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Neil Young Explains Songwriting: Never Chase the Rabbit

Neil Young
Cameron Spencer, Getty Images

‘Ohio’ was definitely one of the most important songs of its era, and Neil Young took an opportunity to speak of its impact during the recent Book Expo America Convention, during an interview he did in New York City with fellow rock icon Patti Smith.

According to Philipsturner.com, Smith asked the vocalist how the song came about, and the singer recalled the frantic pace that he and the members of Crosby Stills & Nash worked to turn it around. Young explained that the song was a spontaneous response to the tragic events at Kent State and that the members rushed into the studio, recorded the track, and used acetate copies of the song to send out to radio stations so the disc jockeys could have it to play immediately.

He called it “the social networking of its time,” especially as you could only get a handful of plays from an acetate recording before it degraded.

The song’s powerful message still rings true today — Rise Against singer Tim McIlrath used it just last month at a Wisconsin political rally.

Smith also questioned Young about the effortless nature in which he’s able to tell a story in song. The vocalist responded, “I don’t try to think of them. I wait till they come. A metaphor may be that if you’re trying to catch a rabbit, you don’t wait right by the hole … And then the rabbit comes out of the hole, he looks around. You start talking to the rabbit, but you’re not looking at it. Ultimately the rabbit is friendly and the song is born. The idea is, he’s free to come, fee to go. Who would want to intimidate or disrespect the source of the rabbit? And in that way if the song happens, it happens. If it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen. It doesn’t matter.”

Young says that’s why he has periods of prolific creativity and other times where there’s nothing. He adds, “If it doesn’t come to me, I don’t want to have anything to do with it. I don’t want to see it. I don’t want to look for it. I really hate things that people work on. There’s nothing about music that should be ‘working on it.’ There’s no good reason to be something you’re not, or trying to be somebody that you think is good.”

Neil Young’s latest disc, ‘Americana,’ is available now, while his new book, ‘Waging Heavy Peace,’ is expected in October.

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