He is one of the greatest rock icons of all time, and a musician who has played by his own rules his entire life.
And this week, Neil Young turns 70.
To celebrate the big day, we have gathered 70 fascinating facts about the Canadian legend, from his earliest money-making schemes to his close scrape with death, and from his fascination with model trains to the verse he calls "the lamest [he] ever wrote."
Along the way, we also trace the winding path of his prolific and groundbreaking musical career, from its earliest days to the latest releases.
Scroll through the list to get started.
Neil Young was born in Toronto, Ont., and his middle name is Percival
Young is most strongly associated with Winnipeg, Man., where he lived with his mother later in his childhood, but he was actually born at Toronto General Hospital on Nov. 12, 1945. His full name is Neil Percival Young.
When he was 5 years old, he contracted polio and nearly died
Young contracted polio in the summer of 1951, at the age of five, and when he returned home from the hospital he had to re-learn how to walk.
“I remember him trying to get from one part of the living room to another by hanging onto furniture to keep his balance,” wrote his brother Bob in a letter excerpted in Neil’s biography Waging Heavy Peace. “He was unsure of what had happened with his battle with polio. ‘I didn’t die, did I?’ he said. It was a serious question.”
Canadian music icon Joni Mitchell contracted the disease during the same epidemic.
He had a newspaper delivery route
When he was about 10, Young had a newspaper route. He would get up at six every Sunday morning and drive to the corner of Brock Road and Highway 2 where the papers were dropped. He delivered the Globe and Mail, the newspaper where his father was a columnist.
But his largest source of childhood income was selling eggs
Young's largest source of childhood income was selling eggs from his 50 backyard chickens, which were kept in a henhouse that his neighbour Don Scott helped build. Foxes were a problem, so sometimes he would sleep by the chicken coop in a pup tent to protect them.
Young's first instrument was a plastic ukulele
At the age of 10 or 11, Young began developing a serious interest in music, including rock, country, R&B and doo-wop. He first began to play music on a plastic ukulele.
His first kiss was with a little girl named Marilyn, and he was grateful
His first kiss was on a bridge with a little girl named Marilyn, whom he walked home from school. “What a thrill!” he writes in Waging Heavy Peace. “Thank you, Miss Marilyn.”
When his parents divorced, it had a significant impact on his life
When Young was 12, his father left his mother, and they were later divorced. This was a troubling time for Young, who moved to Winnipeg with his mother. His brother Bob stayed with his father in Toronto.
His first two bands were the Jades and the Squires
His first band was called the Jades, which he formed at Kelvin High School in Winnipeg. His first stable band was the Squires (pictured here), who had a local hit with the song “The Sultan.”
James. Yes, that Rick James
In the mid-1960s, Neil Young was in a band fronted by disco legend Rick James — long before his “Super Freak” fame — in Toronto. They were called the Mynah Byrds. "We did some wild things. It's all very hazy to me now. I'm glad I made it through that stage. It got a little dicey. There were some drugs going on," Young told Howard Stern in an interview. "I remember singing one song for about a day and a half."
When Young wrote 'Sugar Mountain,' a song about the loss of youth, Joni Mitchell responded with the more hopeful 'The Circle Game'
After he left the Squires, Young began working folk clubs in Winnipeg, where he met Joni Mitchell.
Around that time he wrote his hit “Sugar Mountain,” about the loss of youth. Mitchell wrote her song “The Circle Game” in response.
“He had just newly turned 21, and that meant in Winnipeg he was no longer allowed into his favorite hangout which is kind of a teeny-bopper club, and once you're over 21 you couldn't get in there anymore,” remembered Mitchell before performing the concert at Albert Hall in London in 1970.
“So he wrote this song that was called ‘Oh to live on Sugar Mountain’ which was a lament for his lost youth … And I thought, ‘God, you know, if we get to 21 and there's nothing after that, that's a pretty bleak future.’ So I wrote a song for him, and for myself just to give me some hope. It's called ‘The Circle Game.’"
Speaking of 'Sugar Mountain,' it also contains what Young calls 'one of the lamest verses I ever wrote'
On the bootleg album Live on Sugar Mountain, Young says that one of the verses in the song is “one of the lamest verses I ever wrote.” He says he decided to put it in the song “just to give everybody a frame of reference as to, you know, what can happen.”
So which verse was it? “Now you're underneath the stairs/ And you're givin' back some glares/ To the people who you met/ And it's your first cigarette."
