Rock star Neil Young discusses his cars — their personas, his personal relationships with them, and his rituals with them. It shows some huge potential for other kinds of rituals in this area. There are rich materials for a designer to draw upon, to make this human-car relationship even more special.
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
It may be the biggest rock ‘n roll cliche there is – a love of cars and women.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “HIT THE ROAD”)
NEIL YOUNG: (Singing) She looks so beautiful with her top down. Let’s jump inside, and take a trip to town.
SHAPIRO: Neil Young already wrote one successful memoir about his life as a rock star. Now he has another book all about the cars he’s loved. It’s called “Special Deluxe.” Neil Young paused mid-tour in Philadelphia to come talk with us. And I asked why he felt the urge to write a second memoir just two years after the first one.
YOUNG: Well, the first one didn’t spend enough time on my cars. I had a lot of cars. And I commiserate with them very often.
SHAPIRO: A lot of cars – do you have any idea what the total number was?
YOUNG: There’s way too many – way, way too many.
SHAPIRO: So I think people who are enthusiastic about cars don’t often begin with a hearse. And yet, very early in your life, you had a very close relationship with not one, not two but three hearses. Tell me about the first in the line.
YOUNG: Well, most people have a relationship with a hearse at the end of their life.
SHAPIRO: (Laughter) That’s true.
YOUNG: But I started – my first car was hearse, and, you know, I used it to carry my band equipment around. And I had rollers in the back, and the amplifiers would slide in and out very easily just like the coffins used to. And I think the hearse itself was a very happy hearse to be kind of, like, reassigned.
SHAPIRO: This hearse had a great name.
YOUNG: Mort. Mort Hearseberg.
SHAPIRO: You even wrote a song about Mort Hearseberg.
YOUNG: Yeah. Yeah, I did. “Long May You Run.”
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “LONG MAY YOU RUN”)
YOUNG: (Singing) We’ve been through some things together with trunks of memories still to come. We found things to do in stormy weather. Long may you run.
SHAPIRO: What’s the relationship, generally, between your cars and your music?
YOUNG: Well, cars are, you know, they’re very close to the same thing for me. As a matter of fact, I love listening to music in cars.
SHAPIRO: Why do you prefer to listen to it in the car?
YOUNG: Well, because the scene is always changing. It’s the world’s greatest video. And you’re semi-occupied by, you know, driving the car. So your subconscious is wide open. Your conscious is busy, so you’re not thinking about the music too much. You’re just feeling it.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “LONG MAY YOU RUN”)
YOUNG: (Singing) Long may you run.
SHAPIRO: I like that you say you’ve never been attracted to perfect or expensive or exotic cars. What is it that attracts you to a car?
YOUNG: Soul, design, culture, expression – the one that is probably the most beautiful is a ’47 Buick Roadmaster sedan. It’s called Fastback. It’s just a classic American design. You know, the times were really represented by the cars.
SHAPIRO: Explain what you mean by that.
YOUNG: Well, OK – well, look at a 1959 Cadillac. It has those huge fins and everything is, like, flamboyant. It’s great. It’s like how could you get farther out than this? So it’s like the sky is the limit for trying things.
YOUNG: And that’s like the ’50s.
SHAPIRO: In the first 10 pages of this book, you say that your family’s trips to Florida in the 1950s which shed 1,296 pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere – so we get a hint really early on in this book that your love of cars is really mediated by a concern about their impact on the environment. And I wonder how balance that love and passion for these gas guzzlers with the concern you have about the future of the world.
YOUNG: Well, you know, I had to make some changes. I woke up one morning, and I was a dinosaur. And I realized it. I realized that my way of thinking and my way of looking at things was obsolete.
SHAPIRO: You write a lot about the trials and tribulations of LincVolts. Explain who – what LincVolt is, and how this car seemed to just keep breaking your heart at every turn?
YOUNG: Well, it still is a very unique car. And I love to drive it. It’s a bio-powered electric car that has a generator that runs on biofuel.
SHAPIRO: It’s a big car.
YOUNG: It’s a huge car.
SHAPIRO: It’s a Lincoln, right?
YOUNG: It’s a 62 or 6,300 pound convertible heavy-metal car that gives very little pollution.
SHAPIRO: You poured so much blood, sweat and tears into LincVolt. And there are these stories in the book about, you know, you’re scheduled to go on this TV program or visit with these people, and the car just sort of conks out at the key moment. How’s it working today?
YOUNG: She has a great personality. She’s very much – she’s very fiery that way.
SHAPIRO: It’s interesting. I think about a part of the book very early on where you say you didn’t take to studies in school the way some other students might have. But you studied music so hard. And it almost sounds like late in life you have taken to studying renewable energies with the same vigor that you studied music back then.
YOUNG: That’s right. I can use my power of being somebody that people have heard about in a lot of parts of the world to spread the word and ask some questions. You know what? The main thing in my life right now is to have love in my life and to enjoy life. We need the earth to be able to do that. So when you see the damage that’s being done, and you read what the scientists are telling us, it’s hard to ignore that. It really is hard.
SHAPIRO: That’s Neil Young, rock ‘n roll icon and author of the new memoir about his life with cars, “Special Deluxe.” Neil Young, thanks so much.
YOUNG: Thank you.