Neil Young and Joni Mitchell

My memory of the first time I ever heard Neil Young is lost in the stratosphere, but After the Gold Rush was probably the first album I ever permanently ingested. It was definitely the first album I over-listened to, but I can’t say I really got sick of it, because even today it sometimes seems as fresh and beautiful as ever. Neil has a defined gruff edge that really attracts the lone wolf in all of us. He’s like the grown-up child of the woods who made it in the big city, who recognizes its grotesque sides but can’t keep himself away from it. Music marketers would call it his brand, but it seems so genuine that he becomes this endearing figure, and I couldn’t resist empathizing with and emulating him.
Joni Mitchell had a very similar thing going on, but hers was wrapped in femininity. When I was fifteen my dad bought Blue on CD, and those first chords of “All I Want” sucked me in like a vacuum cleaner filled with sirens. If you get into that album, it stays with you for life like some comforting safe-haven, one in which the ridicule of any thought or emotion is the gravest sin.
Throughout high school, I slowly assumed all of their records and those of the artists they were most associated with: Crosby, Stills & Nash, Van Morrison, Dylan, Baez, Ritchie Havens, America, James Taylor, Fred Neil, Tim Buckley, Cat Stevens, The Band, Paul Simon. I was into other stuff, too, lots of classic rock (a lot of which I never put on any more), but those big time singer-songwriters from the 60s and 70s were really my core interest and have remained so despite a wide broadening of horizons.

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