Revisiting Neil Young’s Famous Lake Story

For more than 20 years, it was simply a rumour. Two years ago, the godfather of grunge confirmed the famous lake story.

Revisiting Neil Young's Famous Lake Story

For more than 20 years, it was nothing but a rumour. Two years ago, the music legend finally confirmed it. And yet, the story continues to amaze us.

Graham Nash is a Rock'n Roll Hall of Fame inductee, and a massive figure within the music industry in his own right. But even he fails in comparison to his close friend, and one of the most celebrated musicians of all times. And it's this musician that he started telling a story about that we cannot seem to keep out of our heads today.

 

What Happened on the Lake?

It all revolves around Neil Young's album Harvest, first released in early 1972. Nash, of course, got an advanced screening of the album. And it was quite an unusual one, at that. As he told Howard Stern in a 2013 radio interview,

And he asked me if I wanted to hear his new album, "Harvest." And I said sure, let's go into the studio and listen. Oh, no. That's not what Neil had in mind. He said get into the rowboat. I said get into the rowboat? He said, yeah, we're going to go out into the middle of the lake.

Odd, but maybe not unusual. But it didn't end there. Nash might have thought he would listen to the song in a more natural environment, but still with headphones or through a cassette player. Instead, Neil Young turned nature itself into the speaker system:

“He has his entire house as the left speaker and his entire barn as the right speaker. And I heard "Harvest" coming out of these two incredibly large loud speakers louder than hell. It was unbelievable. Elliot Mazer, who produced Neil, produced "Harvest," came down to the shore of the lake and he shouted out to Neil: How was that, Neil? And I swear to god, Neil Young shouted back: More barn!”

It's one of those stories that's almost too good to be true. But in fact, Young actually confirmed it to the Huffington Post about three years after Nash's interview. Since then, it's become one of the countless stories told and recounted about one of the greatest and most influential musicians of all times.

 

The Meaning Behind the Lake Story

It's a fun story, and one that highlights the eccentricity of musicians like Neil Young. But it's also so much more. In addition to being a music legend, Young also happens to be an environmentalist. He has condemned agriculture giants like Monsanto, and actively worked toward advancing environmentalist causes like fighting against climate change.

In 2015, he released a website designed to go green both on the individual level and as a society. As Billboard.com reported at the time,

“It's called GoEarth.org, accompanied by the mantra, "It takes a village to keep the free world rockin'." The new site is organized into a handful of green-friendly categories, including reversing climate change, organic agriculture, fighting for ecology, banning genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and sharing news outlets friendly to the cause.”

The website followed on the heels of the 2015 album The Monsanto Years, and preceded a live album called Earth that featured nature and animal sounds instead of the typical audience noise. Add it all together, and a picture emerges: Young directly relates his music to the environment. Both are the same, and work together toward greater harmony.

Which brings us back to his incredible Lake story. Sure, it's easy to see it as an example of a rich musician playing around and trying new things out of boredom. But that would be missing the larger point. By allowing the music to fill the entire lake, he showed Nash its full possibilities and allowed him to experience it, quite literally, as nature intended.

 

Looking Back to Move Forward

In a way, then, the story that will never become boring is also a longing for a simpler time. As is the case with many environmentalists, the longing for nature is at least partially fuelled by a lack of accessibility in the modern world as we know it today. In an interview with Huffington Post when Earth was released, he admits as much:

“As Young sees it, because of these companies (like Monsanto), it's now near impossible to find that special, middle-of-the-lake place. In the '70s, Young could blast an album named after agriculture among wild nature in a rowboat. Now, agriculture has gotten so big that even a sound system made out of a barn and a house couldn't be loud enough to drown out the actual sounds of our harvest.”

Earth, according to Young, is about how humans have dealt with the power they have, and how that power has influenced the environment. In blasting Harvest across the lake, he showed his friend just how well that power can play within nature. But in hindsight, he might not have taken a similar view. In fact, a small speaker barely able to overcome the sounds of the waves and nature all around the row board might just have been the more apt comparison to his feelings in the current decade.

Today, Neil Young continues to be one of the most fascinating musicians alive. He keeps a low profile, and has continued to release albums that cover a variety of his passions. He is not afraid to speak his mind, but has taken a backseat in environmental thinking since the release of Earth.

And yet, that story will always remain, always able to recap what is in many ways the core essence of one of the most famous musicians of our times. It reminds us that, even in the creative process, he sought new ways to present his songs and uncover the deeper meaning behind them. And of course, it's a story of friendship and environmentalism, two elements rarely mentioned together.

In the Lake Story, we have pure Neil Young. May that personality and musical genius always stay with us as we navigate the complexities of the modern world.

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