Greendale - Summer 2003



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Toronto International Film Festival 2003



Have You Heard the New Neil Young Novel?

Source: New York Times (NY)
Author: Madison Smartt Bell
Published: November 9, 2003
Copyright: 2003 The New York Times Co.
Contact: [email protected] 

Neal Neil Young loyalists will buy a new record just because they feel like they owe him the money. But until now, his forays into extended narrative (the films "Journey Through the Past" and "Human Highway") made most of his audience temporarily jump ship. With "Greendale," loyalty pays off: what comes out of the jewel-box is a completely viable artifact, on the basis of the audio disc and accompanying booklet alone. The bonus DVD, featuring a solo live performance of the same basic material that's presented on the audio disc and in print, is nice but redundant. Better to consume this product by treating it as a hybrid between a printed work and a book-on-tape — to read it as one reads a novel, because in fact that's what it is. Mr. Young has always been remarkable for his creative resilience, and this time he really has done something new, rendering into this combination of print and audio a novel that is surprisingly sophisticated and satisfyingly complete.

He embeds the story line in musical arrangements sufficiently stripped down to recall the idea of a Homeric bard accompanying himself on his harp. The music supplies and modulates the tone of the work — Mr. Young's familiar chiaroscuro palette — or sometimes goes a little further to capture a lyrical feeling the words can't fully express: in the description of Mr. Young's accompanying text, "you can't tell by listening to the songs, you have to listen to the instrumentals to get this." While the songs themselves dramatize the narrative's scenes, the printed text handles exposition and summary transitions, in an idiosyncratic manner that allows Mr. Young to speak directly to the reader.

The story is familiar enough to be classic: the disintegration of an American family. The Green family lives outside the small town of Greendale, in a ranch house they've christened "the double E." Mr. Young doesn't explicitly say that they belong to the working poor, but in today's United States it's unlikely that so many generations would live in the same small house otherwise: Grandpa and Grandma, son Earl Green and his wife Edith, grandson Jed and granddaughter Sun Green, a young woman just blossoming into what would be a fairly innocent rebellion, if not for malevolent twists in the plot.

Caught in a routine traffic stop by Officer Carmichael, Jed panics because his car is full of drugs. Unfortunately for everyone, he also has a handgun. He kills Carmichael, lands in jail and transforms the whole Green family into unwilling tabloid media heroes. When the TV crews descend in their helicopters on the double E, Grandpa goes out — with a shotgun — to assert his right to privacy and winds up dead. Sun Green, already politically sensitive to the oppressive qualities of what Mr. Young doesn't explicitly identify as the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld-Ashcroft regime, reacts by chaining herself to "a statue of an eagle in the lobby of Powerco," where she howls protests through a bullhorn "against anything unjust or packed with lies" — by implication the corrupt government-corporate collusion of the Bush II years. Afterward, the F.B.I. starts following her to the bars where she likes to dance, and finally they break into her room, kill her cat and file marijuana charges against her that are later dropped. Sun Green leaves town with Earth Brown, a like-minded young man she meets in a bar; the two head for Alaska with a notion of joining the militant environmental movement. The dramatization of these key episodes is efficient, but unusually full for popular songs.

Mr. Young makes a few detours from this narrative highway to pick up a couple of nicely achieved subplots. His account of Officer Carmichael's funeral, the infidelity his unexpected death reveals and the quarrel he had with his wife when he left her to go to work on the day of his death is heartbreakingly on the mark. With a novelist's instinct, Mr. Young realizes this particular policeman as whole human being, with a past and a prematurely foreclosed future — as much a victim as any of the Greens.

Mr. Young's minor characterizations are all done with surprising thoroughness, especially considering that the songs don't use many words: the buzzing bass string in "Bandit" captures the unstrung quality of the mind of Earl Green (artist, Vietnam vet, Sun Green's father) with a fidelity that more language would find hard to match. Mr. Young has always had a flair for creating characters by writing songs from within a fictional persona, but in "Greendale," he deploys this ability on a full novelistic scale for the first time. Some songs offer first-person narration, others third and on occasion, by shifting the pitch of his voice, Mr. Young can even dramatize dialogue within a single song.

