Neil Young kept a pretty low profile in 1994. He’d toured heavily over the previous three years and the suicide of Kurt Cobain in April left him shattered, especially when he learned that the Nirvana frontman quoted him in his suicide note. “I don’t have the passion anymore,” Cobain wrote. “And so remember, it’s better to burn out than to fade away.”
“I, coincidentally, had been trying to reach him through our offices to tell him that I thought he was great,” Young wrote in his 2012 memoir Waging Heavy Peace: A Hippie Dream. “And he should do exactly what he thought he should do and fuck everybody else . . . So when he died and left that note, it struck a deep chord inside me. It fucked with me.”
Young refused to publicly comment on Cobain at the time, opting to pour all of his emotions into his new LP Sleeps With Angels. He didn’t promote the album with any press or even a tour, choosing to only play at a few benefit gigs that year. The biggest one was Farm Aid in September. The show was held at the Louisiana Superdome and featured newer bands such as the Spin Doctors and the Gin Blossoms and veterans including Kris Kristofferson and the Neville Brothers, along with Farm Aid board members Willie Nelson and John Mellencamp.
Neil Young and Crazy Horse were one of the highlights of the night. They mixed in Sleeps With Angels cuts “Piece of Crap” and “Change Your Mind” with classics “Down By the River” and “Country Home.” They also covered “All Along the Watchtower” with Willie Nelson on acoustic guitar. Here’s video of that performance.
Along with Tonight’s the Night, Sleeps With Angels remains one of Young’s darkest albums. He’s performed virtually none of the songs in the past two decades.