In 1966 Neil Young moved to California in a hearse and co-founded Buffalo Springfield with Stephen Stills
In 1966, Young moved to the United States with his friend and bass player Bruce Palmer. They drove to Los Angeles in Young’s black hearse, which he named Mortimer.
There, they co-founded Buffalo Springfield with Stephen Stills, Richie Furay and Dewey Martin.
To this day, the Stills-penned song “For What It’s Worth" — which was actually inspired by a crackdown on young people hanging out on the Sunset Strip — remains one of the most important civil rights anthems of all time.
'Old Man' was written about the caretaker at the Broken Arrow Ranch, which he bought in his 20s
The 1972 song “Old Man” was about the caretaker of the Northern California Broken Arrow Ranch, which Young purchased in 1970. (He paid just $350,000 for 140 acres.)
James Taylor played banjo on the song, and Linda Ronstadt contributed vocals. The caretaker’s name was Louis, and in the movieHeart of Gold, Young tells the story:
“There was this old blue Jeep there, and Louis took me for a ride in this blue Jeep. He gets me up there on the top side of the place, and there's this lake up there that fed all the pastures, and he says, ‘Well, tell me, how does a young man like yourself have enough money to buy a place like this?’ And I said, ‘Well, just lucky, Louie, just real lucky.’ And he said, ‘Well, that's the darndest thing I ever heard.’ And I wrote this song for him.”
Young has a son who has cerebral palsy and is quadriplegic, and he gave Young great strength
Young has three children: Ben and Amber Jean with his ex-wife Pegi, and Zeke from an earlier relationship with actress Carrie Snodgrass. Ben was born with cerebral palsy and is quadriplegic and unable to speak.
Young says that having a son with a severe disability gave him great strength.
"There are so many kids with challenges that are so great, and yet they just keep trying. So if I come up against something that’s hard to deal with, I can handle it," he says in an interview. "And it’s because of him.”
Both Young and his daughter have epilepsy
Both Neil Young and his daughter Amber Jean have epilepsy. Says Young, “Epilepsy taught me that we’re not in control of ourselves.”
In 1986, Young co-created The Bridge School, and has hosted a star-studded annual benefit ever since
In 1986, Young and his then-wife Pegi foundedThe Bridge School in San Francisco, a centre that ensures that children with severe speech and physical impairments can fully participate in their communities.
Every year since, with the exception of 1987, Young has hosted a concert to benefit the school, and dozens of top musicians have performed, among them Pearl Jam, Florence and the Machine, St. Vincent, Elvis Costello, No Doubt, Metallica, Tom Waits, the Kronos Quartet, Josh Groban, Arcade Fire, Foo Fighters, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Lou Reed and more.
The rock icon is a diehard toy train collector
Young is an avid toy train collector, and created an elaborate set with his kids that included hundreds of feet of track, redwood stumps for mountains, moss for grassy fields, and trains that made accurate train sounds.
The set was a bonding experience for Young and his disabled son Ben, who could control the trains, lights and sounds by moving his head.
When the model train company filed for bankruptcy, Young created an investment group and purchased it so it could keep chugging along.
"It's good for everybody," he says of his remarkable creation. "The fact that it’s good for Ben and good for disabled kids only makes it better for everyone else."
When Neil Young plays guitar, he sometimes feels icy cold inside
Sometimes when Neil Young plays his guitar, he feels cold and icy inside. “It's very refreshing. Every breath is like you're at the North Pole. Your head starts to freeze. Your inhalations are big — more air than you ever thought there is starts pouring in. There's something magical about it," he said in an interview. "Sometimes when it happens, you wonder if you're gonna be okay. Can you handle it?”
In the early '90s, he was declared 'The Godfather of Grunge' — and the admiration was mutual
In the ‘90s, as bands such as Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden made waves around the world, Neil Young was dubbed “The Godfather of Grunge” for his gritty sound. But the admiration clearly went both ways. In his Rock and Roll Hall of Fame speech in 1995, he specifically named Kurt Cobain. “I’d like to thank Kurt Cobain for giving me inspiration to renew my commitments,” he said.
In 1994, Young was nominated for an Oscar
In 1994, Young was nominated for an Academy Award for his song "Philadelphia" from the film of the same name. Bruce Springsteen won the award for "Streets of Philadelphia" from the same film, and it was presented by Whitney Houston. In his acceptance speech, Springsteen said, "Neil, I gotta share this with you.”
