The ups and downs of 12 month's in the artist's life
Young and Bolas began work on Storytone several months ahead of its October release. Bolas recalls that they recorded the album’s accompanying solo tracks on June 26 and 27. “About a year ago we were talking about what things he still wanted to do,” Bolas explains. “Among the things he wanted to do was sing in the middle of an orchestra. He called me to say he’d written some new songs, and what did I think. So I booked a couple of days at Capitol with Al Schmitt. I called Lon Cohen, who’s a vintage gear guy, and we filled the studio with all kinds of weird, old instruments that Neil had not played. Ukulele, four string, weird banjos. We got the Storytone piano, an upright piano, resonator, there wasn’t anything that he was used to. He could sit down and there may be something there – you know, every instrument has its own inspiration. We captured the songs then he left for the Crazy Horse tour. I got Michael Bearden and Chris Walden, the arrangers, and came up with charts so when he came back we could jump in a room in September and see what happens. Neil gave me a list of adjectives – ‘big orchestra’, ‘chorale voices’, ‘have it mean something’… The first instruction was, play Michael and Chris the 10 songs and if either guy has a favourite, let them have that. While he was on the road, I would use Facetime and hook him up with the arrangers and talk through the preliminary ideas. When Neil came back, the guys came over to the house and we sat at the piano and played him the original ideas.”
Storytone, then, proved to be yet another experimental album from Young; harkening back, perhaps, to the orchestral flourishes on 1972’s Harvest or the brassy romp of 1988’s This Note’s For You. But the other, equally significant element of Storytone was what was on Young’s mind. On July 29, Pegi Young filed for divorce from her husband; many of the songs seem informed by that separation and also his budding romance with actress and eco-activist Daryl Hannah. The opener, “Plastic Flowers”, seems to capture the early trajectory of his and Hannah’s relationship: “In the summertime / We met to see a threat”, while “Glimmer” basks in the glow of “new love” when “all the feelings in your heart / Come reawakened”. “Like You Used To Do”, meanwhile, bears evidence of a corrosive relationship with a former partner: “I got my problems / But they mostly show up with you,” he sings. “Someday you’ll want me / Someday you’re gonna get back there / Someday you’re gonna need me / Like you used to do”.
Young has frequently documented stages of his life in song – “Journey Through The Past”, “Are You Ready For The Country” and “Old Man” address Young’s relocation to Broken Arrow in 1969, for instance. The unreleased “Separate Ways”, from the Homegrown sessions, deals with his split from actress Carrie Snodgress in the mid-Seventies; Young pointedly repurposed it during the summer Crazy Horse shows. Collateral to all this appeared to be Young’s relationship with David Crosby. Young hadn’t been involved in the release earlier in the summer of the long-delayed CSNY 74 tour box set. In October, Crosby reportedly weighed in on Young’s marriage split; Young responded by ruling out any future CSNY reunions. “He is very angry with me…” Crosby admitted.