How does rock legend Neil Young maintain his street cred? By relentlessly undermining his every success

How does rock legend Neil Young maintain his street cred? By relentlessly undermining his every success

Ever since Neil Young’s days playing Yorkville clubs and coffee houses in the 1960s, the iconic singer-songwriter with the love-it-or-hate-it voice has demonstrated a knack for self-sabotage, following up every moment of glory with a move that pisses off even his most ardent fans. This month, Young is celebrated in Neil Young Journeys, a nostalgic feature documentary by director Jonathan Demme. Which only raises the question: how will he mess this one up?

Performs at the era-defining Woodstock festival with harmonizing folkies Crosby, Stills and Nash.
Lands his first and only number one hit, the perpetual CanCon staple “Heart of Gold.”
Bored of ’70s rock star excess, cuts his hair, starts writing faster, punkier music and dedicates a song to Johnny Rotten.
Is one of the first acts David Geffen signs to his new, eponymous record label in a deal that would net Young $1 million per album.
Demonstrates his ear for new sounds by taking noise rockers Sonic Youth on tour as his opening act.
Is the final and featured performer at the Canadian edition of Bob Geldof’s awareness-raising Live 8 concerts.

Revels in the role of musical legend in Jonathan Demme’s Neil Young Journeys, which documents a recent Massey Hall show and a trip to the small Ontario town where he spent his childhood.

Refuses to be filmed while at the festival, calling it “a bullshit gig.”
Later dismisses the tune: “That song put me in the middle of the road…so I headed for the ditch.”

Is the very picture of rock star excess at The Last Waltz, The Band’s farewell concert, during which he performs with cocaine visible in his nose.

Repays Geffen’s generosity by releasing a techno-inspired album, a rockabilly album and a traditional country album. All three bomb. Hard.
Releases Arc, an album whose single, unlistenable, 35-minute track consists of nothing but guitar feedback.

Strays from the event’s ultra- earnest message by jokingly referring to the concert as “Live Bait” in a backstage interview.

Releases Americana, a slapdash collection of old standards recorded with his notoriously sloppy backup group Crazy Horse, who even Young admits “can’t play for shit.”

(Images: Getstock, Getty Images, Istock Photo, Reprise Records)