Javascript is not enabled.

Javascript must be enabled to use this site. Please enable Javascript in your browser and try again.

Skip to content
Content starts here
CLOSE ×
Search
Leaving AARP.org Website

You are now leaving AARP.org and going to a website that is not operated by AARP. A different privacy policy and terms of service will apply.

Neil Young on His New ‘World Record,’ Beck NFL Ad Controversy and Converting Kanye to Climate Action

The rock hero also has a 50th-anniversary ‘Harvest’ reissue and a documentary, ‘Neil Young: Harvest Time’

Neil Young
Neil Young
Joey Martinez

At an age when some rockers are burning out, Neil Young (77) couldn’t be more fired up, about music, the planet and the power of love. Those passions converge on his new album, his 12th in 10 years, World Record, released Nov. 18. It’s backed by Crazy Horse (his sometime band since 1968) and produced by Rick Rubin (who’s famous for crafting landmark albums with everyone from Run-DMC to Johnny Cash). The album examines Earth’s precarious state with pathos, hope, sadness and frustration. Young serves up 10 new tunes, including the joyous, melodic “Overhead,” the heartrending “This Old Planet (Changing Days)” and the scrappy rocker “The World (Is In Trouble Now).”

You can get World Record on digital, CD, cassette and a three-sided double album on vinyl with an etching on side 4. A limited-edition clear vinyl version is available at indie music stores and the Neil Young Archives (where buyers get a free hi-res digital audio download).

member card

AARP Membership — $12 for your first year when you sign up for Automatic Renewal

Get instant access to members-only products and hundreds of discounts, a free second membership, and a subscription to AARP the Magazine.

Join Now

On a bus with his wife, Daryl Hannah, the Godfather of Grunge spoke via Zoom to AARP about World Record and the 50th-anniversary reissue of his classic Harvest.

Neil Young (second to right) with Crazy Horse band members Nils Lofgren (left), Billy Talbot (second to left) and Ralph Molina (right).
Neil Young (second from right) with Crazy Horse band members Nils Lofgren (left), Billy Talbot (second from left) and Ralph Molina (right).
Joey Martinez

How do you explain your enduring chemistry and compatibility with Crazy Horse?

It’s friendship. It’s really a natural thing. After 50 years of making records together, we still have that groove, whatever that is.

You said that World Record entailed “not much thinking but a lot of feeling,” but it contains some of the loveliest melodies you’ve written. How did this album evolve?

The album cover for "World Record" by Neil Young with Crazy Horse.
The album cover for "World Record."
Warner Records

The record was a gift. It came from nowhere. Daryl and I were in Colorado, and I was going for a walk. I was whistling some kind of march song. Then I realized, This is a new melody. The next day I started whistling another melody. I recorded it into my phone. That happened over and over for days and days. Later I thought, I wouldn’t mind making a record with Crazy Horse, and I remembered the flip phone and those recordings. I wrote all the words to the whole record in two days. I never stopped writing and never corrected a word.

It’s sonically fascinating: full of incidental sounds and unexpected instruments — and it’s uncharacteristically not guitar driven.

I only did three songs on guitar. I played chords on a couple of songs as a cloudburst effect. On others, I played pump organ or piano, instruments I don’t ordinarily play. When Nils [Lofgren of Crazy Horse] played guitar, we used the incidental sounds between his playing. Sometimes it sounds like you hear people singing or talking, but it’s not there. We went with it.

The song “Love Earth” is a plea to take care of the planet. So many people believe it’s too late.

I don’t. It’s never too late to love. If you love something, you take care of it. If everyone realized that’s what we need to do, it would be so unifying.

The album sounds like a valentine to the planet as well as a cautionary tale, yet while the situation is dire, your tone is constructive rather than angry.

The future is that we are all together. The present is we are all fighting each other. People hear bad things: Earth is not the same; there’s nothing we can do; we missed the window. It’s scaring them. So they’re overreacting to a feeling, misdiagnosing what’s making them mad and getting mad at everything. The media doesn’t understand or take responsibility for communicating what’s going on because the big picture is not selling. The little picture sells really well. Underneath it all, everyone knows climate change is out of control and we’re doing almost nothing. Eventually world leaders will discuss what’s going on and how we can work together. It’s inevitable.

Entertainment

AARP Members Only Access to Special Entertainment Content

Access curated AARP entertainment articles, essays, videos, films and more

See more Entertainment offers >

“This Old Planet” looks back with nostalgia at a time when nature wasn’t under such stress.

