National Public Radio Transcripts

 Neil Young: Greendale Interviews

March 20th & March 25th, 2004



The Latest from Neil Young

Pictures From Greendale Movie

Neil Young Pits Idealism Against Powerco

 Greendale Tour and Movie Reviews 2004

Greendale Tour and Movie Reviews 2004

More Tour and Movie Reviews for 2004

Greendale Second Edition: Inside Greendale


NPR: Fresh Air 

Thursday , March 25, 2004 

 Listen To Singer & Songwriter Neil Young


National Public Radio: Weekend Edition 

Saturday, March 20, 2004 

Musician Young Turns to Film with 'Greendale'




Interview: Neil Young Discusses His Film "Greendale" 

March 20, 2004 


A new movie called "Greendale" is in theaters around the country this weekend. It was directed and shot by 58-year-old songwriter and guitarist Neil Young. It's about a family that fights back as its small town is threatened by corporate greed, environmental disaster and the media. And it's a musical, sort of. Neil Young calls it a record you can look at. David D'Arcy reports.

DAVID D'ARCY reporting:

Neil Young didn't set out to make a movie. "Greendale" started out with a song about a grandfather's advice to his grandchildren.

(Soundbite from song)

Mr. NEIL YOUNG (Musician): (Singing) A little love and affection in everything you do will make the world a better place with or without you.

D'ARCY: Other songs followed, all with the same characters--the Green family. And Young realized he had a song cycle, not just another rock 'n' roll record.

Mr. YOUNG: I've never written a book, so I wouldn't know what it's like to write one. But I would imagine if you're a writer and you're writing chapters to a book that you probably don't know what's happening either. The ideas are coming to you as you write. And if you're really into a groove, then you're just writing and you're not thinking. So I got into a flow with the story, and when I finished the whole record, I realized it was a very long record and very long songs, and there wasn't much of any commercial chance for the record. I mean, you just had to look at the shape that it was and you'd know that, `Well, this is out of reach.'

So I just looked at it and I said, `Well, but I have a story here, and I want to tell the story.' And that's what's interesting about this record. And we decided at that point to film--since there was so much dialogue, that we figured we'd just play the songs and film the images of the songs as they went by.

D'ARCY: Neil Young shot "Greendale" in three and a half weeks with an underwater Super 8 camera that cost $500 and isn't even made anymore.

Mr. YOUNG: People have referred to "Greendale" as being shot like a UFO sighting or something, you know (laughing).

D'ARCY: The characters are played by his friends and family. There's no script. The only words are the lyrics Young recorded with his band, Crazy Horse. The actors lip-sync them as though they were speaking.

Mr. YOUNG: I said, `When you speak, don't sing. This is not a musical. You're not in "Sound of Music." You're not gesturing wildly while I sing and looking like you're singing. Try to talk,' I said. `Talk in the envelope of my voice, in a conversational way, like you were saying what you're hearing in the lyrics.'

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. YOUNG: (Singing) It's the devil's sidewalk...

Chorus: (Singing in unison) Greendale.

Mr. YOUNG: (Singing) It's the devil's door.

Chorus: (Singing in unison) Greendale.

Mr. YOUNG: (Singing) `I try to avoid it...'

Chorus: (Singing in unison) Greendale.

Mr. YOUNG: (Singing) ...said the captain of the shore.

Chorus: (Singing in unison) Greendale.

Mr. YOUNG: (Singing) There's a garden growing...

Chorus: (Singing in unison) Greendale.

Mr. YOUNG: (Singing) ...and a million weeds.

Chorus: (Singing in unison) Greendale.

Mr. YOUNG: (Singing) There's no way of knowing...

Chorus: (Singing in unison) Greendale.

Mr. YOUNG: (Singing) ...who has done which deed.

Chorus: (Singing in unison) Greendale.

D'ARCY: "Greendale" looks like a home movie but sounds like a populist attack on corrupt corporations and politicians. That's what Young, who played at protests in the late 1960s and early 1970s, intended.

