Within the last year, Neil Young has withdrawn from Farm Aid and criticized concerts as “super-spreader events,” and as he’s now confirmed, he’s “not going on the road” any time soon. During his latest appearance on The Howard Stern show, he said he wouldn’t be touring until we “beat” COVID-19, though he didn’t define what that might look like.
“This is an amazing moment in human history,” he told Stern. “There’s never been anything quite like this. We ought to be thankful that we have a chance to maybe show how to beat this. We might be able to beat this. We can still beat it. There’s no reason why we can’t. If we came together, we could take care of this. And I have confidence that we can.”
The venerable songwriter also griped that, “People are not being realistic and they’re not being scientific. If we followed the rules of science, and everybody got vaccinated, we’d have a lot better chance.”
According to some estimates, about 47% of the world’s population is fully vaccinated, and about 57% have received at least one dose. Young explained that his interactions with the unvaccinated are short and simple. “I say, ‘Are you vaccinated?’ and if they say, ‘No,’ I say, ‘Well, see ya.'”
COVID-19 is unlikely to disappear from the world entirely. But eventually it will transition from a pandemic to being endemic — that is, consistently present in some areas, but limited by vaccination and natural herd immunity, like a more serious version of the flu and the common cold. But right now, many people in almost every country have no immunity against the virus, and with the Omicron variant exhibiting early evidence of some immune evasion, endemicity is a long ways off.
While Young didn’t discuss it, he might consider much smaller prevalence of COVID-19 as ‘beating’ the virus. However, even in some rosy scenarios, live performances might never again be entirely without risk. If he’s waiting for the threat from the virus to go down to zero, his touring days might be over for good.
“The pendulum has gotta swing a long way before a big change happens,” he told Stern. “And then it starts coming back, because that’s history, that’s the way it is. I feel good. I think we’re gonna make it. I think we’re gonna turn this around. We got a lot of smart people in the world with a lot of great ideas. And the more love there is in the world, the more we’re gonna hear those ideas. We’re gonna make this happen.”
Like all of us, Young’s appetite for risk might change over time, especially as new treatments and new variants emerge. But for the moment, he sounds utterly inflexible. “I don’t care if I’m the only one who doesn’t do it,” he said. “I’m not backing off. I’m not backing off for a minute. And the fact that I’m not going on the road doesn’t mean I don’t care.”
Elsewhere in the interview, he discussed his new album with Crazy Horse, Barn, as well as why he left Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, and the time he played Harvest for Graham Nash in a rowboat. Check out clips from the interview below.
Last month, Young announced that he had discovered a forgotten 1987 demo album in his archives, labelled Summer Songs, that he plans to release sometime soon.