Every time Neil Young plays Winnipeg — he’s playing there tonight — it’s a big deal. While the legendary artist was born in Toronto and lived in Omemee, Ont., as kid, it was in the Peg where he spent his teenage years.
The city’s residents loves to claim Young as their own, and you can’t blame them — he played Winnipeg’s clubs, started his first band The Squires here, was friends with Randy Bachman — but is he really a Winnipeg artist? Or even a Canadian one for that matter?
Young might play north of the 49th sometimes — he’s played Edmonton, Calgary and two nights in Winnipeg on his most recent tour — but he has never recorded an album in Canada and his producers are almost all American. (He is working with Daniel Lanois on a new disc.)
He’s been living down south for 44 years, pays American taxes and his wife and kids are all born in the U.S. He abandoned Canada a long time ago, yet we still nominate him for Junos and get giddy when he plays this country.
The debate over what makes someone Canadian will forever be a favourite topic among the citizens of the north. It’s going on right now with Conrad Black, who has a house in Toronto, but gave up his Canadian passport a long time ago. But what about the Godfather of Grunge?
While Young may not make music, or money, here, at least he still has a soft spot for the country he grew up in. In a 2005 Time Magazine interview he said: “If I ever had to give up my Canadian citizenship to become American I wouldn’t do it... I love Canada. As I get older, more and more I start singing about Canada.”
I’m not going to solve this debate here, but as long as he’s a Canadian citizen, he’ll stay Canadian in my books. But I wouldn’t call him “Winnipeg’s own.” He’s lived in various cities across the country and really, he belongs to everyone here.
But it would be nice to have Young physically back in Canada or at least record an album here. Will it happen?
“Maybe I’ll get a cabin up in Canada when I’m older,” he told Time. “I can sit on the gold coast up in B.C.... or be up in the Rockies. I wouldn’t mind going back, being part of it again.”