Tag Archives: Queen Says “Don’t Try Suicide”

Neil Young Is More Bummed Out By Kurt Cobain’s Death Than You

Rock ‘n Roll icon Neil Young just released an autobiography called Waging Heavy Peace and some of the book’s more choice nuggets are becoming 30 second sounds bytes on the 24-hour news shows.   One such story found in the book (which I haven’t read yet) is about Young’s involvement in the final days (and death) of Nirvana front-man Kurt Cobain.   Cobain’s suicide note famously quoted Young’s 1979 song “Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black).”  Specifically the lyrics, “It’s better to burn out, than to fade away.”  The song was written for RUST NEVER SLEEPS and is about John Lyndon of The Sex Pistols abandoning his “Johnny Rotten” stage-persona.

Basically, a sad, sick kid heard Young’s song, which I’ve always interpreted as about creative death and rebirth, and took it more on face value.  That said, I can totally understand why Neil Young is still to this day shaken up by that.  What I didn’t know (until it came out in Young’s book) is that Young was actively reaching out to Cobain in the days leading up to his death.  Neil Young was recently interviewed by Classic Rock Magazine and reveled that “When he died and left that note, it struck a deep chord inside of me. It fucked with me.  I, coincidentally, had been trying to reach him. I wanted to talk to him. Tell him only to play when he felt like it.”

Neil Young: Rust never sleeps.

Interestingly, Cobain is not the only dead rock star to have interpreted Young’s song on a more literal level.  In 1980, John Lennon told Playboy “I hate it[“Hey Hey, My My “] It’s better to fade away like an old soldier than to burn out.”  Lennon, ever the provocative bastard who was always willing to say what most people might only think, went on to add: “If Neil Young admires that sentiment so much, why doesn’t he do it? Because he sure as hell faded away and came back many times, like all of us. No, thank you. I’ll take the living and the healthy.”

First off all, I think “Hey Hey, My My (Into The Black)” is a fucking amazing song.  I can see how various people, at various stages of life (and metal status) might interpret it in different ways…but in general I think it’s a fantastic work of art that is pretty self-evident.  But if a person is in the wrong mindset (or worse looking for a more sinister reading of the song) can certainly find some really dark shit in Young’s tune.

That said, I personally think that  Young is right, in a creative sense it is better to burn out than fade away.  Lennon’s band The Beatles are a classic example of a group that burned out rather than fade away.  Their albums progressed and their sound evolved to such an astonishingly degree it can scarcely be believed (thankfully we have the records to prove it).   There were other factors at play, but I think part of the reason they broke up was over creative differences.

But I digress.  I know my opinion doesn’t matter, but I don’t think Neil Young should beat himself up too much about Cobain’s death, because it certainly wasn’t his fault.  I can’t imagine what it would feel like to have someone quote you in their suicide note.  All of this just puts Neil Young, and his work as an artist, into perspective and makes me really want to read Waging Heavy Peace.    

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Will Owsley is Dead.

Man this bums me out.  Will Owsley is dead.  I found out about it yesterday, third-hand. I was listening to a really cool podcast, Michael Butler’s Rock and Roll Geek Show, and it was mentioned casually.  Apparently he killed himself back in 2010.  I wish that I was able to write something like “Will Owsley is dead, you might not know who he was, but no doubt you know his music…”  But I can’t write that because you most certainly didn’t know his music.

And I think that on some level, that might be why he’s no longer with us.

But I’m not going to sit here and pretend that I know the reason I man I never met killed himself.  I think it would be a waste of time to trot out the old cliche of the tortured artist who kills himself.  We all toil in obscurity, to some degree, so why should that matter?  Besides, it’s ghoulish to romanticize the suicide of a 44-year-old father of two (his children are so young, the oldest being around 14).  I can’t tell you why Will Owlsey killed himself, but I can tell you why I think he was special.

Will Owsley was a guitarist, first and foremost.  He moved to Nashville and became a side-man in some semi-impressive B-level country acts.  His biggest claim to fame was his stint as a member of Amy Grant’s live band during the early 1990’s.  From there he landed a gig playing for Shania Twain.  It was this modest tour work that allowed Owsley to pay for the recording of his own music, and in 1999 he released his first solo album OWSLEY. Despite coming from a largely country background, OWSELY was a “power pop” album.  Influenced by The Beatles and The Cars, Owsely’s first album was met with critical praise…but little commercial success. Despite the fact that the album was nominated for a Grammy for it’s production.

This is a great fucking record.

OWSLEY is a great record. The songs are all super-catchy.  I would compare OWSLEY to a mid-period Weezer album performed entirely by Ben Folds.  As I re-listen to some of the songs, I notice there is a lot of bitterness mixed in the catchy, sugary lyrics . Maybe I’m reading too much into it. Maybe I’m projecting my knowledge of his death onto a simple pop artifact.  That’s a good word to describe OWSLEY, “artifact.”

I remember the first time I heard it in 2004, I felt like an archeologist who’d just unearthed a long lost treasure.  When the punk-y album opener “Oh No The Radio” blastedg out of my car’s stereo I was in heaven.  Top-to-bottom I was impressed with the record, and when it was finished I hit ‘play’ again.  It was that good.

I was soon excited to learn that Owsley had recorded and released a follow-up album a few months before I’d initially stumbled upon him.  So as soon as I’d  sufficiently absorbed OWSLEY I went and bought THE HARD WAY.  I can still remember the first time I played THE HARD WAY and was floored at how…different Owsley’s voice sounded.  I still can’t put my finger on it, but it was different.  Deeper and less playful. Once I got over the slight difference in the vocals (I blame auto-tuneing), I was once again impressed with the songwriting.  THE HARD WAY was more rock and less-pop, but good nonetheless.  Of course, it was a sophmore album, so there were a few clunkers (like “Dude” which is too serious to feature such prominent use of the word dude).

I was always on the look-out for Owsley, determined to see him live.  But if there was a tour for THE HARD WAY it never came to city near me. The songs were all good, but not what was being played on the radio.  No one I ever met seemed to have heard of him.  Indie online label Not Lame Records were big supporters online, and his records are highly rated on serious music websites, like AllMusic.  Bit he never got much attention elsewhere.    I’ve been a fan of small, independent bands for a long time, so I knew the drill–a really good band/songwriter puts out a killer album, it gets overlooked and he/she/it/they are never heard from again.  The fact that Owsley got to put out a second record meant that he’d had SOME measure of success, but not the kind that makes you famous.

I never forgot about Owsley, but I did move on.  Apparently he put out a digital-only double single in 2005 “Psycho” and “Upside Down” but I’ve never heard them.  Owsley spent the last five years of his life backing super-lame, but more successful Disney-brand artists like The Jonas Brothers and Miley “The Virus” Cyrus. It makes me sick because they weren’t even in his league, not by a mile.  But that’s the “business” part of show business, I guess.

Anyway, I guess I’m done eulogizing someone I never met.  Instead, let me turn you onto some awesome songs. Let me introduce to Owsley:

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