Under the song titles in the CD booklet, instead of printed lyrics (which are nowhere supplied) are passages of prose in a rambling, free-associative snarl. Despite their desultory appearance, these passages are purposeful — each amplifies the song/chapter of its title by providing additional exposition and background, with snatches of the present action that don't occur at all in the songs as they are sung. Many of them also engage in the sort of strategic authorial intrusion practiced by novelists from Laurence Sterne to William T. Vollmann. As Jed's shooting of Carmichael unfolds in the song "Leave the Driving," Mr. Young's text lets us know that "when i was writing this i had no idea what i was doing, so i was just as surprised as you are." We glimpse the other musicians looking over the writer's shoulder, guessing the story is over when Grandpa dies, then realizing, a little after Mr. Young does, that it's not.

The characters are also aware of their author, or at least Grandpa is. "Seems like that guy singing this song's been doing it for a long time. Is there anything he knows that he ain't said?" is a line laid into Grandpa's speech and consciousness in the first verse of the first song. It returns at the climax, when Grandpa steps onto the porch with the shotgun and collapses, still trying to fend off a TV interviewer. His last words, or nearly: "That guy who just keeps singing — can't somebody shut him up? I don't know for the life of me where he comes up with this stuff." But of course, if you're a character in a novel, when your author finally does shut up, you're done for.

"Greendale" is stubborn and ingenious in sending its message: that the fusion of news and entertainment media has completely eaten up everything we used to think of as concrete reality. Anyone with the misfortune to become newsworthy for anything can count on being instantly abducted into Jerry-Springer-world. Grandpa Green goes down fighting that in the end. "It ain't an honor to be on TV," he declares, "and it ain't a duty either." But the nostalgic vision of Greendale as the American small town in its ideal form, with old values and old verities to which Grandpa fiercely clings, is itself rooted in TV: "a little Mayberry living" (in Grandpa's own words) and "shows like `Leave It to Beaver.' " Mr. Young's implied argument is that inside a box that's hermetically sealed, the state doesn't have to bother silencing voices of protest because they all get automatically and meaninglessly redirected into the media stream. So Sun Green's extravagant demonstration becomes no more and no less than "a golden moment in the history of TV news. No one could explain it; it just got great reviews."

Mr. Young's not the first or last to notice that if our world is significantly less free now than in the time of his youth, it's less because of government than the inert momentum of the increasingly monolothic media. "Greendale" makes a loud and clear protest against the oppressive qualities of both — not the recycling of antique hippie platitudes that it might appear at second hand, but a message aptly tooled for just these times. Here is an unusually vivid picture of mass media's most sinister system of self-reference, flowing from sitcom TV through reality to tabloid TV and back again. But what's most refreshing is the successful use Mr. Young has made of artistic freedom; with the multidimensional twists that bind his music to his narrative, he's stitched the novel a whole new suit of clothes. 

Madison Smartt Bell, a novelist, has just released his first CD, ``Forty Words for Fear'' (Gaff Music).



Forever Young

Source: South End, The (MI Edu)
Author: Larissa Barlow, Staff Writer 
Published: October 22, 2003
Copyright: 2003 The South End Newspaper
Contact: [email protected]

If "Greendale" doesn't evoke feelings of love for Neil Young, nothing will. 

This inspired new disk is a classic glance back at majestic storytelling.

Young sets this 10 song album in the fictional coastal town of Greendale where, luckily enough, there's always something happening to write a song about. 

Young takes the somewhat quirky idea and creates a string of deeply emotional, well thought out versus displaying the journey of his little town.

Described by Young as a "musical novel," each song has a cast of characters, setting and plot which manages to tell story. 

Each particular tale entwines itself with the others, creating a beautiful mix of passion and soul. Young keeps things to the bare minimum in vocals, letting his voice be as natural as possible, leaving in the occasional flaw because that's his style. 

Beyond storytelling, the instrumental take is just as pure and awe inspiring. 

Neil Young builds up classic guitar combinations that manage to seem fresh and new. Each note intricately follows the other in a musical soup of joy. It's almost impossible not to get pulled in through the guitar mastery. 

In addition to the album, Young has gone one step further with his musical novel and turned it into a movie. Packaged with "Greendale" is a DVD of live concert footage recorded at Vicar St. in Dublin, Ireland. Young plays acoustic sets while taking time out to explain the little details of the songs to the audience. 