Young co-founded Farm Aid, and in 1985, put on a groundbreaking fundraiser concert
Young was one of the founders of Farm Aid, a benefit concert held Sept. 22, 1985, in Champaign, Ill., to benefit family farmers in the United States. Other organizers included Willie Nelson and John Mellencamp. Among the performers were Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Lou Reed, Billy Joel, B.B. King, Roy Orbison and many more. They raised over $9 million.
Today, Farm Aid continues to host huge annual concerts and support family farmers, and Nelson, Mellencamp, Young and Dave Matthews are all on the board of directors.
To date they have raised over $48 million.
Young grew up going to church, but found peace in paganism
Despite a religious upbringing, Young finds religion in nature — not the church.
“When I was six, I really didn't know what God was. But I did know about Sunday school. I was reading a lot about God, but I was bored. I couldn't wait to get out of Sunday school. God was secondary to the whole thing,” he said in an interview.
“But as time went by, I got more and more angry, to the point where I didn't like religion. Hate is a strong word. But I just kept getting angrier and angrier ... until finally I wasn't angry anymore. I was just peaceful, because I thought: This is not fruitful for me. I rejected the whole thing and found peace in paganism.
"Jesus didn't go to church. I went way back before Jesus. Back to the forest, to the wheat fields, to the river, to the ocean. I go where the wind is. That's my church.”
Young nearly died from a brain aneurysm
In 2005, Young experienced a brain aneurysm that almost took his life. According to his publicist, after performing with the Pretenders at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in New York, Young experienced “visual field disturbances” and was taken to hospital, where an MRI revealed the aneurysm.
But rather than go under the knife right away, Young returned to Nashville to record for a week before the surgery, which was deemed “a complete success.”
The surgery also forced Young to cancel a scheduled appearance at that year’s Juno Awards. "I grew up [in Winnipeg] and was really looking forward to the show as well as spending some time with my old friends and family," Young said in a statement. "Thanks to my doctors, I'm feeling a lot better now so I hope I can get a rain check."
Then he nearly died again from a rare complication
Later, however, Young nearly died from a rare complication from the surgery. “They go into your brain through an artery in your thigh. Later, when I was out of the hospital, my leg exploded. I was out on the street and it just popped," Young recountedin an interview. "My shoe was full of blood. I was in some serious trouble. I was about 50 yards from the hotel and I just made it."
He loves vintage cars — and his first love was a 1953 Buick Skylark
In Waging Heavy Peace, Young talks about the 1953 Buick Skylark that he had loved since childhood.
"It was brand-new and made a large impression on me," he writes, "with its beautifully designed grille, tail-lights and an overall shape that featured a kind of bump or ripple in the lines at about the midpoint, accentuated by a chrome strip that mirrored it."
His collection of cars — which expanded to at least 35 — has included a baby-blue '49 Cadillac convertible, a '53 Pontiac hearse and a '34 Mulliner-bodied Bentley coupe.
But his pride and joy is the revolutionary LincVolt
Young's pride and joy is the LincVolt, an old Lincoln Continental adapted to run on electricity and ethanol — and represents an 86 per cent reduction in emissions.
“Our goal is to inspire a generation by creating a clean automobile propulsion technology that serves the needs of the 21st Century and delivers performance that is a reflection of the driver's spirit,” reads the website for the company, which Young co-founded.
“By creating this new power technology we hope to reduce the demand for petro-fuels enough to eliminate the need for war over energy supplies, thereby enhancing the security of nations throughout the world.”
So far, Young has driven the car over 40,000 miles across the U.S. and Canada.
Rolling Stone put Young high on their list of best guitarists of all time
In 2011, Rolling Stone put Young at number 17 on their list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists.
Wrote Phish guitarist Trey Anastasio, “If I was ever going to teach a master class to young guitarists, the first thing I would play them is the first minute of Neil Young's original ‘Down by the River’ solo. It's one note, but it's so melodic, and it just snarls with attitude and anger. It's like he desperately wants to connect. Neil's playing is like an open tube from his heart right to the audience.”
David Foster said Young's singing on 'Tears Are Not Enough' was 'flat'
Young was a member of Northern Lights — a gathering of great Canadian musicians that included Bryan Adams, Joni Mitchell, Gordon Lightfoot, Burton Cummings, Anne Murray, Paul Shaffer and dozens more who recorded the 1985 charity single “Tears Are Not Enough.” (It was the northern answer to the star-studded hit “We Are the World.”)
