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The Rebellious Neil Young

Page 4 of 5

How much of your own solo success, though, was due to CSNY?
For sure CSNY put my name out there. They gave me a lot of publicity. But, in all modesty, After the Gold Rush, which was kind of the turning point, was a strong album. I really think it was. A lot of hard work went into it. Everything was there. The picture it painted was a strong one. After the Gold Rush was the spirit of Topanga Canyon. It seemed like I realized that I'd gotten somewhere. I joined CSNY and was still working a lot with Crazy Horse...I was playing all the time. And having a great time. Right after that album, I left the house. It was a good coda.

How did you cope with your first real blast of superstardom after that?
The first thing I did was a long tour of small halls. Just me and a guitar. I loved it. It was real personal. Very much a one-on-one thing with the crowd. It was later, after Harvest, that I hid myself away. I tried to stay away from it all. I thought the record [Harvest] was good, but I also knew that something else was dying. I became very reclusive. I didn't want to come out much.

Why? Were you depressed? Scared?
I think I was pretty happy. In spite of everything, I had my old lady and moved to the ranch. A lot of it was my back. I was in and out of hospitals for the two years between After the Gold Rush and Harvest. I have one weak side and all the muscles slipped on me. My discs slipped. I couldn't hold my guitar up. That's why I sat down on my whole solo tour. I couldn't move around too well, so I laid low for a long time on the ranch and just didn't have any contact, you know. I wore a brace. Crosby would come up to see how I was, we'd go for a walk and it took me 45 minutes to get to the studio, which is only 400 yards from the house. I could only stand up four hours a day. I recorded most of Harvest in the brace. That's a lot of the reason it's such a mellow album. I couldn't physically play an electric guitar. "Are You Ready for the Country," "Alabama" and "Words" were all done after I had the operation. The doctors were starting to talk about wheelchairs and shit, so I had some discs removed. But for the most part, I spent two years flat on my back. I had a lot of time to think about what had happened to me.

Have you ever been in analysis?
You mean have I ever been to a psychiatrist? No. [laughs] They're all real interested in me though. They always ask a lot of questions when I'm around them.

What do they ask?
Well, I had some seizures. They used to ask me a lot of questions about how I felt, stuff like that. I told them all the thoughts I have and the images I see if I, you know, faint or fall down or something. That's not real important though.

Do you still have seizures?
Yeah, I still do. I wish I didn't. I thought I had it licked.

Is it a physical or mental...
I don't know. Epilepsy is something nobody knows much about. It's just part of me. Part of my head, part of what's happening in there. Sometimes something in my brain triggers it off. Sometimes when I get really high it's a very psychedelic experience to have a seizure. You slip into some other world. Your body's flapping around and you're biting your tongue and batting your head on the ground but your mind is off somewhere else. The only scary thing about it is not going or being there, it's realizing you're totally comfortable in this...void. And that shocks you back into reality. It's a very disorienting experience. It's difficult to get a grip on yourself. The last time it happened, it took about an hour-and-a-half of just walking around the ranch with two of my friends to get it together.

Has it ever happened onstage?
No. Never has. I felt like it was a couple times and I've always left the stage. I get too high or something. It's just pressure from around, you know. That's why I don't like crowds too much.

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Song Stories

“San Francisco Mabel Joy”

Mickey Newbury | 1969

A country-folk song of epic proportions, "San Francisco Mabel Joy" tells the tale of a poor Georgia farmboy who wound up in prison after a move to the Bay Area found love turning into tragedy. First released by Mickey Newbury in 1969, it might be more familiar through covers by Waylon Jennings, Joan Baez and Kenny Rogers. "It was a five-minute song written in a two-minute world," Newbury said. "I was told it would never be cut by any artist ... I was told you could not use the term 'redneck' in a song and get it recorded."

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