Mr. YOUNG: The first two-thirds of the film is cluttered up with old people and their problems and the results of their attitudes and what they've learned. And some of it is beautiful, and some of it isn't. But in the end youth comes up and everything starts over again and it gets positive. So that's--I'm always positive about the next generation because if you're not positive about them, then you might as well just pack it in. I mean, they're the ones that are going to make a difference. Somebody's got to change the cycle, somebody has to break the chain. We got to change. And this is the most ripe situation we've had for a cultural revolution since the '60s and since Nixon.

D'ARCY: The film closes with the song "Be the Rain," an anthem to saving the Earth.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Group: (Singing) Save the planet for another day.

Unidentified Man: Attention shoppers, I was a ...(Unintelligible)

Unidentified Group: (Singing) Save the planet for another day.

Unidentified Man: Save Alaska. Let the caribous stay.

Unidentified Group: (Singing) Don't care what the government says.

Unidentified Man: ...(Unintelligible) here anyway.

Unidentified Group: (Singing) Save the planet for another day.

Unidentified Man: Hey, big oil, what do you think?

D'ARCY: "Greendale" has been described as naive or earnest, even by people who like it, like J. Hoberman, film critic for The Village Voice.

Mr. J. HOBERMAN (Film Critic, The Village Voice): I think of "Greendale" as a kind of epic home movie. I mean, it's amateurish in absolutely the best sense. Just making a movie of that length in Super 8 and post-dubbing the sound is to go completely outside the norms of professional filmmaking but, of course, not outside the norms of filmmaking as it could come from somebody's heart, as people might make movies about their own lives or their families.

D'ARCY: "Greendale" is not Neil Young's first experience with film. As a director, he's made three features before this one. They were all produced by Shakey Pictures, which he founded in 1972. In the credits, he's identified as Bernard Shakey. In 1982, Young made a nuclear comedy called "Human Highway." A town next to a nuclear plant is rehearsing a talent show as atomic war obliterates the world.

Mr. YOUNG: And, you know, there's a little love story going on. And then the workers from the plant came by the restaurant to eat, and it's a funky little diner. And, you know, they glowed when they walked in. There was this rosy kind of an edge to them, and it was just kind of a funny little take on life. They all went to heaven in the end.

D'ARCY: The actors in "Human Highway," including Dennis Hopper, improvised all their lines.

(Soundbite of "Human Highway")

Unidentified Man #1: Could you sing it?

Unidentified Woman: (Singing) ...(unintelligible) ain't nothing but blue, la da da.

You like it?

Unidentified Man #2: I love it.

Unidentified Woman: Thank you.

Unidentified Man #2: What? You rehearsing for something?

Unidentified Woman: Tonight's the night.

Unidentified Man #2: Tonight's the...

Unidentified Woman: It's the big amateur talent contest in the employees recreational unit, the nuclear plant. All the big shots are going to be there. It's my big night.

Unidentified Man #3: Are you going to take your clothes off?

Unidentified Woman: (Gasps)

D'ARCY: Until "Greendale," Neil Young had never made a film with a script.

Mr. YOUNG: Having to deal with actors and scripts and screenplays and all the representatives and all of the money and raising the money and telling people that, `You're going to do this and that to get the money in,' forget it. I don't want to tell anybody what I'm going to do to get the money. I'd rather just do what I want to do, and that's why I make it cheap. You know, that's why I make it in a funky production, because I don't want to have to worry about the content. The content is king at Shakey Pictures (laughs).

D'ARCY: But it's the gauzy, grainy, 8mm look of the film that won over film critics, like J. Hoberman.

Mr. HOBERMAN: I think the film looks great, and I think that what he did was that he used the natural graininess of Super 8, particularly once it's blown up to 35, as an element. And that sort of mixes with the kind of foggy landscape, with the mist in it, and it really puts a--you see everything through this kind of veil. It's very subtle, and it's very beautiful.