Producer David Foster had Young re-record his line, saying his delivery was “a little flat,” to which Young famously quipped, "That's my sound, man."
Young suffers from tinnitus
Young blames his tinnitus — a condition that causes painful ringing in the ears — on mixing too loudly with low-quality digital sound.
For more on tinnitus and how to prevent it, click here.
He only has one Grammy Award for music
Relative to other icons, Young is slim on Grammys, with just two under his belt. One was for best boxed or special limited edition package; the other, his first for music, didn’t come until 2011 for best rock song ("Angry World").
Young has won 11 Juno Awards, including artist of the year in 2011 and best male artist in 2001. In 2000, he was also inducted into Canada’s Walk of Fame. He has also been appointed to the Order of Manitoba and the Order of Canada.
But he's been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame — twice
Young has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice: once as a solo artist in 1995, and then as a member of Buffalo Springfield in 1997.
In his 1995 induction speech, a young Eddie Vedder called Young “a great songwriter, a great performer, a great Canadian.”
Young thanked his mom, his band Crazy Horse, his producers, his manager and the people in the music industry who helped him out.
“Things have been good for me for a long time, so if I look kind of sad, it’s bullshit," he said. "Forget it. I’m good. It’s something about my songs, everybody thinks I’m kind of downbeat.”
There is a spider named after him
In 2007, an East Carolina University biologist discovered a new species of trapdoor spider and named it Myrmekiaphila neilyoungi after the singer, his favourite.
He co-created the Pono music player
In 2014, Young officially launched his Pono music player, an iPod-like device with one key difference: high-quality audio. The tiny player has drawn some big–name backers, including Bruce Springsteen, Eddie Vedder, David Crosby, James Taylor, Tom Petty, Sting and a slew of others — and a Kickstarter campaign that aimed to raise $800,000 in a month raised $1.5 million in the first 24 hours.
He was no stranger to drug use
Young admits to having used drugs, from pot to cocaine. At one point he was arrested along with Eric Clapton on suspicion of using marijuana, and in a film shoot his relationship with cocaine became all too clear.
He was set to play with the Band as part of the legendary Martin Scorsese doc The Last Waltz, but when he came out onstage and began performing, he had a large chunk of cocaine sticking out of his nose.
"He performed with a good-size rock of cocaine stuck in his nostril," the Band drummer Levon Helm wrote in his memoir, This Wheel's on Fire. "Neil's manager saw this and said no way is Neil gonna be in a film like this. They had to go to special-effects people, who developed what they called a 'traveling booger matte' that sanitized Neil's nostril and put 'Helpless' into the movie."
He also lost one of his bandmates to an overdose, and his death inspired one of Young’s best-known songs
Guitarist Danny Whitten, a member of Young's band Crazy Horse, lost his life to heroin on Nov. 18, 1972, and his death affected Young deeply — both because he lost a friend and because he felt partly responsible. The song "Needle and the Damage Done" is also about Whitten.
“[We] were rehearsing with him and he just couldn't cut it. He couldn't remember anything. He was too out of it. Too far gone. I had to tell him to go back to L.A. 'It's not happening, man. You're not together enough,'" remembered Young in a 1975 interview with Rolling Stone.
"He just said, 'I've got nowhere else to go, man. How am I gonna tell my friends?' And he split. That night the coroner called me from L.A. and told me he'd ODed. That blew my mind. F--king blew my mind. I loved Danny. I felt responsible. And from there, I had to go right out on this huge tour of huge arenas. I was very nervous and insecure.”
In recent years, Young has ditched the drugs and booze, and has gotten to know himself
“The straighter I am, the more alert I am, the less I know myself and the harder it is to recognize myself. I need a little grounding in something and I am looking for it everywhere,” he writes inWaging Heavy Peace.
“I did it for 40 years,” he elaborated in an interview with the New York Times. “Now I want to see what it’s like to not do it. It’s just a different perspective.”
He's been on the cover of Rolling Stone more times than any other Canadian musician
Young has been on the cover of Rolling Stonemagazine more times than any Canadian musician, a total of seven times — twice with Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, and five times as a solo artist. Along with dozens of top musicians, he also appeared on the cover of a special anniversary edition of the magazine.
Want to know which other Canadians have made the cover? Click here.
