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“There are definitely fans out there, but I remain unknown to a lot of people who like my kind of music. I don't know how the universe works, but I have to say my obscurity was almost by some kind of unconscious design.” --- Steve Young
Chapter Nine: A Man and His Philosophy
If you've read this far, you know that Steve Young is a complicated man. His views of the world and life and love are at times congruent with his philosophies and at other times at odds. I came to the conclusion long ago that his journey was not just one of music but one of a spiritual nature. He is a monk with a guitar, always searching for the answer which seldom presents itself. Over many interviews, he graciously handed me an insight into the story behind the musician and the man.
I guess you could call the following quotes leftovers, but they aren't. They, as much as the preceding chapters, are part of the story and the musician and the man. If you read carefully, you might (as I have) pick up some words of wisdom. I tried to organize the quotes by subject. It wasn't easy. Each paragraph is a separate quote, regardless of subject. And please keep in mind that these quotes come from interviews which spanned over a decade.
“I have old war wounds with The South. I see it through very prejudiced glasses. I think there is a lot of truth to what I see, but there may be things that I create or project.”
“Southerners rub me the wrong way. It's the way they sound and what they believe. It's the same old same old. In a way it hasn't changed and in a way it has. It's like the old saying, 'The more things change, the more they stay the same.' Politics, religion, social views, the idea that Christianity is the thing, after all, and if you don't like it, that's tough. That's the biggest thing about The South--- its religious fervor. If you look at the politics of the West Coast and The South, it's obvious. Or even with Middle America. The South has won, in a sense, the philosophical battle of this country. For the moment.”
“Even as a teenager in Alabama I had an unusual ability to see through certain aspects of this fundamentalist religion that was being thrown at me. I attribute it to a past association with The East. The only way I can explain it would be through some kind of past life experience. Even as a kid in Gadsden, I saw and bought a book on Yoga. Why, I don't really know. I was intrigued by The East. I was drawn to it. Later, I read something about Alan Watts. The beatniks were talking about it then and I can see myself as a person of The Beat Generation. I just came along at the tail end of it.”
“My mother's mother was very religious. She was from the old school of backroads Baptists—- fiery stuff. It was imposed on me and still, even today, I have a great deal of anger about it. Even as a small child, though, I saw through it. I could have been a great con man preacher. I could talk that talk. It did have a certain effect on me, making me seek the truth of what is life and death. I ended up being a bit of a Buddhist, really.”
“In the South, you always run into this love-hate deal. The music of the church was very intense. It was an influence--- the emotion of it all, the right or wrong, the good or bad. They had this position and it couldn't help but make an impression on you.”
NASHVILLE AND COUNTRY MUSIC.....
“For me, country music reflects a certain cultural thing that I grew up battling with. I don't like Modern Country at all. I've become more fond, in a way, of the old country stuff; people like Hank Snow or Marty Robbins. Back in the day, I almost laughed at those guys at times, but now I see them more as giants compared to what is going on now. For one thing, I don't know what their particular views were, but the music was not very political. It was more of a storytelling thing and they were more acknowledging of suffering or pain or different things of that nature. And they were all individuals. When you heard them, you knew exactly who it was. They had this sound, this style. These days, Modern Country artists pretty much all blend together for me.”
“I grew up with country music. I can sing country music in my sleep, and I don't particularly like most of it. It reflects that negative culture thing I grew up with. On the other hand, there is some great country music, but for me a lot of it is in the past. I think a song like Dark As a Dungeon by Merle Travis is a song of total integrity and if country music could have more of that, it would be great. But I suspect that rock and folk music have more depth and is more liberal. It is more left-wing, I guess, as opposed to right-wing, for lack of a better description.”
“It's just the way of the world. It has all become more and more empty of anything, it seems, except the image. They have a black hat. They have a certain look. They have a certain sound. In the old days, the guys didn't go away. Once they had an audience, they were loyal to that audience and that audience was loyal to them. I think in Pop and Rock, it has always been pretty much that way, but Country used to be more lasting. A Hank Snow or a Marty Robbins would achieve a certain level and they stayed there for a long time.”
“I used to not like Nashville all that much, but I have to say that I am liking it more because it is changing, at least on the surface. More and more people are coming here from other places. It has always been kind of a cultural void, but there are some nice elements to it. I have lived here so long that I have developed some significant friendships. But there is this Bible Belt thing here too and when I was growing up I was at odds with that. I still bear a certain amount of scar tissue from that.”
TO SATISFY YOU, THE ALBUM.....
“I really wasn't ready to make a record, I think, when that was made. I was just going through the motions. I think there are some good moments on that record, but it may be the worst record I ever made, in a way. For one thing, there was only one original song on it. I don't even know how to explain that record. It just evolved. I certainly loved Mac Gayden and would love to work with him some more. I think there was great magic about his playing and my singing, together.”