D'ARCY: And after the film was finished, Young decided to take "Greendale" on the road as a stage performance. With a projected backdrop, actors stand and lip-sync the words as Young and Crazy Horse play beside them. Young says that while most of his fans seem to have accepted "Greendale," there's a hard core that won't settle for anything less than rocking in the Free World.

Mr. YOUNG: Some people are so drunk. I mean, it's a rock 'n' roll arena. And so, you know, stoned, all they can think of is what they were thinking when they came in. So when you surprise those people, they go off. So constantly there's the bedlam of being in a rock 'n' roll arena trying to perform a play. I mean, I was trying to take it to another place, and not everybody was going with me. But it was so much fun to try to do that and to win with the great majority of the audience. I fight it even today after doing 80 shows. You still have people that come to the shows that didn't read the ticket, that didn't see "Greendale." They just heard Neil Young and Crazy Horse, and they come and they expect me to do what "Entertainment Tonight" and People magazine and everything have kind of created this culture, where someone like me's expected to do a certain thing. Well, I say to that, `No, thank you.'

D'ARCY: After more than 30 years, Young remains a concert draw. He'll probably never fill movie theaters the way he fills auditoriums, but when he talks about "Greendale," Neil Young sounds as if he's talking about a legacy.

Mr. YOUNG: I'm hoping that years from now someone will look at it and see something; that they could look at it in a hundred years, that they could look at it in two hours, that they could look at it anytime and get something from it. I'm trying to leave something behind that's got some depth.

D'ARCY: And Neil Young will leave more than "Greendale" behind. There's "The Making of Greendale" now available on DVD and the soon-to-be-released director's cut of "Human Highway." For NPR News, I'm David D'Arcy in New York.

(Soundbite of music)


WERTHEIMER: This is WEEKEND EDITION. I'm Linda Wertheimer.

Interview: Neil Young discusses his new movie and CD, "Greendale"

March 25, 2004 Fresh Air

TERRY GROSS, host: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

My guest is Neil Young. His high voice, brilliant guitar-playing and eccentric personality have made him one of the living legends of rock. He had his first hits in the '60s as a member of the Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, as well as on his own. His style has constantly evolved, ranging from sweet country ballads to grunge and noise. Now he has a unique project called "Greendale," which is both a CD and a theatrically released movie. "Greendale" is a cycle of songs that Young describes as a `musical novel.' It dramatizes the lives of three generations of a family living in the fictional California town of Greendale. Their stories touch on many issues of the day, from family problems to the environment and media sensationalism.

In the film version of "Greendale," we see actors dramatizing the story, but the only soundtrack is the songs themselves. The novelist Madison Smartt Bell writes `Young embeds the story line in musical arrangements sufficiently stripped down to recall the idea of a Homeric bard accompanying himself on his harp.'

Today in the first of our two-part interview, Neil Young talks about "Greendale." Next week, we'll talk about how he developed his vocal and guitar styles. Let's start with the opening song from "Greendale," "Falling From Above."

(Sound bite of "Falling From Above")

Mr. NEIL YOUNG: (Singing) Grandpa said to cousin Jed sitting on the porch. `I won't retire, but I might retread.' Seems like that guy singing this song been doing it for a long time. Is there anything he knows that he ain't said? Sing a song for freedom, sing a song for love, sing a song for depressed angels falling from above.

GROSS: That's Neil Young from his new CD "Greendale."

Neil Young, welcome back to FRESH AIR. This story is--the story of "Greendale" is told through songs, and in the movie the whole soundtrack is the songs, but we see the characters and we see them lip-syncing to the songs, except they're doing it as if they're lip-syncing to speech, as if they're speaking, not singing. Did you want to try to use music and image in a way that you hadn't seen done before?

