Even Neil Young sometimes has trouble explaining the ever-swerving path of his nearly five-decade career, including such recent left turns as a bizarre concept album about electric cars and a cut-short reunion with his old band Buffalo Springfield. On his latest album, Americana, Young finally joins forces again with the long-dormant Crazy Horse – the brilliantly inept backing band that's helped Young make some of his best and edgiest music – to play garage-rock versions of songs from the folk canon ("Oh Susannah," "This Land Is Your Land"). That choice, at least, he can account for: "Basically, I had no songs of my own," Young says. "And I wanted to play music." He ended up writing an album of original songs as well, due in the fall, to coincide with his first tour with Crazy Horse in eight years.
How do you know when it's Crazy Horse time again?
At some points, the worst thing I could do is play with Crazy Horse. And at other points, it's the only thing I could do – the only thing I should do. So it's really hard. I can't articulate why it's been eight years or 12 years or whatever it's been since I've played with Crazy Horse, but it's the right amount of years, because you have to have a feeling, and you have to be in touch with what it is. You can feel it coming, and when it gets there, you know it didn't just arrive out of nowhere.
Does it take a different kind of physical toll when you play with the Horse, versus the other modes you have?
Absolutely. It's much more physical because of the improvisation. You don't really know where to go with them, and with the Horse, no one knows where they're going. You really have to play it by ear. But it's not that I'm jumping up and down and have my own pogo stick. And the last thing you're going to see me doing is diving into the audience like I'm on some Eighties acid trip. I'm not gonna be moshing. But it's gonna be a good show. It's gonna be [songs from the] past, present, and future. It's gonna be equal opportunity.
You threw the 1950s hit "Get a Job" onto the record. Isn't that out of place on an album of folk songs?
Well, it's very topical. Everybody wants to get a job. Nobody has one. People's wives are pissed off at them that they don't have jobs. And if you listen to that song, to me it sounds like a chain gang. Those are chants. That came from people working. There's a history of America in that song. That song's gonna live forever.
You're writing your autobiography. But you once said that you'd never write one, that "the weakness of an autobiography is the lack of perspective of the person writing it." What changed?
I wanted to try being that weak. And I didn't want a ghostwriter. The idea of a ghostwriter scared the hell out of me. What could be scarier? You go to sleep, and the ghostwriter, where the hell is he, you know? I didn't want to have anything to do with that guy. I've seen his work. He sucks. He keeps changing his name, using other people's names, and putting out pieces of shit that don't work. That scared the hell out of me.
Paul McCartney recently said he can see playing well into his eighties. Is there a time limit for Crazy Horse?
I don't think there is a time limit, but if there is one, we're gonna locate it. We're heading off into the unknown.