When his bus caught fire and burned out, he gave it a proper burial
When his beloved customized tour bus, Pocahontas — which he called “the most outrageous bus in history” — caught fire and burned out, he had its remains taken to his ranch and buried in a eucalyptus grove.
Young has pulled his music from all streaming websites
In 2015, Young pulled all of his music from streaming websites — not because of the poor paycheques, but of the poor audio quality.
"I don't need my music to be devalued by the worst quality in the history of broadcasting or any other form of distribution," the Canadian rocker said in a post on his Facebook page. "I don't feel right allowing this to be sold to my fans. It's bad for my music."
The internet has changed the way Young tests new songs — and not for the better
“Any experiment I try onstage is thrown up on YouTube, where people who think they know what I should be doing start shooting holes in it before it's even finished," he writes.
"This is the single most daunting challenge the internet has provided, along with all the good things. The stage used to be my lab, where I could experiment in front of a live audience and see how it reacted and – more important – how I felt while I was doing it … now I try to work things out in private while I develop ideas. That way I have a chance to present the first time to a large audience. Unfortunately, that is not as adventuresome for me."
Young has only had 1 number 1 single
Despite his rock icon status, Neil Young has only ever had one number one single on the BillboardHot 100 chart in the U.S. and Canada, and it was 1971’s "Heart of Gold.” He’s never had a number one song in the U.K.
According to Billboard, his top-selling album wasLive at Massey Hall 1971, which was released in February 2013.
The Lynyrd Skynyrd hit 'Sweet Home Alabama' is a response to Young's song 'Southern Man'
The Lynyrd Skynyrd hit “Sweet Home Alabama” scolds Young for his song, “Southern Man,” which criticizes racism in the southern U.S.: “Well I heard mister Young sing about her. Well, I heard ol' Neil put her down./ Well, I hope Neil Young will remember/ s Southern man don't need him around anyhow.”
Interestingly, Young has said he likes the song, and has covered it himself. Of his own song, he wrote: “My own song ‘Alabama’ richly deserved the shot Lynyrd Skynyrd gave me with their great record. I don’t like my words when I listen to it today. They are accusatory and condescending, not fully thought out, and too easy to misconstrue.”
Young's former label, Geffen, once sued him for not sounding enough like Neil Young
In 1984, his longtime label, Geffen Records, sued Young for $3 million — in effect for not sounding enough like himself. Young counter sued for $21 million. Eventually, both suits were dropped. ''The truth is I fought with him because I wanted him to do better work,'' Geffen said afterward. ''I was taking too much of a fatherly role in his life.''
Young has a luxurious Hawaiian oceanfront estate — and it can be yours for just $24.5 million
The tropical paradise features a whopping 830 feet of ocean frontage, a 1920s mansion and two guest cottages boasting nine bedrooms and eight baths, as well as two greenhouses, a terraced vegetable garden, a pool house and more. (To see all the photos, click here.)
Located on the Big Island, the three-acre estate also features lush fruit trees, including coconut, papaya, mango, pomelo and more.
His song 'Let's Roll' was a tribute to 9/11 heroes
Young's patriotic anthem “Let’s Roll” was inspired by the heroism shown during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the U.S.
Specifically, it’s about the passengers on United Airlines Flight 93 who overpowered a group of al-Qaeda hijackers. The plane landed in a field in Pennsylvania, killing all on board, but the passengers likely averted a much larger disaster, as investigators suspect the attackers were heading the plane toward Washington, D.C.
In addition to being a legendary musician, Young is a film director
Unbeknownst to many music fans, Young has a side career as a film director, writer and, more recently, documentary producer. He directed or co-directed several films including Journey Through the Past (1973), Rust Never Sleeps (1979), Human Highway (1982), Greendale (2003) and CSNY/Déjà Vu (2008) under the name Bernard Shakey.
CSNY played the notorious 1969 free concert at Altamont, and Young was terrified
The Rolling Stones are most closely associated with the notorious 1969 free concert at Altamont Speedway, where there were multiple deaths and scores of injuries, but Young was also there with CSNY — and was very nervous as they drove through the audience, heading for the stage.
“The pickup crawled through the crowd. The yelling continued. I was trying to disappear into the glove compartment of the truck’s dashboard,” he wrote in Waging Heavy Peace. “It was surreal, and Fillini should have been there to film it.”
