Neil Young News
"I'm The Ocean" lyrics by Neil Young
[Note: This is one of a series of articles which provide an explanation of the meaning of Neil Young's song "I'm The Ocean". While the interpretation of lyrics presented here is composed of several viewpoints, there is little consensus on the exact meaning of Neil's songs. The themes and symbolism of Young's songwriting provide a rich tapestry on which to project various meanings and analysis. ]
A June 1995 interview of Neil Young by rock critic Dave Marsh for the broadcast premier of Mirror Ball. This portion Neil discusses the meaning of the song "I'm The Ocean" lyrics. (Transcribed by Rustie Preston Nichols.)
MARSH: And uh, we now come up to one of the great Neil Young themes, actually, just sort of makes a brief appearance in this next song, uh, which is, which is about uh, youth and age. This is goes back to I Am a Child, and Ament [Ertegun] talked about this at, when you were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, remember?
YOUNG: Yeah, I think, yeah, I remember him mentioning this.
MARSH: Yeah, about ---
YOUNG: This song ---
MARSH: Because there's I am a child, and there's, there's Sugar Mountain, and there's Old Man, and just, throughout your career, you've, you've managed to make a lot of comments about maturity, and the lack thereof, uh, in a way that most people wouldn't in rock songs, and that, that crops up here in I'm the Ocean.
YOUNG: Yeah, I gue--, it does, it kind of, uh, it's, it's something I keep coming back to, I guess, and I, I, I figure if I ever work it out I'll stop writing about it.
MARSH: Well you shouldn't, I mean, it's actually, it's one of the things that you introduce, it's one of the themes that you introduced into rock and roll, I think, before anybody else, really, and when you were quite young. Mm, you *were* a child when you wrote I am a child, practically.
YOUNG: You remember that song by Paul Anka called Puppy Love?
MARSH: Yeah, you ever done that?
YOUNG: I'll spare you.
MARSH: (laughs) First song you ever sang on stage?
YOUNG: I'll put my earphones on again after that.
MARSH: (laughs some more) Well I was trying to figure out, I asked you about this before, but I will now ask you about it again in public. What did ---, I am the Ocean has this, this, this rather different perspective in the lyrics, about, uh, I was trying to figure, like, I was saying, first I thought, well the guy ---, we're hearing this from someone from beyond the grave, and then I decided it was someone dreaming that they were dead.
YOUNG: Well you know, someone else was trying, someone uh, uh, showed me a video plan that they had for this song, and it, and uh, it had that same kind of thing you're talking about. But you know a song doesn't mean that much--- it doesn't mean that to me. I'm, I'm not, maybe its kind of like, you know, a bunch of flashes of things going on all at the same time, or something. So you, so you get kind of the feeling your life is kind of flashing before you, so that makes you kind of think that you're floating up on the ceiling somewhere, watching. But I, I think it's uh, I wasn't thinking about that . I just uh, I just really kind of got caught up in this, in this thing where everything just kept happening, and, and all I could do was just write it down, but it wasn't going backwards, it was going forwards. So, you know, finally, uh, I just went, you know, I tried not to think about what I was writing, I just tried to keep going. And now, when I listen to it it's different every time, you know.
MARSH: Well, again, it's one of the, of the really, packed with imagery and a lot of things float by, and there is this wonderful comment about, about not being like other people your age, which ---
YOUNG: Yeah, I always see my, I always see my wife, there's one, there's one part where I always see my wife, every time I hear it, and I see my kids, and uh, and it's real pure, it's right there, you know, that's one of the things I remember about that.
MARSH: Well, it's funny, you know, because when you say I'm not like other people my ---, and then you start talking about, I spend my time with you, and stuff, and it was very clear to me that you, that in some fashion you meant your family.
YOUNG: Yeah, and, and it's just whoever I'm with, but it's, it's uh, I don't know I'm really not that --- You know the song is really wrong, you know, I am, I am a lot like everybody else that's my age, you know, and I look around and I look at myself I'm pretty well, you know, all my friends, I'm not that different from them.
MARSH: Except maybe the music thing.
YOUNG: Yeah, the music thing kind of, yeah
MARSH: I meant, I meant ---, NY[?]: ``The music thing'', god, huh, ---
MARSH: I didn't mean being a musician, I meant being open ...
MARSH: ... to new sounds, the way you were talking about before.
YOUNG: Yeah, I'm, you know ...
MARSH: 'Cause at some level, musician, being a musician is a job, a profession ...
YOUNG: Well, being a, being a musician is like a, it's like a balancing act. You just uh, there's a certain time when you're right, and you got to recognize what it is, and then make your life work so that you can stop doing whatever it is, and, and write when you want --- need to write. Then you don't have to be writing all the time trying to, hoping that you're going to write something good. You're only going to write when you want to, and whenever you write, it'll be okay, because you didn't do it, it happened to you.
MARSH: So writing and performing real different experiences for you ...
MARSH: ... that way?
YOUNG: Yeah, yes they are 'cause performing has a schedule, right, that's the difference.
MARSH: A performance, more structured, in a sense.
YOUNG: Absolutely, sure, ...
MARSH: Uh huh.
YOUNG: ... sure, yeah, eight o'clock, ...
MARSH: You got to be there.
YOUNG: No matter what you feel like. But that's it, you know, they get that picture of what you're like right then. They don't get the picture of what you're like every time you want to play music. They get the picture of what you're like at eight o'clock, and you're priming yourself to want to play music at eight o'clock, cause that's what you live for, you know. But still, days are different, you know. That's one of the things about the road, that uh, uh, that uh, makes me think about something Kurt Cobain said about when you --- He was feeling like he went out on the road, and, and he uh, he was faking it, he wasn't into it, and it was killing him.
MARSH: Yeah, that's right
YOUNG: That's because he had to go on at eight, instead of, six, or nine-thirty, ...
MARSH: That's a structured,...
YOUNG: ... you know, ...
MARSH: ... grown-up kind of thing.
YOUNG: ... or maybe four a.m., for him, you know, whatever, --- or not. You know, so, that's the thing, if you don't have that uh, you know, look, writing should be night and day. Whenever you want to write, you can write.
MARSH: Does that put a lot of pressure on your family to give you that space?
YOUNG: I got a great family. They give me all the space I need.
MARSH: Yeah, and that, that's a little bit, ---
MARSH: That's a demand that, that people who have a creative life have to make on their family, I guess.
YOUNG: Yeah, most of us ...
MARSH: And in that way you're not like other people.
YOUNG: No, I think it scares a lot of creative people out having families, you know, because they get ``held up'' that way, or something. But I'm lucky, I got, uh, I got the best situation that way.
MARSH: Yeah, yeah, well let's hear, uh, all of that pouring out, as I'm the Ocean.
"I'm The Ocean" lyrics by Neil Young
Neil Young Lyrics Analysis
Neil Young's Mirror Ball
Thrasher's Wheat - A Neil Young Archives