If pressed to draw up a resume, Neil Young would present a formidable list of achievements as a singer, songwriter, musician, performer, bandleader, two-time Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, filmmaker, political and environmental activist, car collector, model train enthusiast, record company owner, family farm supporter and Farm Aid co-founder, [charitable] and probably a few other sundry items.
He's been busy on many of those fronts this year, but he's added a new item to his vita -- car maker.
As an outgrowth of his ecological concerns and a longtime interest in transportation in general, Young has put together a multi-national team for a project called Linc Volt, the creation of an alternative powered 1959 Lincoln Continental whose goal is to "completely eliminate roadside refueling -- the need to stop at a gas station." Young and company hope to have their car ready to compete for the Progressive Insurance Automotive X Prize, a $10 million award to anyone who can create a vehicle that gets 100 miles to the gallon traveling across the country in 2010 -- with a preliminary race next year -- but he notes that the money is of secondary interest.
"We think the race is bigger than that," explains the Toronto-born Young, 63, who came to the U.S. in 1966 with the late Rick James as a member of the Mynah Birds -- which recorded a set of unreleased tracks for Motown -- before going on to fame with Buffalo Springfield, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and his own prolific solo career.
"The race doesn't matter. We think we're in a race against time, basically, for the planet. It doesn't matter if we win. What matters is we find whatever we can find that'll take us closer and closer to the goal of eliminating roadside refueling and our...dependence on oil of any kind."
Where Linc Volt differs from other green automotive initiatives, however, is that it hopes to give consumers the ability to still drive a big car -- at 19-feet-long and two and a half tons, the Continental is the epitome of a gas-guzzler -- and be environmentally responsible.
"People love their cars, especially here in America," says Young, who was a minority owner of the Michigan-based model train maker Lionel LLC from the mid-90s until after the company filed for bankruptcy in 2004. "They love their big cars, and they love their big roads. The car's a reflection of the person's inner spirit, in a way. That's why America's so slow to change.
"So you can't really sell a tiny electric car to Americans -- you can sell it to some of them, but it's not easy. We have to make it attractive to people so you don't lose the spirit of the car. So we're working on methods of doing this.
Young also hopes that if the Linc Volt technology is successful in automobiles it can be applied to other energy industries.
"The tentacle of big oil touches all of us daily -- the heat in our houses, the power that turns on the lights and all those things," Young says. "What we're working on will change the way we generate power and the way the world works."
But, Young contends, creating the technology is only one part of the solution. In a pair of essays he's published this fall about the Big Three car companies' financial crisis, Young writes that "the culture must change...We can no longer afford Detroit's old road. The government must take advantage of the powerful position that exists today. The Big 3...should only get (a bail-out) if they agree to stop building autos that contribute to global warming now."
He also recommends that the government "find a new ownership group" for the Big Three that will be regulated and forced to comply with environmentally progressive conditions.
"No one ever got anywhere by not trying to get there," Young argues. "No goal was ever met by not setting it. So we're just setting that goal and doing what we can try to do to make a better situation."
Young acknowledges that some people might prefer that he "shut up and sing" -- but he's been doing that, too. Earlier this year he released the film and soundtrack "CSNY: Deja Vu," the documentary about the quartet's politically charged 2006 Freedom Of Speech Tour. This week he put out "Sugar Mountain Live at Canterbury House 1968," which was recorded at a pair of 1968 shows in Ann Arbor. And next spring will see the release of his long-awaited, multi-volume "Archives" series.
As for new music, Young says that "there's a few things that are going on, just nothing to speak of," though he promises that "there'll be new music coming along the pike." Mostly, however, he's been particularly passionate about touring and playing live during the past year.
"Playing for people with a great band is very rewarding," Young explains. "It's very physical -- it's very good for [i]me[/i] physically. It keeps me in top form, physically, and that makes me feel good.
"And I've come up with a way of doing it so I'm on and I'm off and on and off and I get enough time off so I can focus on the (Linc Volt) project and do things like that for six to eight weeks, and then I go right back out on the road again and take another couple shots at that.
"So we've just got a plan like that -- one thing supports another."
Neil Young performs with Wilco and Everest at 7 p.m. Sunday (Dec. 7th) at the Palace, Lapeer Road at I-75, Auburn Hills. Tickets are $88, $78 and $53. Call (248) 377-0100 or visit www.palacenet.com.
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