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'I know I can't sing:' Read Neil Young's full Songwriters Hall of Fame acceptance speech
By
Holly Gordon

Published

September 25, 2017

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"Merci beacoup!" Neil Young said, as he took the stage during his induction to the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame this past weekend.

Young — along with fellow inductees Bruce Cockburn, Beau Dommage and Stéphane Venne — was honoured in a gala Saturday, Sept. 23, during a tribute show that included performances by k.d. lang, Whitehorse, William Prince, Arkells and more.

During his induction, Young gave a heartfelt and humble speech, talking about his songwriting — and how he's still in the thick of it.

Real the full transcription of it below, and scroll down for the video.


Related: Watch k.d. lang's unforgettable cover of Neil Young's "Helpless"


Merci beaucoup!

I don’t have a note, I can just try to read this to you. But I really want to say, songs are like animals. And you really have to be careful with them and sneak up on ‘em and don’t scare them. They’re like rabbits; if it’s coming out of a hole, you’re not gonna stand there with a gun. The rabbit will see you and go back down the hole. So you put the gun down, go and sit over there behind a rock, and wait for this song rabbit to come out of the hole. Start sniffing around. And you start sniffing around too, try to be like the rabbit. Be cool.

Songs are like that. So, you know, I have a deep respect for the source and thank you so much. I’d like to thank the great spirit for letting me be here tonight with all of you wonderful people, thank you. I wanna say also that I’m very proud to be Canadian and proud to be here with y’all.

I know I’ve travelled a lot and I’ve had a lot of chances to stay places and I have stayed in some places for a long time. But I’ve always been a Canadian citizen, I’ve never been another citizen of anywhere else, even though I love the U.S.A. By the way, in my messages, they’re already great.

So anyway, I just want to thank you so much and I don’t know what to say 'cause I’m still doing this. I was scared to come here in case it ended.

But then I realized whoa shit. We waited so long now my mom and dad aren’t gonna see this. And that’s too bad. But you know, it’s good. I hope you’re getting together up there. I hope so. What the hell. You never know. For those of us who have parents who split up, we always kind of think they’re going to get back together so. They probably are. That’s probably true.

So yeah, I’m still writing songs all the time. It’s funny, some people see me and go, ‘What are you doing now? You still uh’ — you know? But I love to write songs and I started writing another one the other day, and I was saying to my true love, I was saying, you know it feels, they’re still coming, they just keep coming. They don’t care about awards, and accolades. Nothing matters. It just keeps coming. And that’s such a gift; such a great gift.

I don’t know really what to say other than, if you write songs, then good for you. That’s good. If you like yourself and you like writing songs but you’re scared shitless to get out in front of people ‘cause you can’t sing and you have no charisma? Aaaaah [shrugs].

I don’t know if I have charisma or not, I just keep changing. But I know I can’t sing, OK? That’s OK.

But it really doesn’t matter. I’m around the note somewhere. I‘m near it. I know it; it knows me. We’ve been together for a while. Not for long, though. Anyway, you know, songwriting is great, it’s a lot of fun. I can’t imagine getting an award for writing a song, how crazy is that. What do you think, Randy? I don’t know. ‘Taking Care of Business,’ ‘Rockin’ in the Free World,’ what can I say? Winnipeg! It’s great! And Canada is great.

I first started looking at bands and getting into it in Pickering and then I moved — that’s where my dad bought me a ukulele — and then I moved to Toronto for a while and started going to dances and looking at bands. There was a band called the Sultans that played back in the ’60s in Toronto, and I used to follow them around and hang out outside the gig and try to get up and look out in the window and see what I could do. But we always had to leave ‘cause then the fights started in the parking lot, and I was like 12 or something so we had to get out of there.

Anyway, all of these things add up to this wonderful experience, being here with you and getting a chance to thank the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame and all the people who’ve kept it alive and are realizing that it is important to keep it going. And all the great people here tonight, all the wonderful people — Bruce, it’s an honour to be here with you, and I’m really honoured to be here with everyone equally. The audience, the artists, my mom and dad, everybody. Thank you so much.

Neil Young, Sept. 23, 2017

More to explore:

Neil Young's Canada

Here's what you missed at the 2017 Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame

Beau Dommage: the essentials

Q&A: Bruce Cockburn, Bone on Bone

Neil Young: 70 things you need to know about the Canadian rock icon