains and the supposed feud with Lynyrd Skynyrd over "Sweet Home Alabama" to Young's involvement in making films and his work with Pearl Jam. Did you and Gary break up the writing in those areas?
Durchholz: Yes, we did. I wrote most of the narrative, and Gary focused on the sidebars. We ended up writing a lot more copy than you'll usually find in this kind of coffee-table illustrated music biography. But when you've got a subject like Neil Young, that's easy to do. His career has been so long and so varied, that it's a great story to tell.
In addition, I know there are Neil Young fans that like certain eras or musical styles of his career. For example, some fans like his folk-rock sound, while others really love his all-out rock recordings with Crazy Horse. And a lot of people don't embrace both - or some of his electronic things. So for those people, you can dip into chapters that focus on different stages of Young's career. Or you can follow his life straight through.
Q: Did you or the publisher get any reaction from Neil Young or his people? Young withdrew his support for an authorized biography that came out in 2002.
Durchholz: We had no reaction from Young or his representatives whatsoever, at least to this point. But that's not surprising. I think Gary and I have been very straightforward in telling Neil's story and offering an appraisal of his music. And Young is very secretive in terms of the media. He just doesn't like to give interviews or talk about himself. But I think his music tells his story ... especially if you take the time to really explore it.
Q: When you were researching the book, was there anything you discovered about Neil Young and his music that really surprised you?
Durchholz: Actually, I've been such a big fan of his over the years that nothing surprised me along the way. But one thing that really was enjoyable for me was having the opportunity to re-examine his catalog of recordings in a concentrated way. Being able to dive deep down and focus on the work of one artist over his long career was fascinating for me.
Listening to everything confirmed that my favorites then are still my faves now. But it also was insightful for me to listen again to recordings I didn't like when they first came out. For example, his Trans recording never caught my ear. But it's all about Young trying to communicate with his non-verbal son Ben, who was born with cerebral palsy, by running his vocals through a vocoder so they literally became non-verbal as well. Young never told his fans what the record was all about when it first came out ... so most people didn't get what was behind it.
Q: In the end, what do you think Neil Young's legacy will be?
Durchholz: There's no doubt that his body of musical work is enormously important and has influenced generations of other musicians. In the end, I think that Young's honesty and commitment to his art ... his music ... is what sets him apart. And I hope we've captured that in this book.
Terry Perkins is a freelance writer who has long covered the St. Louis music scene.