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