Mr. YOUNG: Well, you know, it was exciting because I realized as soon as I had the idea of filming this story that the dialogue was done and the actors were going to be talking the dialogue in the envelope that I was singing the words and the dialogue in. And so I felt that this would mean that the actors never would really be heard themselves, you would always--everybody had my voice. I knew that was a unique idea. And, you know, so as--I was a little bit, you know--maybe a little bit apprehensive about whether that was going to work or not, but there was no other way to do it. So I figured we'd just try it. And then when I started seeing the rushes back and we started syncing things up, I was happy with the way it looked. And I said, `Well, some people aren't going to believe this, but, you know, those people probably won't even be watching the film anyway because of the way it looks.'

You know? I mean, the Super 8 aspect of it and the shakiness of the camera work and the whole thing is kind of designed to limit the audience in some ways to an audience that might like my music, but at least now they get a chance to know that something's out, whereas if I'd have just counted on the radio, there would be no way that, you know, anyone would even know that "Greendale" came out.

GROSS: Can you describe how you've imagined the town of Greendale and what, if any, town you've based it on?

Mr. YOUNG: Well, it's--Greendale is a, you know, basically, West Coast town, and it's based on many little towns. It's based on rural life, basically, rural life in America. I think there's a sensibility towards things and an understanding of things in rural America that is unique. And people's values are still--there's still a strong connection with the old ways.

GROSS: There are three generations that are portrayed in your movie--grandparents, their children who are also parents, and then those parents' teen-age daughter. Did I make that clear?

Mr. YOUNG: Yeah. Yeah.

GROSS: Is that too confusing? OK. So the father, the middle generation guy, in your story sells his soul to the devil in return for becoming a successful painter as opposed to a painter who paints a lot but doesn't sell anything. That's a kind of old theme in music, the myth of the blues musician who sells his soul to the devil and plays great music as a result.

Mr. YOUNG: Well, wait a minute, Terry.

GROSS: Yeah?

Mr. YOUNG: I think that the--I think that this devil is sneakier than that. He didn't--there was no payoff. See? There was no sale. This devil's playful. He went in there without the artist knowing about it. And he went into--stole into the artist's studio, and this artist couldn't see clearly without his glasses on, just like his father. And so when he put on his glasses, that's when he painted. He could see the easel well, and that's when he did his work. But the devil came in his studio and found his glasses and then by breathing on his glasses and cleaning them with his jacket or with his handkerchief or whatever, he cleaned the glasses in a way that they had never been cleaned before. So when the artist came back to the studio and looked through the glasses, the artist was seeing something that he'd never seen before and started painting pictures that he'd never seen before. Most of, you know, the first one was a likeness of the devil, the way he appeared in the studio. So the artist didn't know what was going on. The artist just painted this picture, and then suddenly the picture was a huge success and the only picture that he'd ever sold up until that time. So he didn't really sell his soul to the devil knowingly.

GROSS: What made you think about the devil and his possible place in the art world?

Mr. YOUNG: Well, you know, I think the idea of making a deal with the devil, which is what you got from seeing it, is that that is a constant idea, that is something that artists sometimes feel they have to do to get their art out, OK? I think that's something that--there's a point there, but in this case, this artist, Earl Green, didn't--he didn't realize what had happened. But he gained from it, which makes you wonder, you know, who--how--why did the devil do that? I mean, you know, what kind of a devil is this? What--he actually did Earl a favor. Earl doesn't know if he made a deal with the devil or not. He doesn't feel any sense of debt.

GROSS: Since these songs are all on the service of telling a story, and the story is illustrated by a movie and by liner notes on the DVD, do you feel like it changed the music, that, you know, the music--that the lyrics were about subjects you wouldn't ordinarily be writing songs about, with details you wouldn't ordinarily be including in songs?

Mr. YOUNG: Well, the way this happened is it was driven by the music and the story was not created before the music was written. The story was born from the music. And the songs were written one at a time and then recorded one at a time, and then the next song would be written and then recorded and finished, completely finished tracks. And then I'd go on to the next one. So as I wrote the songs, the story unfolded, and I became just as much of a spectator as the other guys in the band and the people in the recording booth as we were recording this, and everyone learned the story at the same time.

GROSS: Well, I want to play one of the songs from "Greendale," and this is called "Bandit." And do you want to describe what's happening in this song?

