These past few months, I've been doing a lot of reading and research about Neil Young for a book I'm writing about him due to be published next year. And I've been learning a whole lot about him — including a surprising amount of information for the first time.
Anyway, in conducting this research, and in reacquainting myself with Neil's amazing story, one thing has struck me above all else. Perhaps it is because of just who he is, or maybe just because he was in the right place at the right time, but as he was working his way up to become an iconic/legendary artist, Neil Young managed to find himself planted dead center in the middle of not one, but several locally based "scenes" that would go on to alter the course of popular music.
He was there in Canada — in Fort William and in Toronto, Ontario — when folk music and rock and roll began to coalesce itself into the hybrid sound that would eventually produce such influential artists as Joni Mitchell on the one hand and the Band on the other (not to mention Young himself).
He was there once again when the American West Coast began to similarly merge these sounds in the mid-'60s to produce the folk-rock boom which gave birth to the Byrds and to Young's own band with Stephen Stills, the Buffalo Springfield.
Neil Young was also there when this same sound evolved into the beautiful, trademark four-part harmonies of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young — the country/folk-rock supergroup who provided the eventual blueprint for every West Coast country-rock band which would follow in their wake, from the Eagles and Poco on down through latter-day midwest acolytes like the Jayhawks and Wilco.
Anyway, this article is not so much about Neil Young per se, as it is about these geographically indigenous music communities themselves, as well as the many others which both preceded and followed them.
So the big questions here are these: first, how did a guy like Neil Young stumble into such preordained scenes in the first place (and was it actually by accident or, rather, by design), and second, are such localized, organically grown cultural movements even possible within the music landscape of today?
The short answer is, at least in the case of Neil Young, no! Absolutely none of these things happened by accident. Neil Young, in fact, played a major role in helping to shape the future of every movement in which he ever found himself involved.
As for lightning being able to strike twice, history proves that such is absolutely possible, but conditions have to be absolutely right.