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The 12 Most Canadian Things About Neil Young

Great moments from the rocker's northern roots

Neil Young performs in Paris.
David Wolff - Patrick/Redferns via Getty Images
October 17, 2013 9:10 AM ET

Today we consider one of our favorite Canadians: Neil Young. He's lived and paid taxes in the United States for almost 50 years, and most Canadians have resigned themselves to the reality that he's permanently gone south. When Canadian TV viewers voted for the greatest Canadians of all time some years back, Young placed 14th. (Tommy Douglas, the politician who introduced national healthcare, was Number One; Wayne Gretzky was number 10; Celine Dion was number 27.) "It's my roots," Young has said. "I'm proud to be a Canadian – but I don't let it hold me back." Here's 12 of the most Canadian things, in both music and life, about a man who left the country but never abandoned his northern origins. 

See Where Neil Young Ranks on Our 100 Greatest Artists of All Time

1. He's maintained his Canadian citizenship

Unlike Texas Senator Ted Cruz, who recoiled in horror when he discovered he was a Canadian citizen by birth, Young has never renounced his Canadian citizenship. When he first came to the United States, he was an illegal immigrant without a work visa, living in perpetual fear of getting pulled over for a traffic violation.

Neil Young
Neil Young
Dick Barnatt/Redferns Ltd/Getty Images


2. "Helpless"

"There is a town in North Ontario," Young sings on this gorgeous lullaby, originally released with Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young in 1970 on Déjà Vu. It's an idyll of his childhood in small towns like Omemee, although his family moved around a lot. As his mother put it, "We lived all over hell's half acre."

3. His fashion sense

With his fondness for plaid shirts and general dishevelment, Young usually goes onstage looking like a lumberjack from Saskatchewan.

Neil Young performs in Mountain View, California.
Neil Young performs in Mountain View, California.
Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images

4. "God Save the Queen"

Although Queen Elizabeth II's role as Canadian monarch is fairly nominal these days, in earlier decades Canadian schoolchildren began each day by singing "God Save the Queen" along with "O Canada." (We're talking about the British national anthem, not the Sex Pistols song.) So when Young snuck "God Save the Queen" onto Americana (his great album of American folk songs with Crazy Horse last year), it honored his Canadian upbringing. (He did slightly Americanize it by adding some of "My Country 'Tis of Thee" to his version.)

5. "Don't Let It Bring You Down"

Similarly, check out the opening lines of "Don't Let It Bring You Down" (from 1970's After the Gold Rush): "Old man lying by the side of the road / With the lorries rolling by." News flash, Neil: In the United States, we call them "trucks," not "lorries."

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