It is a rare look inside the mind of a powerful songwriter as he gives further insight into the live of the Greendale residents. Young also proves once again that he can hold together an entire show by himself with a guitar and a captive audience.

Simply a unique take on the world of songwriting, Young has created his own little cusp of civilization and made it interesting. 

A lesser musician could perhaps not pull of the scale of creation here, but as everyone knows, even the residents of Greendale, there's only one Neil Young and when he speaks, it's time to listen. 


Neil Young Premieres Film in Toronto 

Source: Associated Press
Author: David Germain, The Associated Press
Published: Friday, September 5, 2003
Copyright: 2003 The Associated Press 

Toronto -- Thanks to Neil Young, Norman Rockwell is rockin' in the free world. 

Young steered his concert tour north for a stop at the Toronto International Film Festival, where he premiered his small-town rock flick, "Greendale," on Friday. 

The film is part Rockwell, part rock 'n' roll animal - a visual rendering of an album that Young describes as a "musical novel." The songs tell the sad story of a family in a once-idyllic northern California community that's struck by tragedy and besieged by the forces of modern media and global strife. 

Young shot most of the film footage himself, using a hand-held Super-8mm camera whose grainy, gritty images give "Greendale" the feel of a home movie. 

Grandpa rocks on the porch, reading his paper and pining for a bit more love and affection in the world. Cousin Jed pulls a gun on a highway cop and blows him away. Granddaughter Sun evolves from small-town cheerleader to fierce eco-activist taking on corrupt corporations despoiling the planet. 

"They're all just characters that just bubbled up to the top," Young said in an interview backstage after performing the "Greendale" songs at a Toronto concert Thursday night. "A couple of songs with the same characters kept unraveling, then a third one, and I kind of had to keep going." 

"Greendale" is a multimedia project for Young. The album "Greendale" hit stores in late August, packaged with a DVD presenting a live acoustic performance of the songs. 

On his current tour, Young and his band Crazy Horse rage and wail through the "Greendale" songs, accompanied by performers miming the action and mouthing the lyrics. 

The film, which Young directed under the pseudonym Bernard Shakey, also features actors lip-synching to his vocals. Among the film's performers are Young's wife, Pegi, and his longtime musical collaborator Ben Keith. 

Video crews have been documenting the concert tour, and Young hopes to stitch the footage into a concert film that captures the spirit of the live "Greendale" performances. 

Young began writing the songs in August 2002 and had them all recorded by the end of the year. The activist flavor of the lyrics harks back to such earlier Young albums as 1989's "Freedom," which featured the anthem "Rockin' in the Free World." 

The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and resulting U.S. military action lent greater urgency to the "Greendale" songs, Young said. 

"The world's quite a place, and Greendale is in the world," he said. 

Young pops up briefly in the movie version of "Greendale," impersonating Wayne Newton. But he said he preferred to remain behind the camera and leave the acting to others. 

"I hate lip-synching," Young said. 

Young's 'Greendale' is About Today's Changing World

Source: Canadian Press 
Published: September 6, 2003
Copyright: 2003 The Canadian Press

Toronto — There was a time when Neil Young's songs dominated radio. In today's music scene, that's no longer the case. 

But the veteran singer-songwriter says he doesn't much care if radio pays any attention to his latest creations. "I'm not frustrated by it," he told reporters at the Toronto International Film Festival, where he premiered his debut film Greendale. 

"I can understand why they wouldn't play my songs among the songs that they're playing. It's not that my songs aren't important and that they don't matter to people, it's just that the business of music has moved on and that's OK with me." 

There are other ways to get songs to the masses, he stressed. 

"We're doing everything that we can to get our message out to as many people as we can without having to compromise and play the little games that you have to play to get on the radio and the Top 10." 

To that end, the Toronto-born, Winnipeg-raised musician points to Greendale, a film that tells the story of an American family's troubles and its desire for a better world, free of political greed and environmental waste. 

"This story is about a family and the changing times that we're in right now," he said. "Things are not the way they used to be but it's hard to put your finger on it." 

In Greendale, a policeman is gunned down by Jed Green. In coming to terms with the crime, the Green family reacts in various ways. Grandpa has a heart attack while confronting an intrusive reporter and granddaughter Sun becomes an environmental activist who heads to Alaska to save the planet. 