“I ran back into my father. He came around and tried to make up for some of his neglect and I got to know him a little bit. I found out that he was an Atheist and a very liberal, free thinking guy for one from the South. He loved nature, was very interested in science and did not buy into the Christian religion at all. For me, he was kind of a romantic and mysterious figure.”
“I didn't grow up with Indians but I feel very close to their view. Their view of the Earth was the most important thing. It wasn't money. It wasn't gold. From their point of view, if there was gold in the Earth, the Earth probably needed that gold. It's almost like Native Americans were from a different planet than the Europeans.”
“I'm totally into Native American music. I was born in North Georgia. People don't realize that that was all Cherokee and Choctaw land. A lot of people around there have Native American blood from way back, though they mostly ignore it. As the Cherokee says, their blood has run out. They don't mean how much blood, they mean their consciousness about it has run out. I was always aware of it.”
“I'm more in touch with my Native American side of consciousness than I am of the other side. And I am fascinated by Native Americans and Mexicans. I like their style. I find it gracious. I feel a certain beauty and truth about these kinds of cultures. And I prefer them to the sanitized, safe white halls of the American myth.”
“I often think that maybe I could go down and manufacture songs. I even talk to people about it sometimes and a little voice just says, are you kidding yourself or what? Why don't you just follow your real vision because that's what you are. But there is all that money and power and, man, they sure do have a lot of money.”
“I've got a lot of songs laying around. Sometimes it takes years for me to present a song. Not just finish it, but present it. The way I work seems to be very organic. I think a good song writes itself and when it is ready to emerge, it does. At least, that's how I think it happens. I mean, you could go out and manufacture songs. That's what they do in Nashville, you know. But those songs are usually not that good. I mean, I make all these promises and statements about how I'm going to become more productive, but I don't seem to be able to change.”
“I absorb Indian music to some extent, but I'm not trying to play it. On my trips to India, I saw more of the folk side. India and Mexico are the two countries in the world which have the greatest body of living folk music and folk culture. India is a place that is beyond words. The best and the worst are all right there in your face at all times.”
“I think my attitude is more radical now than it has ever been. A lot of people, as they age, tend to be less radical, but I have gotten more so. I was never a total hippie or anything like that, but the basic political directions of the Sixties... I always had that and I still have it. It is just the way it has always been for me and that is why I always found myself in trouble in the Deep South.”
“I can't seem to lose my energy. I think I might be better off if I could.”
“My favorite part of the US is the extreme West Coast, from Canada all the way down. I love Oregon and California and, of course, I love New Mexico. I mean, as far as general consciousness, those areas strike me as better than other places or something...”
“The United States, to me, is a kind of ongoing tragedy on the whole. We have so much and so much to choose from. Even the crumbs on the table are better than they are in most parts of the world. So in that way, we have a good life. I don't buy that we're the greatest, the free-est, and we're certainly not the noblest. Because there is no noblest.”
“I think Americans have a false view of the world. They don't understand the suffering of the world, maybe, or maybe we tend to cut it off. Like, we don't have to deal with debt a lot. We're spoiled, we're arrogant, we're everything that's bad. There are a bunch of arrogant people who have inherited a great amount of power and wealth. The people themselves benefit materially from the wealth of this country and they don't understand that the wealth of this country may be based on the poverty of other countries too. They think that if they work hard, they'll make it, but it is not quite like that.”
“Foreigners are quite gracious to Americans one-on-one but underneath they always suspect that the American is spoiled and shallow and superficial. The American is the one most likely to come in and say, here, just do it like this.”
“The Internet has put me in touch with people. It has made me much more aware that I do have fans, that there are people out there who love my music, who have been affected by it. It did a lot for me in that regard. I don't tend to know that. I wouldn't assume that. I'm not aware of my effect on people in that way.”
If you've read this far, you're a fan. If not old, then new. You have gotten to know the man as I have, hopefully through his music as well as his story. If you haven't heard the music, perhaps now is the time. Primal Young is available for streaming on Spotify. Four tracks are posted on Steve's MySpace page. You can sample (and buy) Primal Young and Songlines Revisited Vol. 1 at CDBaby. Be aware that the copies of Songlines are CD-RP, which I believe means that they are reproduced at CDBaby via an agreement with Steve. You can preview (and, I assume, buy) a CD titled Stories Round the Horseshoe Bend, a recent live recording. It is featured on Steve's website page. That link will also take you to Village Records, a store which has supported Steve for some years and which is probably a good place for information regarding any Steve Young product which might be available.
And, just so you don't think I am out for myself, here is a link to an interview conducted by one Trevor McShane. Had I been aware, I might have asked to use a few of his quotes. It is worth a read, for sure. Here is another excellent interview conducted by one Carson Arnold, who also deserves a pat on the back.
I put together this article because I could find very little about Steve on the Internet and thought it was a crime. I hope you agree with me that this begins to solve that crime. But it is only a beginning. Steve's still playing and will hopefully be recording again soon. Stay tuned.
As Told (Pretty Much) by Steve Young
Edited by Frank O. Gutch Jr.