Neil Young: Some Complexities in His Songs

  • Hidetoshi Tomiyama
Part of the Pop Music, Culture and Identity book series (PMCI)


This chapter begins with a discussion of the ways Neil Young’s cultural identity was perceived from outside of North America, by Japanese critics and fans. From this view his Canadianness is not immediately apparent, nor are the traditional differentiations between the two nations. Indeed, to the Japanese music critic Hisato Aikura, Young’s Canadian origins seemed to have a restrictiveness and homogeneity he had to escape. Tomiyama juxtaposes this with an Asian-Canadian view of Young as an emblem of Canadian identity, in Kevin Chong’s book Neil Young Nation. Based on these observations, Tomiyama engages with Young’s music and lyrics in a way that bypasses idolization of Young and is instead intriguingly open to the difficulties of translation. Including examples of how the lyrics appear in Japanese liner notes, he analyzes the strange word tricks Young tends to use, and the ambiguities that result. Tomiyama contemplates how Young sees America with ‘a foreigner’s vision’. Songs such as ‘Broken Arrow’, ‘Southern Man’ and ‘Cortez the Killer’ show how Young places himself at once inside and outside American culture, in such a way that it remains unclear whether he is critiquing it, displaying its paradoxes, admitting complicity, or merely sitting on the fence.

Works Cited

  1. Aikura, Hisato, Yoshio Okabe, and Eiji Ogura. ‘Dare mo shinanai kuni: Amerika to sono ongaku o kataru’ [‘A nation where nobody dies: talking about the USA and its music’]. Rock of Eiji’s. Music Magazine 41:14 (November 2009): 60–7.Google Scholar
  2. Beatles, The. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Capitol, 1967.Google Scholar
  3. Buffalo Springfield. ‘Broken Arrow’. Buffalo Springfield Again. Atco, 1967.Google Scholar
  4. Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. ‘Helpless’. Booklet in Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. Déjà Vu. Japanese Trans. Kenji Muroya. CD reissue. Japan: Warner Music, 2005.Google Scholar
  5. Dylan, Bob. ‘With God on Our Side’. The Times They Are a-Changin’. Columbia, 1964.Google Scholar
  6. McDonough, Jimmy. Shakey: Neil Young’s Biography. New York: Anchor Books, 2003.Google Scholar
  7. The Rolling Stones. ‘Sympathy for the Devil’. Beggars Banquet. Decca, 1968.Google Scholar
  8. Young, Neil. ‘Pocahontas’. Rust Never Sleeps. Reprise, 1979.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Hidetoshi Tomiyama
    • 1
  1. 1.Meiji Gakuin UniversityTokyoJapan

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