"There's a lot of unsettled feelings about the world today," said Young. "I'm trying to talk about the effects that things like that have on an entire family from the children to the patriarch." 

The film's script is completely reliant on Young's album Greendale, with song lyrics providing the entire dialogue, lip-synched to Young's voice by actors. 

Young said he was careful not to turn the film into a 90-minute-long music video. 

He achieved that by removing himself from the picture, save for a small cameo as Wayne Newton. 

"Everybody else but me lip-synchs and to me that's golden. To me, a music video is not about telling much of a story. In many instances music videos are just about selling a product, more like a commercial." 

When it's all said and done, there will be five different versions of Greendale, including the motion picture. The singer brings a cast along on tour to act out the songs on stage as he performs. There's also a DVD of an acoustic concert, the CD and the Web world of Greendale. 

"It evolved. It wasn't a plan," said Young, who shot the film himself using a $500 hand-held Super-8mm camera. 

"I didn't start thinking I'm going to make a movie about a small town in America and try to create a metaphor for what's on people's minds in small-town America. It just happened," he maintained. "Things that were on my mind came out in the characters." 

Greendale harkens back to Young's earlier days when he made political statements through songs like Rockin' in the Free World and Powderfinger. 

"I don't think it's any different for me than it was before," said Young, who appears on the credits under the pseudonym Bernard Shakey. 

"There's a whole new kind of music performer today that has been spawned by the huge entertainment industry and the corporate structure of the music business. A lot of them don't like to talk about politics because it might cost them some of their audience or perhaps not be able to get played on certain radio stations." 

Young said it's no secret that he's upset about the state of the environment and the current political climate. 

"A couple of years ago it looked like we were finally getting a grip on something. People were passing laws that were trying to save the environment, we were starting to be a bit sensitive. And then suddenly we're thrown into a SUV with a drunk driver and it's completely out of control." 

Asked about why he chooses to live in the United States despite his ill regard for the Bush government, Young admitted he has occasionally thought of moving back to Canada. 

"But I'm not concerned with what country I live in. I'm more concerned about being a citizen of the planet. I can do my work in California," he stressed, adding he was pleased with Canada's decision not to participate in the war in Iraq alongside the Americans. 

"My heart is still in Canada but I don't have to physically be here to be a Canadian." 


'Greendale' Saga Surprises Those Expecting Old Stuff

Source: Columbus Dispatch (OH)
Author: Jerry Dannemiller 
Published: Monday, June 16, 2003
Copyright: 2002 The Columbus Dispatch
Contact: [email protected]

Falling somewhere between a community theater production of Our Town and a rock 'n' roll blowout, Neil Young & Crazy Horse staged a message-heavy, 10-part allegory Saturday night at Germain Amphitheater that was as powerful as it was odd. 

"Just sit back and relax. I got a story to tell you,'' said the 57-year-old Young, who was dressed in ballcap and jeans. "We'll lay some old stuff on you later.'' 

For nearly two hours, Young led a comfortably packed house through a tale of the fictitious small town of Greendale, inhabited by the Green family, who have witnessed modern society -- over the course of four generations -- tear families apart, ruin the environment, and, one would also guess, make it hard for rock operas to be staged. 

Though at times stilted, painfully corny and musically ho-hum, it was yet another ambitious curveball by Young, who, for more than three decades, has reveled in the unexpected. (The DVD of Greendale won't be released until August.) 

While Young and Crazy Horse plowed through each chapter of the Greendale saga front and center, a ragtag company of Young's real-life extended family, bus drivers and roadies lip-synced lyrics and acted out dramas. 

There was the nubile, 18-year-old Sun Green slinking around in her bedroom during Double E ; there was Grandpa Green on the front porch; and Grandma, police officers, the devil in red jacket and shoes, a paperboy and TV news crews occasionally darted through the band. 

Bolstered by giant video projections of the skits and their associated drawings, the overall effect was a sincere-but-humorous clash of arena-rock technology with homemade, cardboard cutouts and home movies. 

The Greendale saga concluded with Be the Rain , a Godspell -like anthem complete with nearly 50 cast members raising defiant peace signs. 

