Making his first public appearance since his April surgery for a brain aneurysm, Neil Young received the Founders Award, given to “pioneering songwriters,” at ASCAP’s twenty-second-annual Pop Music Awards Monday in Los Angeles.
Folk duo the Indigo Girls performed a rousing acoustic rendition of Young’s “Down by the River,” and a video with clips stretching from black-and-white footage of Buffalo Springfield to the recent concept album/movie Greendale celebrated Young’s music. Mo Ostin, the former head of Warner Bros. Records and the man who gave Young his first solo recording contract, then took the stage to introduce the veteran rocker.
“There is only one Neil Young,” said Ostin, recounting their turbulent but fruitful collaboration. “Neil’s first album for Reprise had a great song, ‘The Loner.’ Looking back, it defines Neil: a man willing to stand alone. He follows his own brilliant — and shaky — muse.”
Young, who had been seated at a table with his wife and son, took the stage and thanked Ostin, ASCAP president and chair Marilyn Bergman. After a meandering start — “I should have written something down!” — Young told the crowd, “It’s great to be able to do what you want to do.” Perhaps acknowledging the evening’s other honorees, including OutKast, Young added, “I can’t get up and rap. If I do that, I think you’ll get up and shoot me. My mission now is to go where no hippie has gone before. And tomorrow, I go back to Reprise and give them another record.” Young has been at work on his next album in Nashville, with longtime collaborators keyboardist Spooner Oldham, guitarist Ben Keith and drummer Carl Himmel.
Though he did not perform, Young stood at the front of the stage for his standing ovation and played air guitar before making his exit.
Prior to Young’s award, dozens of awards for hit songs were handed out. Unlike other awards shows, no speeches were given, as recipients posed only briefly for photos with their plaques before leaving the stage. OutKast’s Big Boi, Ashford and Simpson, and Usher were among the artists recognized for their songs’ significant airplay in 2004. Guests ranged from author Maya Angelou to Clay Aiken to ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons.
Scott Storch, whose credits include Beyonce’s “Naughty Girl” and Christina Aguilera’s “Can’t Hold Us Down,” was named Songwriter of the Year, while songwriter/producer Jermaine Dupri took home the Golden Note Award. Two of Dupri’s disciples, pop diva Mariah Carey and R&B star Usher, presented the award, with Usher touting his longtime collaborator as “an extraordinary individual, my mentor, my confidante, my best friend.” Carey added, “He’s the truth when it comes to songwriting.”
Like Young, Dupri apparently failed to prepare for his time on stage. “I ain’t wrote nothing down,” he said, “’cause that ain’t how I do my records.” With much hooting from the audience, Dupri finally turned to Carey: “Mariah, we about to have the new Number One record in the country!”