I was talking about the evolution of music throughout the years the other day and was reminded of my favorite Neil Young song “Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)” It is immeasurable how many people’s lives were touched and even changed by a single song, written by one man in the midst of his feeling irrelevant during a widespread crossover from rock to punk and grunge.
Inspired by synthpunk group Devo, the rise of punk and what Young viewed as his own growing irrelevance, the song today crosses generations, inspiring admirers from punk to grunge and significantly revitalizing Young’s then waning career. The song is about the alternatives of continuing to produce similar music or to burn out. However, upon its release, Rust Never Sleeps was hailed as a commercial and critical revitalization for Young, and the successful, bizarre tour (featuring over sized amps, road crews dressed as Jawas from the new Star Wars film (called Road-eyes), sound technicians in lab coats, audio recordings from Woodstock played from disintegrating tapes, etc.) earned him a new generation of fans and good will, buoyed mainly by “Hey Hey, My My”.
A line from the song, “it’s better to burn out than to fade away,” became infamous after being quoted in Nirvana front man Kurt Cobain’s suicide note. Young later said that he was so shaken that he dedicated his 1994 album Sleeps with Angels to Cobain. Because of Cobain’s suicide, in live concerts he now emphasizes the line “once you’re gone you can’t come back”