Mr. YOUNG: Well, this song is a song about Earl Green again, the fellow we were talking about, and he's a Vietnam vet. He returned to the States in the late '60s, and he was shell-shocked and stayed in his house for a long time, couldn't handle looking at the bright colors and seeing the cars moving so fast on the freeway and things that he thought he was going to--looking forward to seeing, he couldn't handle them when he got back. And so he became very reclusive, and he also had a lot of hallucinations and was hearing voices. And the memories of his wartime experience were very heavy in his mind.

And he found that by painting--he'd never painted before, but he found that by painting that he could--that his mind cleared and he was at peace with himself. And so this led to these paintings that he painted, and then the paintings were alive with sound. When his daughter looked at the paintings, she heard voices and she heard things that were like, you know, gunfire and, you know, bare feet running through the mud and people talking in a funny language, and then screaming and then gunfire and then American voices and people yelling and helicopters. And then sounds of people relaxing, lovers relaxing on the beach and talking to one another and the sound of the wind blowing and the sea gulls and the waves breaking.

And this all happened when Sun Green, Earl Green's daughter, would come by the studio to look at these paintings, and she would come by every day and check out his paintings. And she thought her dad was, like, a genius and like a Picasso or something, that how--what fantastic works of art these were, these things that talked to you while you were looking at them. And--but Earl Green could never sell his paintings because to an art dealer or a gallery owner, they just looked like psychedelic art from the '60s and they really didn't have much else going for them.

So he was unable to sell any paintings and unable to support the family on his own. And he was very down about not being able to hold his own, and he had to use his grandfather's money to support the family and everything. And so the song is set where he is in a motel room, he's been driving around in his Winnebago full of paintings, trying to sell his paintings. And he's stopped for a while in a motel room and he's just sitting there watching TV and using his little laptop computer and trying to come to grips with his situation, and he's pretty depressed. And the song is his thoughts going through his head.

GROSS: This is "Bandit" from Neil Young's new CD, "Greendale."

(Soundbite of "Bandit")

Mr. YOUNG: (Singing) Someday you'll find what you're looking for. You didn't bet on the Dodgers to beat the Giants. And David came up. Now you gotta pay up. You didn't count on that. Jeez, half the money's gone. The month is still young. Where are you gonna go now? Things are closing in. Gotta trust someone. Someone you trust. Gotta be careful. Can't go to your brother. The money's all gone. Can't go to your friends. Someday you'll find everything you're looking for. Someday you'll find everything you're looking for. Someday you'll find everything you're looking for. Someday you'll find everything you're looking for. Yeah.

GROSS: My guest is Neil Young. His new CD and movie are called "Greendale." We'll talk more after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is Neil Young. He's composed a cycle of songs called "Greendale" that he describes as a `musical novel.' "Greendale" is both a CD and a theatrical film.

You did the score for the Jim Jarmusch movie "Dead Man." Did you--did that teach you anything about the interaction between music and what's on the screen?

Mr. YOUNG: Well, there are some similarities between "Greendale" and "Dead Man" because the approach that I took to the--they're kind of off-the-wall similarities, but they are nonetheless--the approach that I took to doing the score to "Dead Man" was I went back to--the concept was that "Dead Man" was basically a silent movie and that, you know, in the old days, in the '20s and stuff, when they had theaters, there'd be an organist or a piano player who would play along with the film, and that--and you'd get subtitles and the live music and that was it. So when I did the score for "Dead Man," I had the film projected on TV screens, and I had, like, about 20 TVs all around me, big ones, little ones, tiny little portables, and wide screens and everything hanging from the ceiling in a big semicircle all the way around me. No, in full circle. And then I had my instruments inside the circle.

