Neil Young’s relationship with drugs throughout his career has been a significant one. Not in the conventional sense, as you may assume for a rockstar strung out on experimental chemicals, but in the way that Young was surrounded by rockstars and celebrities grappling addiction.
Of course, he dabbled with drugs here and there, but some of Young’s best songs have come when discussing the destruction of drug addiction, most notably ‘The Needle and the Damage Done’, a track found on the 1972 album Harvest. Famously, the lyrics describe the effects of heroin addiction on musicians in Young’s inner circle, including his Crazy Horse bandmate and close friend Danny Whitten, who died the same year the song was released.
The destructive effects of drug addiction would become a theme for Young’s bleak 1975 record Tonight’s the Night, which reflected on Young’s recent past and the overdoses of Whitten and Bruce Berry, a Crazy Horse roadie who tragically passed away in 1973.
Despite the fact that during the early ’70s Young’s life was drastically changed by the overdoses of his two friends, he couldn’t shake the ‘druggie’ image, something that could perhaps be attributed to his importance in the countercultural movement and the fact that he liked a smoke when flower-power was all the rage.
In a 1988 interview with Rolling Stone, Young set about dispelling this myth once and for all. Asked his thoughts on drugs with regards to his ‘druggie’ image, Young responded: “That’s a myth. I mean, how would I have kept this together for so long if I was on drugs? It’d be impossible. You could not do what I have done if you were into drugs. I mean, I used a few drugs.”
Young explained: “I smoked a lot of grass in the Sixties, continued to smoke grass into the Seventies and dabbled around in other drugs. But I never got hooked on… you know, never got out of hand with the harder drugs. I experimented, but I think I’m basically a survivor. I’ve never been an alcoholic. Never used heroin.”
The Canadian troubadour then discussed why he never tried heroin and how he never came into direct contact with it. He recalled: “There was never any heroin directly around me, ’cause people knew how I felt about it. Anything that killed people, I didn’t want to have. Anything that you had to have, that was bigger than you, I’m not for that.”
A musician whose life has been affected in numerous ways by addiction, Neil Young‘s thoughts on the topic are essential.
Listen to ‘The Needle and the Damage Done’ below.