“They’re beautiful,” Neil Young says of the new melodies he’s had rolling around his head lately. He’s palm-drumming on his crossed legs in a suite at the Four Seasons in downtown Austin, Texas, his black shirt open wide enough to reveal a Third Man Records tee. “But all of the lyrics to the melodies are all profane. Everything’s profanity, which I find to be very confusing.” His blue eyes pierce through the air-conditioned space beneath his black trilby hat. All that cursing is about streaming platforms and algorithms, he says. Maybe cursing is the only potent language to articulate the blunt anger and frustration of living in 2018. That, and music. He’s leaning towards doing it: “If I put out Profane, which would be the album title, and all these beautiful melodies just had swearing in them… I mean, that’s pretty radical.”
At 72, with nearly 40 studio albums and six decades cementing his legacy as a genius, renegade, and icon, Young is still trying to save the world. And he’s furious that anyone might try to stop him from doing so. He’s here to talk aboutParadox—out on Netflix on March 23— a surreal new Western in which he stars as the mysterious Man in the Black Hat. But he’s quickly on to talking about the Neil Young Archives, the remarkable online project that he launched last year. It’s a strange and sprawling resource, housing every record that Young has ever released, all the way from The Squires’ early surf songs through his solo folk mastery, past the infamous and fascinating Trans and Everybody’s Rockin’, right up to last year’s lively, vital The Visitor. Everything is, of course, presented in master-quality audio. He’s a famously passionate activist, campaigning against war and Monstanto and corruption and everything in between, but Young’s most public battle over the past few years has been with the technology that stifles audio quality.
It’s all a part of the same whole. Music, Young says, feeds the human spirit, and the mp3-quality audio that we hear on streaming services gives us only a fraction of that sustenance, if any. To understand Neil Young’s relentless (but recently doomed) attempt to bring Pono to the masses, or his commitment to lossless audio in his archives, you have to see what Neil Young sees: a bunch of rich guys in suits are conspiring to screw you out of your God-given right to a soul. He’ll keep fighting against that. How could he not?
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