Surprisingly, few grumbles of "play the old stuff'' were heard during the Greendale material. If anything, respect and patience ruled, with enthusiastic ovations capping nearly all 10 songs. (At the tour's last stop, in Atlanta, Young aborted a song because of heckling.) 

With the Neil Young Players off at the cast party, just the band returned for thunderous resurrections of Hey Hey, My My , Powderfinger and Rockin' in the Free World. 

His rarely performed Roll Another Number (For the Road) sent the crowd home after nearly 2 1/2 hours of new and old. 

Opening act Lucinda Williams was in fine voice, leading her four-piece band through highlights of her past three records, including a stellar version of Essence . With her skinny frame cocked in permanent lean to the left, she came off like Keith Richards' appreciative younger sister. --- 

Roll Another Number (For the Road)

It's too dark
to put the keys
in my ignition,
And the mornin' sun is yet
to climb my hood ornament.
But before too long I might
see those flashing red lights
Look out, mama,
'cause I'm comin' home tonight.

Think I'll
roll another number
for the road,
I feel able to get under any load.
Though my feet
aren't on the ground,
I been standin' on the sound
Of some open-hearted people
goin' down.

I'm not goin' back
to Woodstock for a while,
Though I long to hear
that lonesome hippie smile.
I'm a million miles away
from that helicopter day
No, I don't believe
I'll be goin' back that way.

Think I'll
roll another number
for the road,
I feel able to get under any load.
Though my feet
aren't on the ground,
I been standin' on the sound
Of some open-hearted people
goin' down.


The Latest From Neil Young 

Source: New York Times (NY)
Author: Jon Pareles
Published: June 15, 2003
Copyright: 2003 The New York Times Co.
Contact: [email protected] 

Paris -- The way Neil Young tells it, his latest project, which he describes as a "musical novel" called "Greendale," was unpremeditated. He wasn't setting out to write a 10-song cycle that would lead to a full-length DVD and a stage show with actors and sets. "I didn't know what was going to happen," he said. Perhaps he never has. 

Mr. Young, 57, has followed no logical path to become one of rock's most unpredictable and respected elders. Since he made his name in the 1960's with Buffalo Springfield, Mr. Young has written, recorded, performed and released his music as the whims strike him. He has sung achingly vulnerable songs alone with his acoustic guitar, as he did on his recent European tour, where he performed all the songs from "Greendale" and told its story. 

And he has periodically plugged in to the distorted stomp of his band Crazy Horse, which is touring with him this summer and comes to Madison Square Garden on June 26. Mr. Young will be releasing "Greendale" on Reprise Records in August as an album and a DVD. He made the video (under his director alias, Bernard Shakey) with his family, friends and acquaintances portraying the residents of a fictional coastal California town called Greendale. 

And on his summer tour, he is leading Crazy Horse through all of the album's songs alongside the actors. It is the first time he is performing an entire album of new material onstage since he toured with the songs from the 1975 album "Tonight's the Night," he said. "At this stage of my life to have all these new songs is a gift," he added over dinner after a solo concert at the Palais des Congrιs here. "I think it would be disrespectful to not do them, to not share them, to not try to do it." 

On stage, Mr. Young told two parallel stories. One was from "Greendale," about the teenage Sun Green, visiting her father, Earl, a Vietnam veteran who painted psychedelic canvases — an artist, in other words, of approximately Mr. Young's vintage. Looking at Earl's paintings in his studio, his daughter wonders why nobody buys them. "If you look at them for long enough," Mr. Young said, "you see everything in the world in these paintings, and you even hear voices." 

The other story was about himself as a 3-year-old boy, coming up to the attic to watch his father, a Canadian writer named Scott Young, working at his typewriter. When he asked his father what he was doing, he said, "I'm writing." And when he asked what he was writing, his father said "I don't know until I write, and then I read it, and then I know what it is." 

Mr. Young has sung parables and protests, love songs and oracular conundrums. He has made genre excursions into country, blues, electro, rockabilly, soul (with Booker T. and the MG's) and grunge (with Pearl Jam). He has joined and left and rejoined and left Crosby, Stills and Nash. He has made indelible hits and has been sued (by Geffen Records in 1983) for releasing uncommercial material. He has recorded and shelved countless songs, and he has put out some wheel-spinners and duds. 

