Pegi Young doesn’t mince words in ‘Raw’ new album on her divorce from a rock star. Take a listen here
Whatever response singer-songwriter Pegi Young receives for her fifth album, “Raw,” nobody’s going to accuse her of sugarcoating, especially when it comes to the dissolution of her 36-year marriage to rock superstar Neil Young.
“Why’d you have to ruin my life,” she sings forcefully in the opening line of the album’s opening track, “Why.” “Why’d you have to be so mean? Why’d you have to tell me such lies?”
“That was written early on,” she said with a hearty laugh from the Broken Arrow Ranch in the Bay Area, where she continues to live after Neil moved back to Southern California.
“There was a lot of band debate whether that song should go on the record. I decided to put it on there, because at the time I wrote it, my life had been turned upside down. I didn’t want to mince words.”
“Why” is one of several songs that taps into the visceral nature of the album’s title. “Too Little Too Late,” “A Thousand Tears,” “Lonely” and “Up to Here” paint a portrait of someone whose world has been upended — exactly the scenario Pegi Young described leading up to their divorce in 2014 and her life since the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer called it quits on their marriage.
“‘Roller coaster’ would be the operative word,” she said. “In the immediate aftermath of the separation I just wrote and wrote and wrote. And wrote and wrote and wrote.
“Thank God I had that as an outlet,” she said.
The Times is premiering the album, which will be released on Feb. 17, in its entirety here:
The 64 year-old artist released her debut album comparatively late in life, a 2007 collection titled “Pegi Young.”
She’d spent the better part of her adult life as Young’s partner, largely devoting her time to the care of their children. They include son Ben, whose severe cerebral palsy prompted her to co-found the Bridge School in Hillsborough, a facility that caters to children with speech and physical impairments.
The Bridge School, the beneficiary of all-star benefit concerts each year, remains “the second love of my life,” next to her first grandchild, Ronan, born recently to Amber Jean, her daughter with Neil.
She confessed that the trauma of the divorce left her feeling unable — or unwilling— to play any instruments. Thus, the members of her band, the Survivors, took over all the instrumental support.
Guitarist Kelvyn Holly and veteran rock-R&B keyboardist-songwriter Spooner Oldham helped shape her lyrics into songs, a process she said began in Los Angeles, shortly after her 2015 appearance at the Stagecoach Country Music Festival in the desert city of Indio.
Young said she didn’t connect the dots at the time she composed the lyrics, or even when she, Holly and Oldham crafted them into song form. But later, “I realized, ‘Wow, this is like the soundtrack of the seven stages of grief.’ It’s all over the map, because you’ve got all of them at the same time. It’s not a linear process — you’re bouncing back and forth a lot.”
The album’s original songs are complemented by several thematically relevant works by other writers: Otis Clay’s “Trying to Live My Life Without You,” Ray Charles’ “Do I Ever Cross Your Mind,” Randy Vanwarmer’s “Just When I Needed You Most,” Don Henley’s “The Heart of the Matter” and Lee Hazlewood’s immortal kiss-off, “These Boots Are Made For Walkin’.”
Again, Young laughed — something she wasn’t doing as much a couple of years ago as she is now.
“At first we were just playing it as a joke during rehearsals,” she said. “But there were so many intense songs, we decided the album needed a moment of lightheartedness. My drummer, Phil Jones, bless his heart, he was insistent on us including it. By that time, my emotional state was better, and I think the covers I chose reflect that.”
Indeed, concluding the album with Henley’s song closes the song cycle on a note of, if not newfound happiness, some measure of acceptance: “There are people in your life who’ve come and gone/They let you down, you know they hurt your pride/Better put it all behind you baby, ’cause life goes on.”
Although Young said the writing and recording of “Raw” served both as catharsis and healing for her, “What I hope with the record is besides just being able to express myself, that it takes you on a journey.”
She’ll be unveiling several of the new songs when she and the Survivors play the South by Southwest Music Festival in Austin, Texas, on March 15, presaging a string of dates through the Southwest and up the West Coast.
“I hope that others who have gone through loss, who have gone through heartbreak — be it divorce, death or other forms of loss — will be able to connect with it,” she said. “I’m not the only one to go through late-in-life divorce; I’m not the only one to suffer a major heartbreak. And I won’t be the last.”
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