Canadian rock legend Neil Young has always had a fascination with Native American culture — songs he has recorded on Native themes include “Cortez the Killer,” “Pocahontas,” and “Broken Arrow,” and his backing band Crazy Horse is named for the Oglala Lakota leader.
Young has recorded an album with Crazy Horse, called Psychedelic Pill, which will be released on October 30. It’s a double album, with nine tracks — one clocking in at 27 minutes in length, and three of them over 16 minutes long — stretched over two CDs. On September 10, Young’s record label, Reprise, issued a track listing and an image of the album’s cover art. Then, on Tuesday, the label put out a new press release stating that the cover art had been changed, and that the cover has now “taken on a stronger, more direct image to reflect the commanding and expansive music heard on the two CD or three vinyl disc sets.”
Here’s the original cover art distributed to the press on September 10:
And here’s the revamped cover:
Something got bigger, didn’t it?
Psychedelic Pill is the second release by Neil Young and Crazy Horse in 2012. Americana, which came out in June, has, if anything, a stronger visual focus on Natives. Its cover is a take on a famous 1905 photo of Geronimo sitting in a Locomobile (the photo also inspired the song “Geronimo’s Cadillac” by Michael Martin Murphey):
On Americana‘s back cover, the Crazy Horse image appears above a wagon train:
Going back a little further (skipping the 2003 release Greendale), you’ll find another very “Indian” cover, for the 1996 Neil Young and Crazy Horse album Broken Arrow:
Young’s “Indian” identity dates back to his days in Buffalo Springfield, the group he was in from 1966-67; in In For What It’s Worth: The Story of Buffalo Springfield, he said:
There I was making 120 bucks a week at the Whisky as a musician. … I’ve always liked fringe jackets. I went out and bought one right away with some pants and a turtleneck shirt. Oh yeah, I thought I was heavy. I wore them on some TV shows and whenever we worked. Then I went to this place on Santa Monica Boulevard near La Cienega. I saw this great Comanche war shirt, the best jacket I’ve ever seen. I had two more made. The group was Western, the name Buffalo Springfield came off a tractor, so it all fit. I was the Indian. That’s when it was cool to be an Indian.
Authors John Einarson and Richie Furay add that the music press really dug the idea: “Many people believed Neil was, in fact, an Indian because magazines like Teen Screen and TeenSet constantly referred to him as ‘Neil the Indian.'”
With so much talk of cultural appropriation and misappropriation — see Paul Frank Industries’ “Dream Catchin'” party (and surprise happy ending) — we’re curious to know whether any Natives feel Young, who was born in Canada and has no known Native heritage, ever crosses the line with his enthusiasm for American Indian culture. This one is a little trickier than a pair of “Navajo” panties from Urban Outfitters because, speaking very broadly, a lot of Indians really like Neil Young’s music. Musician Bill Miller, Mohican from the Stockbridge-Munsee Community in Wisconsin, for instance, included two Neil Young tunes in his list of 10 Essential Songs for Native Musicians.
Sorting out what uses of American Indian culture are respectful and what ones aren’t is a personal decision — perhaps Neil Young’s Native fetish is uncontroversial because everyone feels it’s done in a completely respectful way. Or does he get a pass because, well, he’s Neil Young?
(And not, say, Ted Nugent or the guy from Jamiroquai.)