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Neil Young on the "powerful" essence of Bob Dylan


Neil Young and Bob Dylan’s relationship is a rich entity that tugs on the heartstrings of every music lover. They have mountains of respect for each other, both artistically and from a human perspective. Young was there to play with Dylan in 1988 after a tumultuous period in his career, and he’s in awe of his friend’s “powerful” essence.

They both first became friends in the early ’70s, and the spark was there from the first moment the two powering creative minds collided. The pioneers shared similar music beliefs, and together, they changed the face of songwriting, which they elevated as the ultimate art form.

The duo immediately got close and were confidantes of one another in many respects. Dylan and Young first took to the stage together in 1975 when they appeared on the same line-up at Bill Graham’s Students Need Athletics, Culture and Kicks (SNACK) show at Kezar Stadium in San Francisco. An evening which proved to be a night for the history books thanks to their sensational performance.

When Young broke through, he was billed as the air to Dylan’s throne when he arrived as a solo artist in the wake of CSNY splitting up and his emergence in his own right. He’s never let the comparisons to the bohemian icon intimidate him, and Shakey also proved that he was no Dylan prototype but a potent talent in his own right.

However, it’s safe to say he has never been shy to show his admiration for the freewheelin’ one, often referencing him as a direct influence on his own career. In fact, during an interview with Time in 2005, he said: “He’s the master,” when discussing Bob Dylan. “If I’d like to be anyone, it’s him. And he’s a great writer, true to his music and done what he feels is the right thing to do for years and years and years.”

Young added: “The guy has written some of the greatest poetry and put it to music in a way that it touched me, and other people have done that, but not so consistently or as intensely.”

He went further in his praise during an appearance on The Charlie Rose Show in 2008 when Young discussed Dylan’s heavenly songwriting and hailed its “powerful” essence.

“I love Bob Dylan, I think he’s great,” Young notes. “From the very beginning, I knew he was great.” The singer then adds how just the day before the interview, he passed an “African-American” man who is aged “around 30”, listening to ‘Like A Rollin’ Stone’ in his car and singing it at full blast without a care in the world. The universal appeal of Dylan struck Young, who became lost in wonderment.

“This is the essence of his feeling, and everything, that moment when he was writing that song,” Young adds. “I went, ‘Wow, that is so powerful’, you can’t keep that. It comes and goes through you. You can’t strive to be that. There’s no way you own it.”

Shakey’s abstract explanation of Dylan’s otherworldly songwriting skills is perhaps the nearest clarification that we’ll ever get to how those songs oozed out of a human brain, and sometimes it feels like divine intervention is the only reasonable decoding of his talent.