An Open Letter to Neil Young by Benjamin Wilkinson

Dear Mr. Young, 

Like many of my peers, I listen to music while I work. It's as much a part of my creative process as the visual inspiration. It's all intertwined. I've never been a vinyl junkie because I like to travel with my music. In between several house moves over the last few years, I lost my beloved CD binders—a catalog spanning from 1988 to about 2010. To make matters more complicated, my iTunes library (where the catalog was backed-up) was completely lost in a dreadful overwrite error. It was a perfect digital storm for this musician's ears and heart.  

All of these circumstances made me a prime target for streaming. I made the move to Spotify pretty early on because the thought of having my lost collection back at my fingertips felt incredible to me. My collection of—and connection to—your music was intact. When I read that you were pulling your life's work out of the streaming world, I honestly wanted to agree with your stance on preserving audio quality, as you always inspire me in your activism and general independence on matters that are important to you—specifically your commitment to our nation's farming communities. 

I have to admit, however, I did not foresee the disappointment when your life's work virtually disappeared last week on Spotify and I was left with the crumbs of your Geffen experience to aimlessly meander through.

The first time I heard your music was on AM radio—a nostalgic tone that lacked equalization and stereo presence in our old family station wagon. The opposite of good audio quality, really. The sound of the road underneath your music was as much a part of the music as the instruments playing it. I can still hear "Heart of Gold" in that way now. It was your guitar that made my ears tune-in and my mind expand. I started playing guitar when I was 13 in large part because of your music. My friends and I taught ourselves how to play by listening to your tapes on small, mono-speaker tape decks with fuzzy sound. It did not matter. It was the feeling that was driving my train to learn your music and create my own. 

So, I ask you: Did you wholeheartedly consider the pure emotional connection your fans have to your music when you made the decision to remove yourself from streaming services? An environment where it has never been easier to connect and reconnect to your music. Is it fair to sacrifice the feelings your music delivers for audio quality that hits every ear differently?

If this letter has the good fortune of meeting your eyes, I am honored you took the time to read it. My home, my work, and my life are better served with your music—be it AM, FM, satellite, an old tape, or Spotify. For the music lovers, it is not the audio quality that comes first, it is the emotional connection to your music that inherently shines when we hear it—regardless of "lossless" quality.

I unfortunately cannot afford to go out and replicate my music catalog at this stage in my life, but I am almost positive you could afford to re enter the streaming world and give those who love your music those feelings again—farmers, factory workers, lawyers, doctors and designers, alike.

We miss you there, already. Thank you for your time. 


Ben Wilkinson | Guerneville, California 

Hugging Redwoods by Benjamin Wilkinson

In late 2014, I decided to relocate to West Sonoma County after a challenging time trying to find a home in the greater San Francisco area. What was becoming a pretty large thorn in my side was quickly softened one Sunday last October when I returned to Armstrong Woods in Guerneville. It was as if these magnificent trees gave me a 1300-year-old hug and told me I was welcomed there. My new path clearly illuminated in front of me in the dappled autumn light on the forest floor. 

Within a month, I had found my dream home by the riverside. I packed up my temporary life in Oakland, and began to settle into my next chapter in a completely new environment. I moved without thinking too heavily about how this relocation would affect my career or personal life. I knew the elements would fall into place if I placed trust in this new and gifted direction. One might say I jumped off a cliff. I prefer saying I covered myself in bark. 

I have learned that my story is not unique around these parts. In fact, the forests and river are saturated with similar moments of clarity and direction for many individuals who live here, and from all walks of life. Sonoma's Russian River and surrounding communities are highly unique and magic-filled spaces. A brief read through local history will tell you that these forests were once the most dense on our planet in terms of harvestable wood. The wisdom and comfort found in an ancient coastal redwood forest is real. And although almost all of the ancient growth fell to human hands many generations ago, the regrowth period is a renaissance in many ways—for both the forest's growth and the humans that thrive within it. 

We can learn a lot about ourselves in the solitude and presence of an old growth forest. The quiet peace gives our souls a chance to breathe and listen, taking a break from the grasping and throwing to figure out our next move. I guess you could say that about any moment of solitude, but I'm admittedly biased to this particular place. 

So, if you're feeling stuck, creatively blocked, sick of the grind, wanting something more... I highly suggest hugging an old redwood tree as soon as possible. Wrap your arms around it. Look it straight up, squeeze it and give thanks for providing a true sense of wisdom, steadfastness, love and renewal in the world. It'll do your soul some good. And it's okay to be a tree hugger. My arborist friends agree. 

I work from here, too—so your design projects are in a very good place :-)