So the instruments were always close enough for me to go from one to another, and they were all set up and the levels were all set, and everything was recording. So the film started, and I started playing the instruments. So I watched the show--I watched the film go through, and I played all the way through live. I'd put my guitar down and walk over and play the piano in the bar when there's a bar scene. I played the tack piano. Then when that scene was over, I'd walk over from the piano and go play the organ for another scene and then--a little pump organ I have, and then I'd pick up the electric guitar again and get all my distorted sounds out of that to go with the Indian drums and the things that were happening in the film. And basically, it was all a real-time experience. And so in that...

GROSS: Did you have it planned out before? I mean, did you compose things in advance, or was this all improvised?

Mr. YOUNG: I had a theme.

GROSS: Uh-huh.

Mr. YOUNG: Well, I actually had two themes that I used. And one of them had to do with violence because there was a string of violence. So you kind of get the feeling that when you heard--you know, there was one theme that went with that and there was another type of sub theme that went with some of the other feelings in the film. So that's all I had.


Mr. YOUNG: And I just, you know--and the theme was very simple. It only had three notes in it, so I just, you know, replayed it, repeated it in different ways and explored it live during the playback of the film. And I...

GROSS: Well, it worked. I think it really worked. So did you surround yourself with TVs, you know, with video monitors when you were doing "Greendale"?

Mr. YOUNG: Well, "Greendale" was completely different because the--it was a record. I made the--I recorded the songs one by one and I mixed them one by one and I wrote them one by one. So at the end of the first song, I didn't know what the second song was. At the end of the ninth song, I didn't know what the 10th song was. And but the story was unfolding, and then I'd write the next song and then we'd record it. Then we had a completely finished album. And then we listened to the album and put the pictures on top of it. And the similarity is that both of the films are kind of treated as a silent film with the sound being added to it, only it's backwards on "Greendale."

GROSS: Right.

Mr. YOUNG: It's like a silent film, but it's laid on top of the story.

GROSS: Now you grew up before rock videos, before there was this assumption that there was always a visual that went along with the music. Do you think that people who grew up in the age of rock videos expect that there's going to be some kind of moving image to watch along with the music?

Mr. YOUNG: I don't know what they think. I can't--I really don't.

GROSS: Well, fair enough.

Mr. YOUNG: I have no idea.

GROSS: Right. But do you think if it wasn't for rock videos that you wouldn't have thought of doing a movie like this?

Mr. YOUNG: No. I don't think it makes any difference. The only thing that really ties this in with rock videos for me is the fact that thank God I don't have to lip-sync myself in this thing.

GROSS: Have rock videos always been more of a chore than anything else to you?

Mr. YOUNG: Well, you know, I tried my best to make rock videos, and I tried to adapt to what was going on. And I had an album called "Trans," and I had created scripts for every song on the album that I wanted to do, especially the computerized voice songs on the album. Now I had a whole story that I wanted to tell. And I had the concepts and everything. And when I tried to sell the concept to the record company, they basically said, `No, you can't do that.' And `that's not what we're doing for videos.' And I said, `Well, wait a minute. This is not about what you're doing for videos, it's about what I want to do with my music.' And that was the beginning of the end with that record company.

And basically, that's when I started feeling like, you know, video is not going to be my friend if I can't do what I want to do with it and I can't explore it in my own way. Why do I have to make videos that have me in them? Why do we have to have a bunch of dancing girls? Why do we have to have, you know, a certain measure of violence or guns or something? Why do we have to have all of these formulatic expressions imposed on my music? Why?

GROSS: Right.

Mr. YOUNG: So there was no answer.

GROSS: Neil Young. His new CD and movie are called "Greendale." Next week in part two of our interview, we'll talk about how he developed his vocal and guitar styles.

I'm Terry Gross. And this is FRESH AIR.

(Sound bite of song)

Mr. YOUNG: (Singing) Silk scarf in a napkin hidden in a drawer, 200 bucks in an envelope labeled `Lenore.' Maybe she shouldn't see this. `She should never know,' said the widow's best friend Nan. `I'll just take it and go.' `I'll give her the money later, say it was in his shoe. That way she'll never find out. That'll do.'

Source: National Public Radio (US)
Copyright: 2004 National Public Radio



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