It’s nostalgic because it talks about how a long time ago the seasons were normal. It’s nostalgia for Earth as it can be. I’ve seen the seasons change many times and appreciated the beauty of the leaves changing. These things have a cumulative effect on me. I just feel like we’re all in this. It’s your place and it’s my place. You can do whatever you want to affect this, even if it’s just not leaving your car idling. When I was growing up there were no disturbances like we have now.

(Left to right) Nils Lofgren, Ralph Molina and Billy Talbot of Crazy Horse alongside Neil Young.
(Left to right) Nils Lofgren, Ralph Molina and Billy Talbot of Crazy Horse alongside Neil Young.
Joey Martinez

“Chevrolet” cleverly uses car talk in a personal yarn, but it also reflects your lust for vintage vehicles. How successful have you been in ridding your lifestyle of fossil fuels?

I still have some major challenges. We found R99 fuel, which is renewable diesel. It’s a lot cleaner than anything else. That’s our biggest fossil fuel use. For my old cars, I’m transferring the power to E100, which is ethanol 99 percent. It’s the cleanest fuel on the planet. The problem is it has less range than gasoline, so I need bigger tanks. The beauty of it is we can grow biofuels. The scary part of that is people think we can grow lots of it. Of course, it would mean GMOs and factory farms. That is destructive to the planet.

As a founder of Farm Aid, you have scrutinized this issue for decades. How bad is it?

In my mind, factory farms started climate change — those bad habits of trying to get more out of the Earth than the Earth would do naturally and accelerating everything to make more money.

Do more artists need to get on board with the environmental movement?

I can’t speak for other artists. I do wish that the energy of Kanye was going toward taking on climate change. I can’t believe how successful some of these young artists are. It makes my career look like I had a paper route. Millions of bazillions of dollars. And to have all that and not use it? I wish the Kardashians had a climate change moment so young people would hear it. I can say it and it won’t get through to them. But I’m not going to stop.

membership-card-w-shadow-192x134

AARP Membership — $12 for your first year when you sign up for Automatic Renewal

Get instant access to members-only products and hundreds of discounts, a free second membership, and a subscription to AARP the Magazine.

Climate concerns have thrown a wrench in your touring plans.

We’ve made arrangements to have R99 fuel to travel with and power the venue. The first thing I think about now is the concession stands. The food comes from factory farms, from pigs piled on top of each other in metal buildings with fans and antibiotics. That’s where the hot dogs come from. Unless I can convince [promoter and venue operator] Live Nation that these venues need to be sustainable, I’m finished. A lot of people who love my music would like to have clean food and not support the infrastructure that created climate change. I don’t want to celebrate the past while endangering the future. If they can’t clean it up, I’m not coming.

You left streaming service Spotify in January after it wouldn’t pull misinformation about COVID vaccines.

I was a little surprised that [Spotify founder] Daniel Ek behaved as he did, talking more about money than anything else. But that’s OK. I don’t judge anybody else for what they do. I will not support people who support misinformation about the virus, which is causing people to die. These people making all this money from lying and being negative, it’s like a media disease.

Beck’s cover of your song “Old Man” for an NFL ad caused a stir because you have always refused every offer to commercialize your music.

It was mismanagement. It was presented to me not correctly, and I didn’t make the right decision. I love Beck. I didn’t know he was doing a football commercial with my song. I don’t think he knew it was a commercial. Somebody made money off it, and it wasn’t me. I don’t want to get paid. I wish it had never happened. Accidents happen.

(Left to right) Rick Rubin and Neil Young
Neil Young (right) with producer Rick Rubin.
Joey Martinez

Few big rock artists have emerged in the last few decades. Hip-hop is the dominant genre, and Billboard says rock peaked in 1983 when it occupied 60 percent of the chart positions. What happened?

Digital happened. That’s when CDs came out. There was a lower level of sound quality. The old music we all were listening to was a universe of sound. It moved our souls. The universe is missing now.

A lavish 50th-anniversary reissue of Harvest is due Dec. 2, along with a documentary, Neil Young: Harvest Time. It was the best-selling album of 1972, and the celebrity status it brought seemed to send you into retreat.

I didn’t understand what was going on. I still don’t understand elements of it. Basically, I try to ignore that because it has nothing to do with what I’m doing. I’m trying to create music. When the music comes, I’m ready and everything else stops. That’s the way I live my life. I’m not hunting for it. I’m not standing over the hole with the gun waiting for the rabbit to come out.