An eight-CD collection of released and unreleased material, Volume 1 of a project called Archives, has been completed and awaits release if Mr. Young's songwriting ever runs dry. When Mr. Young started what became "Greendale," he shook up his routines. He stopped working out for the first time in 20 years, changed guitars, set up a 16-track recorder instead of a 48-track, sent home his longtime sound engineers and worked with their assistants. 

"There were fewer people, fewer things going on, less distraction," he said "I just tried to focus right in on the core and get back to the roots of what we do." The first song to emerge was "Devil's Sidewalk," a two-chord rumination on the state of humanity: "There's a garden growing and a million weeds/There's no way of knowing who has done which deeds," the song observes. 

"I didn't even know what it was," Mr. Young said. "I said, what the hell is this? What is that? What am I talking about?" Then came another song, "Falling From Above." And another, "Double E." For the first time in Mr. Young's career, they both mentioned the same characters: Grandpa, his son Earl and Earl's wife, Edith, and a granddaughter. 

Mr. Young wanted to get the songs on tape, so he contacted Crazy Horse. He decided to keep the music sparse — just guitar, bass and drums — so Frank Sampedro, Crazy Horse's guitarist, agreed to sit out the album, although he is with Crazy Horse on tour. By the time Ralph Molina on drums and Billy Talbot on bass joined Mr. Young for recording sessions two days later, Mr. Young had another two connected songs. Each uses only a few chords. "Simple form enables you to get complex with the actual muse," Mr. Young said. "You're not distracted by technicalities. It's like if you had to write a story for the paper, but you had to write it in iambic pentameter. That's what having a lot of chord changes is. You've got all of this stuff you've got to keep track of. Mostly for this stuff, it was all about the content, and I just felt like with Crazy Horse the more simple it is, the better it is." 

"I didn't fix anything," he added. "All the screw-ups, all the mistakes, everything's on there. There's bad guitar notes and everything. I've had it with fixing them. I'd rather hear it. You can't fix it, it's real. I said, `I'm not going to polish it.' " Eventually there were 10 songs, long ones, all set in Greendale. In them — among other incidents and observations — a cop is shot, the Devil polishes an artist's glasses, a pushy television reporter gives Grandpa a heart attack and Sun Green creates a brouhaha at a power company and later heads to Alaska to "save Mother Earth." 

"I just let it out," Mr. Young said. "I never tried to make things fit together or anything. I just kept on going. Luckily I could jump from character to character and so continuity wasn't that important. And I found out later that the continuity was golden all the way through." 

Like an extended version of a typical Young song, "Greendale" is not so much one story as a tangle of them: some detailed and realistic, some drifting through past and present, some switching perspective from local to cosmic and some with environmental slogans and warnings: "Be the river as it rolls along/ It has three-eyed fish and it's smellin' strong." 

The "Greendale" DVD, made in three weeks on grainy video with a handheld camera, spares most expense. Although there are a few helicopter shots, geographical transitions are shown with a camera panning across a hand-drawn map, and the scenes were shot quickly around the Northern California town where Mr. Young lives. ("No permits," said his manager, Elliot Roberts.) 

The performers include Mr. Young's wife, Pegi, as Edith, and his longtime steel guitarist, Ben Keith, as Grandpa. Mr. Young makes a cameo appearance dressed as Wayne Newton, but spent most of his time behind the camera. He made some barely scripted movies in the 1970's — "Journey Through the Past" and "Human Highway" — and released a concert film of his "Rust Never Sleeps" tour. 

"I could never write a script," Mr. Young said. "So when I wrote `Greendale' and did all these recordings, I looked back and I said, `Oh my God, this is it.' You take the script from the songs." "Nobody had to learn anything," he continued. "All they had to do was lip synch my voice. And I told them, `Whatever you do, you're not singing and there's no band. This is real life. You're talking.' The greatest pleasure of this whole project is that I did a video for 10 songs without ever lip synching myself." 

He makes no pretense of being a professional film director. "I can't compete with movies," he said. "I wanted this to be like a song you can look at. I'm trying to create an area where there is no competition, where I can just do what I want to do, where I can tell a story the way I want to tell it." "I keep trying to do things that I can't do," Mr. Young added. "And then I'm always doing it for the first time. And that's the look I want." 


The Latest from Neil Young


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