The world of music relies on the effects of a back and forth relationship between artists. Music is a common bank, for everyone to tap into, and take what they can from it. Musicians take inspiration from a wide variety of sources, and music is such an intricate patchwork that if you were to erase one figure from its history, by proxy, you’d also wipe the existence of many others. There’s a knock-on effect inherent to music that you don’t get to such a significant extent in the other creative disciplines.
A side effect of this, of course, is the way that musicians who are cut from the same cloth in terms of genre will often shower praise all on one or a handful of artists, all of whom are cited as the main inspiration for a proliferation of different subgenres and subcultures. One only has to think of The Kingsmen’s ‘Louie Louie’ and Link Wray’s ‘Rumble’ to heed this, or if we’re getting more niche, you can trace a lot the most critical alt-rock to Siouxsie and The Banshees 1978 record, The Scream.
However, on the flip side, we get some musicians who totally surprise us when they break from the media image they’ve created for themselves, showering love on an artist you wouldn’t necessarily expect them to like, or even someone whom you have thought they’d actively hate.
One instance in which a musician completely shattered their image came in 1994 when the lyrical mastermind of proto-punks The Velvet Underground, Lou Reed, lavished the kind of praise on Neil Young that seemed almost unnatural for a man known to be so cold.
Reed, the man famed for being difficult, and the enemy of journalists everywhere, revealed that he loved Neil Young’s guitar playing on 1975’s ‘Danger Bird’ so much that it caused him to cry.
In David Downing’s 1994 book, A Dreamer of Pictures, Reed is mentioned for stating that he considered the guitar playing on ‘Danger Bird’ to be the best he’d ever heard. Of the song, he said: “It makes me cry, it is the best I have heard in my life. The guy is a spectacular guitarist, those melodies are so marvellous, so calculated, constructed note to note… he must have killed to get those notes. It puts my hairs on end”.
Given that he was famed for his artistic minimalism, there’s no surprise that Lou Reed was really moved by Young’s guitar work on ‘Danger Bird’, after all, it’s one of his most seminal pieces of guitar work in his entire back catalogue. The most surprising thing about this anecdote is just how much it moved Lou Reed. That is the power of Young’s emotive songwriting and guitar work.
A metaphor for a doomed relationship, the song is famously about the break up of Young and Carrie Snodgress, the mother of his son Zeke. A heartbreaking song about him discovering her infidelities, it leaves a mark on all those who listen. It is a testament to Young’s writing that he managed to bring the notoriously stoic Lou Reed to tears.
Listen to ‘Danger Bird’ below.