December 05, 1988 12:00 PM

Sartorial splendor isn’t exactly reclusive rocker Neil Young’s lick. So when he showed up in Manhattan to receive the Silver Clef Award from Nordoff-Robbins Music Therapy, a London-based outfit that uses music to teach retarded and autistic children, he wore faded jeans, worn moccasins and rock and roll’s requisite black button-down shirt. The foundation, which has honored David Bowie and Paul McCartney in past years, was acknowledging Young’s 30 years in the biz.

While Young, 43, who lives in the northern California hills, sported the most casual costume at the $500-a-plate dinner, the spirit of his attire harmonized nicely with the soiree’s low-key theme. Following a soul food dinner catered by Sylvia’s of Harlem, such guests as Robert Plant, Phil Collins, Julian Lennon and Suzanne Vega crowded round in downtown’s Puck Building for an auction of music memorabilia. A black leather Billy Idol outfit went for $1,300, Robert Palmer’s turquoise and pink silk suit fetched $700, and Young, who recently reunited with Crosby, Stills and Nash on the new album American Dream, forked over $10,000 for John Lennon’s gray, collar-less suit. The event raised some $400,000 for Nordoff-Robbins, which has just opened a New York branch.

Young, who has two children, Zeke, 16 (son of ex-lover Carrie Snodgress) and Ben, 9 (his child with second wife Pegi), both with cerebral palsy, accepted his award with a quick thank-you, but he later praised the therapeutic powers of rock and roll. “It’s not only valuable for treating autistic children,” he said. “It can also [help] normal kids who don’t talk to anybody at all.”

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