You'll never see his songs in product ads
Young has never allowed his music to be used for commercial endorsements, and he even wrote the song "This Note’s For You” to criticize the practice. “Ain't singin' for Pepsi/ ain't singin' for Coke,” he sings. “I don't sing for nobody/ makes me look like a joke.”
And he really doesn't like it when politicians use his songs
This year, Donald Trump used Young's hit "Rockin' In The Free World" at a campaign rally and the musician was none too pleased.
"I do not trust self serving misinformation coming from corporations and their media trolls. I do not trust politicians who are taking millions from those corporations either. I trust people. So I make my music for people not for candidates," he said in a statement.
Trump fired back, calling Young "a total hypocrite" and claiming that Young had come to him looking for money for a project.
The song, incidentally, was never meant to be a patriotic anthem; rather, Young intended it as harsh criticism of the George W. Bush administration.
Young knew Charles Manson, and even recommended him to his record label
Young knew Charles Manson before his murder convictions, and says he was such a good songwriter that he even recommended him to his record label, Reprise.
“I said he’s good. He’s just a little out of control,” remembered Young in an interview (see video below). “But when he got turned down, that would really piss him off. He didn’t take rejection well.”
Young's song “Revolution Blues” is also about Manson. “I played it for Crosby and he said don’t sing about that. That’s not funny.”
Neil Young will never, ever, ever play with Crosby, Stills and Nash again — really
"Playing with Stills and Nash in that band was really great," he said in an interview. "I wish [Crosby] the best with his life. There's love there. There's just nothing else there. [A reunion] will never happen. Never happen, no, not in a million years.”
Bono once gave Young advice on how to make his music more commercially viable
“I sung all the songs in Greendale," Young said. "And Bono commented that the songs needed hooks that went over and over again and more people could hear them."
Needless to say, Young did not heed the U2 frontman’s advice.
He split from his wife of 36 years and is now romantically linked with Splash star Daryl Hannah
In 2014, Young split with Pegi, his wife of 36 years. He has since been romantically linked withSplash star and environmental activist Daryl Hannah.
Former bandmate David Crosby slammed Young online, and called Hannah a “purely poisonous predator.”
Crosby later apologized. “I was completely out of line. I have screwed up massively,” he said. “I'm screwed up way worse than that girl. Where do I get off criticizing her? She's making Neil happy. I love Neil and I want him happy."
Neil Young is a golfer
Young is no stranger to the links, and his mother was a local amateur champion in Canada.
Upon arriving in Los Angeles in 1966, Youngreportedly told record executive Ahmet Ertegun, "I'm a golfer. Can you get me in a country club out here?"
But his golfing interests began much earlier: as a child, Young lived across the street from a golf course and sold balls he found to the golfers there.
He also loves paddleboarding
The rock icon also loves paddleboarding — even though the paparazzi is lurking.
"I'm going out paddleboarding with my girlfriend tomorrow morning," he said in an interview. "It's a beautiful thing … I can't worry about the paparazzi. You can't see them anyway. They are taking pictures from behind trees. You can't think about that."
In 2014, he recorded an entire album live with a full orchestra
Young still takes on new musical challenges. In 2014, he released his album Storytone, which herecorded live with a 90-piece orchestra with no overdubs.
“Be great or be gone. That's what my producer David Briggs always said. You only have one shot at a time and you can't go fix it. I knew where I wanted to go with the songs, and the orchestra had charts and an arranger and everything,” he said in an interview. “We did it live in the room like Sinatra."
Neil Young played Woodstock, but you won’t see much footage of his performance
Shortly after Young joined CSNY, they played Woodstock — and Young was so furious with the cameramen on the stage that he refused to let them film him.
"They didn't have to be right there on the stage," he said in an interview. "They're cameras, hello! Use zoom, dickhead. We were playing music and there's some jerk standing there in black clothes. We're playing music, get out of there."
He is very much against agribusiness and, in particular, the multinational company Monsanto
In 2015, Young released The Monsanto Years, a concept album that targets agribusiness — and in particular, the multinational agrichemical company Monsanto.
The project was a collaboration with Willie Nelson’s sons Lukas and Micah, as well as Promise of the Real. A film documenting the recording process was also released.
The album garnered reviews from raves — including a perfect five stars from the Guardian — to faint praise.
Needless to say, Monsanto was none too pleased. "Many of us at Monsanto have been and are fans of Neil Young. Unfortunately, for some of us, his current album may fail to reflect our strong beliefs in what we do every day to help make agriculture more sustainable,” read a statementfrom the company.
