Neil Young is crankier than a hermit being stung by bees. He hates Spotify. He hates Facebook. He hates Apple. He hates Steve Jobs. He hates what digital technology is doing to music. 'I’m only one person standing there going, "Hey, this is [expletive] up!" ' he shouted, ranting away on the porch of his longtime manager Elliot Roberts’s house overlooking Malibu Canyon in the sunblasted desert north of Los Angeles. The dial thermometer at the far end of the porch indicated that it was now upward of 110 degrees of some kind of heat. Maybe the dial was stuck.
When you hear real music, you get lost in it, he added, '[because it sounds like God.' Spotify doesn’t sound like God. No one thinks that. It sounds like a rotating electric fan that someone bought at a hardware store.
No one in their right mind would choose to live in the canyons outside Los Angeles, especially in the summertime between noon and five. There isn’t enough water or shade. After a few months of summer heat, the scrub on the mountainsides is baked dry. Then someone gets sloppy with a stray cigarette butt or a campfire or the power company fails to maintain a power line and a spark accelerates into a terrifying wildfire that sends up pillars of thick smoke that from a distance hovers over the canyons like an illustration from an old Bible. News crews record burning mansions, which are intercut with the winsome llamas of the rich and famous that have been safely removed to Zuma Beach. Stragglers are incinerated in their cars.
The view was incredible, though. Young has been living up here on and off for decades. At one point, he owned more than 1,000 acres of much-coveted Malibu real estate, where movie producers and actors and billionaire tech tycoons build mansions with supersize swimming pools, grotesque advertisements of corruption and hubris, which are some of the major sins that Young rails against.
I enjoyed listening to Young rant on about the modern condition. We were vibing. He is passionately opposed to global warming, genetically modified seeds, corporate greed-heads who are despoiling Mother Nature and an assortment of other sinners who interfere with our God-given right to happiness. His ire this afternoon, directed through me and my notebook and my Sony digital recorder, was focused on the engineers of Silicon Valley, against whom he has been zealously waging war for decades. Silicon Valley’s emphasis on compression and speed, he believes, comes at the expense of the notes as they were actually played and is doing something bad to music, which is supposed to make us feel good. It is doing something bad to our brains.
The same goes for everything else that Silicon Valley produces, of course: the culture of digital everything, which is basically a load of toxic, mind-destroying crap. It’s anti-human.