The Story Of The Song Neil Young Wrote About Rock n’ Roll
Neil Young live in 2009 - DrSalvadoctopus / Youtube
Neil Young has lived through several musical trends. With over seven decades under his belt, the Canadian musician is one of the most knowledgeable experts on contemporary music. Young has worked both as a solo artist and as part of a band, so he definitely knows what it’s like to be on both sides of the industry.
There’s no denying that Young’s life experiences have informed his music, which includes some of rock’s most moving moments. One of the key reasons for Young’s spectacular rise and continued relevance over the various shifts in the music culture is his unabashedly sincere lyrics.
“Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black),” the album closer from 1979’s Rust Never Sleeps, is one of his most powerful songs. In case you might have heard something about the song yet couldn’t grasp what it was, one of the song’s lines that read “It’s better to burn out than to fade away” was immortalized by Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain, which he included in his suicide note in 1994.
The significance of this Young-penned song was highlighted in an April 2023 interview with veteran journalist Dan Rather for AXS TV. When asked by the host if it’s better to “burn out than or just fade slowly away?” Young neatly explained that the business of rock and roll became one of the inspirations for why he wrote it.
Young explained: “Well, for rock and roll, Jimi Hendrix burned out, okay, bang, he was gone. Kurt Cobain burnt, bang, gone. Buddy Holly, bang, gone. Great Ritchie Valens, bang, gone. They went at their peak, and that’s the way everyone remembers them, and that’s what rock and roll’s all about, that edge, the peak, the thing. So, you look at that and you go, ‘Well, maybe it is better to just burn than it is to fade away – for rock and roll.’”
Young continued that there is quite a difference between life and rock n’ roll, implying that one should not combine both. “This song’s about rock and roll. It’s not about life. Life has children, it has family, it has relationships, it has nature, it has beauty, it has all of these other things that rock and roll is part of. But rock and roll is its own thing. It’s an animal all unto itself. So, I was singing about rock and roll. But for rock and roll, if that’s all you are, and that’s all you wanna do, exploding is not bad. But there’s a lot more to life than just rock and roll.”