“We recognize there is a lot of misinformation about who we are and what we do — and unfortunately several of those myths seem to be captured in these lyrics."
Young is known for having a hot temper, and abruptly ending relationships
Young admits that he can have a quick temper, and that he has broken off many relationships with little warning.
At one point he was on tour with Stephen Stills, and decided to end it. But instead of talking with Stills, he simply left and famously sent Stills a telegram that read, "Funny how some things that start spontaneously end that way. Eat a peach, Neil."
His song 'Ohio' was a response to the Kent State massacre
Young has always written politically fuelled songs, and his song “Ohio” is one of the most famous. He penned it in response to the Kent State massacre on May 4, 1970, where four student protesters were shot and killed by Ohio National Guardsmen. Young immediately released the single, even though CSNY’s “Teach Your Children Well” was still climbing the charts.
In 2014, Young joined Canadian First Nations in their opposition to oil sands expansion
“Canada is trading integrity for money,” Young said ahead of his four-date Honor the Treaties tour. “That’s what’s happening under the current leadership in Canada, which is a very poor imitation of the George Bush administration of the United States, and it’s lagging behind on the world stage. It’s an embarrassment to many Canadians. As a Canadian, I felt like I had a chance to do something by bringing this together.”
Young also travelled to First Nations territories to meet with the people who are most affected by oil sands development.
“I met the chief and went into the homes where the First Nations’ people were living,” Young said. “I also went to the tar sands and drove around the tar sands in my electric car, experiencing this unbelievable smell, this toxicity in my throat, my eyes were burning. And the smell started 25 miles away from the tar sands and got more intense. My son who has cerebral palsy and has lung damage, he was wearing a mask to keep the toxic things in the air out of his lungs.”
Young's anti-tar sands stance both won accolades from environmentalists, and cries from some of his longtime fans who weren't of the same opinion.
Recently, Young also teamed up with famed Canadian environmentalist David Suzuki, donating $100,000 to his star-studded Blue Dot Tour, and pushing for environmental rights to be enshrined in law in Canada.
He likes amps that go to 12
Spinal Tap may boast that their amps go to 11, but Young's go to 12.
In a 1992 interview with Guitare & Claviers, he talked about his Fender Deluxe Tweed, which he called the "backbone of [his] sound."
And, despite the raw fury of his music, Young says he doesn't harm guitars in the process.
"I've never broken guitars by playing them. In fact, I'm very gentle with them. I don't think I have to break a guitar to get a violent sound."
Young once collaborated with Devo, and it was even weirder than you might think
In one of the odder rock world match-ups, Young joined forces with Devo in Young’s film Human Highway, a comedy set in a gas station diner next to a nuclear power plant, where the employers and customers are unaware that it’s the last day on Earth. Young plays Lionel Switch, the garage mechanic, while Dennis Hopper was the cook. He spent $3 million of his own money on the production.
In the 1980s, Young released a rockabilly record — and it was his shortest-ever album for a reason
In 1983, Young released Everybody’s Rockin’, an album of rockabilly songs and covers that he recorded with the Shocking Pinks. It was just 25 minutes long, but it wasn’t because Young was lacking material. Rather, his record label was so angry at how uncharacteristic the sound was that they cancelled the record sessions and simply released what they had.
At the time, the album was widely panned, and was a commercial flop, but the song “Wonderin’" and its vintage car-heavy video are oddly unforgettable.
He has had the same manager since the late 1960s
Famed manager Elliot Roberts (pictured, far right) has steered Young’s career since the 1960s.
"Neil likes quirky people around him," said Roberts in the Neil Young biography Shakey. “I think having quirky people around him lessens — in his mind — his own quirkiness. 'Yes, I am standing on my head, but look at these two other guys nude standing on their head.’”
He's willing to poke fun at himself
Young takes his music very seriously, but he also has a sense of humour. Earlier this year, he joined Jimmy Fallon for a duet with himself.
Young hasn't lived in Canada for 50 years, but he's still Canadian
Despite the fact that he has lived in Northern California since the 1960s, Young has retained his Canadian citizenship.
And he has released an astonishing 40 solo albums
His first was his self-titled album, released on his 23rd birthday in 1968. His most recent was The Monsanto Years, released almost 50 years later on June 29, 2015.
On Nov. 12, 2015, Neil Young turned 70. Happy birthday, Neil, and long may you run!