Pegi Young woke up one day and found herself suddenly single, after 36 years of marriage to Neil Young. It’s more complicated than that, of course, it always is. Pegi turned to her craft, like an artist does, poured it into her music. The result: Raw, her fifth album with her band The Survivors. Raw is to music what Catherine Texier’s Break Up is to literature, a plunge into the end of a relationship, the beginning of the dive into your own being. You know right away with the opening track, “Why” (the telling lyric, “Why did you have to ruin my life?”) the terrain you’re in. And as Raw unfolds, you figure out quite quickly that Pegi is going to be all right, as she crests into a cover of Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Are Made For Walkin’” perhaps one of the most soulful reminders that like Gloria Gaynor, you will survive. Because breakups? While they are draining, they’re a blip in the scheme of things.
Let’s kick off this interview with talking about Raw.
I’m working hard at promoting my record which I’m very proud of. It was very cathartic for me to write it. If you listen to the whole thing from start to finish, I hope you can hear my growth. And actually, the record’s been done a year. So I could be writing other songs now. I haven’t. I am on this record and it’s taking up the creative space in my brain. I need to get clear of what I’m working on now to let the new songs come in. My next record will clearly not be another one like this one. This expressed my journey in a probably more personal way than I have written before. But I know it’s not just my story; it’s many people’s story. That was my intention, that it has that universal quality to it. That people can hear a song, take it, apply it to their own lives. You listen all the way through and it starts to lighten up. The Don Henley song that closes the record, I’ve long admired. I actually thought about doing it on my Lonely in a Crowded Room record which was the one just before this one. I didn’t get around to it, it’s probably just as well because it kind of closes this record very nicely, talking about forgiveness and moving into acceptance. I think that’s the message people should take away from any thing like this, that they maybe have gone through or anything that tugs at the same emotional places—the heart!
Raw to me is a quintessential survival record.
Figuring out what to do at the age of 61 and being newly single after being in a relationship for 36 years took a little time, took a little doing. It was not just an overnight oh-okay-well-this-is-my-new-deal. I’ve gotten through it with a lot of support and help and guidance. I’m definitely rebuilding my life and getting on with it. I look in the mirror sometimes and go, okay look I think I’m aging pretty well all in all. I certainly am not twenty anymore. I’m in my sixties. That’s the reality and I’m okay with that. I’ve lost friends to illness and other situations. Every day that I wake up is a good day. I mean you really have two choices. You can just sort of curl up into a ball—which I did for a while—and it looks like your life is over. Or you get back up and you keep going and that’s what I’ve chosen to do and I recommend that approach. Life does not end when the unexpected happens, and that can be divorce, that can be serious health issues, it can be death. Life does not end, it’s just a new beginning. You’ve got to be a participant in your own life. You’ve got to be a participant in your own happiness. No one can wave a magic wand and make you happy. You just have to find it within yourself to remember those things that bring you joy. I choose to look back on my marriage, as 36 years of the vast majority of which was a very good marriage. I don’t regret all those years. It was a wonderful time in my life, it was over half of both of our lives. We have beautiful children, we had tremendous opportunities, we got along great. There was just a lot of good. I think it behooves me to remember the good. We also had some pretty significant struggles along the way with health issues with our kids and with each other for that matter. I never expected to be single at this stage of my life but you know you just have to get up and get on with it. I’m doing that. I think by and large doing that really well.
I’m not a musician, so I’m naturally fascinated about the life of one. Like being on the road.
Well, you know I have spent most of my adult life on the road. When I married Neil, I was pretty naïve about touring; I didn’t really know what touring was. I had been listening to the San Francisco music scene for years because I grew up on the peninsula here in California Bay Area. I’d go to the Avalon or the Fillmore or the Winterland Ballroom or those venues that were around in those days and see Quicksilver Messenger Service or Jefferson Airplane. It never occurred to me that they didn’t just go home (or maybe they did because they were all based in San Francisco). The Rust Never Sleeps tour was my first tour. We’d been married only about a month or so. I was like. “Oh! Well this is a whole other world out here!” I loved it. I mean I love to travel anyway, prior to ever meeting Neil. So for me it’s quite natural, very comfortable. I get out on the road and it’s like home.
Once you started having kids, did you continue to go on the road?
We spent as much time together on the road as a family as possible so we could be together. It was a little bit of an anomaly in those days; not a lot of artists took their families out with them but we wanted to be together and so that’s what we did. It was only later on when I started the Bridge School and our daughter, Amber, got to school age where we had to temper that. We’d go out and visit. Usually we would not like to go more than three weeks apart. It’s important to maintain that connection, you know? We could go out in the summer months and that was always a blast. Ben, our oldest biological son, goes on the road with Neil still as much as possible. My stepson, my oldest, goes out, he’s on the crew. Our daughter now is married and we have a grandson…
…You have a grandchild!
Yes! It’s awesome. More than awesome; my sun rises and sets on my grandson. Wednesday’s are my Grandma Visit day, as much as I can. Amber’s a homebody now. She does not go out on the road. She’s a great mom and my son-in-law is a great dad.
At this point my daughter Ruby comes home and we have a brief conversation while Pegi patiently waits.
So you have a Ruby and I have an Amber.
Mine is a Teenager.
Mine is about to turn 33. She’s ahead of the pack. She’s great.
There’s this myth of Happily-Ever-After. And that it only applies to marriage. I feel like the real Happily-Ever-After happens for those of us in our second or third rounds.
I do believe that. I was raised in that generation of women where working outside the home was an anomaly. Most of my Mom’s friends were stay-at-home moms and were active in their children’s lives and put aside whatever. My mom is passed. She had a degree in psychology from Stanford and could have gone on to do many things but she chose to stay in the role of mom and nurturer of the family and support my dad in terms of emotional support and so forth. That’s what I ended up doing. When our son was born and it became apparent over time that he was going to be severely disabled, I plunged into looking at what I could to do to give him as independent a life as possible. One of those things was starting the Bridge School.
What you and your co-founders have done with the Bridge School is really wonderful.
It is an organization that I’m just really proud to be affiliated with. When I dreamed this thing up along with my two other co-founders, I wanted it to be along the lines of Rudolph Steiner’s work with the Waldorf school and the Camphill communities and Maria Montessori’s work. Those are lofty ideals in trying to fill those kinds of shoes, that’s asking a lot but I do believe we’re getting there. We are an organization that has greater scope—the heart and soul of the school will always be an educational program. The Bridge School has a physical location but so much of what we do is also outside of that.
And you have a legendary fundraiser that’s a big concert for fans.
Having the concert which raised funds, that was a real collaborative effort between Neil and me. He was the one who came up with the idea of the all acoustic format which I think was once again very ahead of its time—this was pre-MTV Unplugged. It was very innovative. We just had our thirtieth anniversary concert last year. You know, the kids are on the stage and we do a lot to make it very clear who the beneficiaries of this fundraiser are. I like to introduce the kids; they get incredibly excited about the show and being the stars. I love that the artists that come in—many, many of them have not had the opportunity to interact with people with disabilities in general—and I know when these artists leave the experience of the weekend, they really are never going to look at people with disabilities the same way. They’re going to know that it’s entirely possible that these kids or young adults have a great deal going on that is inside. They’re intelligent, they’re funny, they have their unique qualities. It’s a fabulous way for me to bridge my two loves of music and doing what I can to enable greater independence and participation for people who have significant challenges.
For more info on The Bridge School, go to bridgeschool.org.
For Pegi Young, go to Pegiyoung.com.
photo credit: Jay Blakesberg