Neil Young Returns to the Harvest

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"I feel exactly the same as I did when that was going down," Young says, narrowing his formidable eyebrows. "There were some things Reagan liked that I liked. The main component of it was that people have got to talk to each other and help themselves and that government can't completely take care of them by making a bunch of promises and programs. It can't be done that way to the exclusion of working together on things like child care. That was his point – get together, people. Organize your communities.

"I agreed with that," Young says. "But because I agreed with that one thing and similar types of points, then I was a Reagan backer. It was a shock for some people that I could agree with anything that that man would say. But I'm not into this judgmental, religious-right kind of thing. My ideals don't run along those lines."

Onstage he may resemble an affable gas-station attendant or a psychopathic lumberjack, while in conversation he looks more like your burned-out ex-hippie uncle. Somewhere along the way, though, Neil Young has become the very model of all that "family values" should really mean. "My family is a unit that's behind my music and doesn't inhibit it," he says. "The most beautiful thing about my wife, Pegi, is that she never gets in the way of my music. She doesn't have an attitude about certain kinds of music. For her to have an attitude about this or that, then if I go into that kind of music, I'm thinking, 'Right here in the house we have someone who doesn't like this at all.' I never have that with her; there's no restrictions that way."

His marriage, his life on the ranch with his kids and the cars and antique train sets he collects serve as the truest metaphor for Young's work. "The real music of my life is my family," he says. "I didn't keep this marriage together just by doing the same thing over again that I was doing when I got married. I didn't get pigeonholed into having only one personality, like a lot of people do. They kind of become someone that they're not. And in music, if you do that, you've had it."

On "Unknown Legend," Harvest Moon's opening track, Young sings, "You know it ain't easy/You got to hold on," and the rewards of persevering through difficult, even tragic times are evident when he speaks of his home life. He spent much of the Eighties struggling to come to terms with his sons' disabilities, and he has said that his anger and frustration and his family's experience with various rehabilitation programs inspired the impenetrable, tortured work of that era. These days, though, his craggy face looks as thoughtful and peaceful as his voice sounds on the new album. After helping to found the Bridge School, outside of San Francisco, for physically challenged kids like his sons, he now stages an all-star benefit each year to raise funds. It is his involvement with his children that now seems to keep Young happier and fresher than anything else.

"Every year now for my birthday party we do the same thing," Young says, beaming. "I build a fire, set up all the logs and build it myself. Then after dark, Pegi comes out and lights it. Then the kids come home from school, and we have all their little-kid friends and their parents over. The people that come to my party are chosen because they're the parents of my children's friends. They all come down to the fire, and we roast hamburgers and hot dogs and stuff and sit around the fire. After we have dinner, they come down with marshmallows and they all roast marshmallows. So every year at my party, the kids all come. They can't wait. It's like a big day for them. I don't know what that means, but that's us."

The solo acoustic shows that started when he wrote the songs for Harvest Moon are all over, at least for now, or so Young says. "Harvest Moon is almost a year old now," he says. "I'm almost finished doing this." Of course, in 1988 he said he probably wouldn't work with Crazy Horse again, calling their sound "a younger kind of music," only to record the majestic Ragged Glory with them the next year; "Yeah, well, that's typical," he says of that particular change of plans. Meanwhile, he continues to work on a long-anticipated multivolume retrospective of his career (the plans now call for different configurations "depending on how deep you want to get into it") and an autobiography.

Most immediately, though, Young is starting to hear the next sound in his head. He doesn't know what it is yet. He sure had fun playing the electric guitar again at the Dylan tribute, but maybe there's another band, new or old, to work with. The only sure thing is that it's time to move on.

"We're on the edge," Young says, nodding dreamily. "I can feel it coming. It won't be long."

This story is from the January 21, 1993 issue of Rolling Stone.

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