Neil Young Says New Film Isn't Video
Source: Associated Press
Published: March 19, 2004
Copyright: 2004 The Associated Press
New York -- Neil Young says his new movie "Greendale,"
isn't a music video because he's selling a story and not an image, among
"I think the thing that keeps it from being a music video, thank
God, is that I'm not lip synching in it," he told reporters
recently in Toronto, according to AP Radio.
"Greendale" is a series of vignettes tied together about the
Green family and town with the same name. There is no dialogue. Young
uses his songs to narrate and it's filled with the usual Neil Young
complaints: environment woes, intrusive media, and corporate America
ruining, well, everything.
He shot the film himself, which is purposely unpolished, and he makes a
cameo as Wayne Newton.
"I was the only guy available at the time," he said with a
laugh. "We only had about an hour to set that one up."
Young realizes that some people may be uncomfortable with what he says
in the film.
"There's nothing represented in Greendale that isn't really
happening. There's nothing represented in the show of Greendale that
isn't taking place today," he said. "So if people are angry
about it, then that's good."
ON THE NET
Sweet Corn, Sour Grapes
When Neil Young takes it to the stage, the result is high drama
Source: Corvallis Gazette-Times (OR)
Author: Jake TenPas
Published: March 5 - March 12, 2004
Copyright: 2004 Lee Enterprises
Contact: [email protected].
Neil Young's voice is the aural equivalent of sushi.
To some, it's a rare delicacy, saturated with tastes too subtle for the common palette. To others, it's just plain raw, and thinking about it makes them almost as sick as consuming it.
Ever since my father bought me my first Young album, "After the Gold Rush," I've belonged to the former group, hanging on every last falsetto utterance as if it were the lost final chapters to F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Last Tycoon."
Of course, as far as anybody knows, Fitzgerald never finished his last novel, which makes it an even more fitting metaphor for the majority of Young's music, which has a gloriously unrefined quality to it. It's as if Neil's afraid that to take a second look at a song would result in him thinking better of sharing so much of himself with the general public.
Either that, or he just likes his rock 'n' roll dirtier than the skeletons in a politician's closet.
Two weeks ago, I had the uncommon pleasure of experiencing the full fury of Young accompanied by his greatest back-up band, Crazy Horse, at the Rose Garden in Portland.
The peerless singer-songwriter and oft-referenced "Godfather of Grunge" was touring amid the release of his latest CD, "Greendale," a concept album about the trials and tribulations of the Green Family, who hail from a town called Greendale.
While most entertainers would be content to play the songs as they were written, leaving the audience to piece the story together like Homer Simpson jamming puzzle pieces into each other until they fit, Young took the next logical step in storytelling.
He had sets built to represent the town of Greendale, then hired actors to bring those sets to life in a multimedia amalgam of song, drama and narrative poetry.
To the right of the stage was the Green family home, a run-down country shack complete with a porch from which Grampa Green could assess the events of the world.
To the left was a lonely jail cell, where cousin Jed was thrown after an ill-timed run-in with the law that resulted in a cop being shot over a routine traffic stop.
In the center, backdropping the band like a gift from Roger Waters' Fairy Godmother, was a hydraulic platform on which props, such as the car cousin Jed was driving at the time of his crime, could be raised and lowered in front of a movie screen.
Center stage belonged to Neil and his noise-sculpting bandmates, who appeared as aging wraiths hovering in a fog of feedback.
The results of this experiment were as uneven as Neil himself trying to hit a really high note, but like his vocal leaps, ultimately beautiful in a uniquely human way.
Because the show was staged in such a large venue, it was necessary for the actors to exaggerate every movement and facial expression, so it could be perceived by the poor saps sitting in the back row. Unfortunately, many of these performances also were broadcast on the movie screen at the back of the stage, resulting in unflattering close-ups of novice thespians in the midst of some serious overacting.
In addition, the sets were designed to look like expressionist cartoon renderings of the objects they represented, which only accentuated their effects in rare instances. Usually, it took away from the poignancy of the bittersweet story by reducing it to a live performance of "Saturday Night Live's" Toonces the Driving Cat.
The songs themselves, while occasionally covered in corn like mashed potatoes at Thanksgiving, were typically well-written, cutting observations about the hairline rays of hope that manage to shine through the ominous storm clouds of human nature.
The first act of the concert consisted of the presentation of Greendale in its entirety, and near the end, there was a moment in which all the characters who'd pantomimed their way across the stage that night were sharing it at once.
As the refrain of the album's corniest song, "Be the Rain," repeated the lyrics "Save the planet for another day," into infinity, I turned to my friend Dynamite and snidely said, "This is getting a little Pat Benetar, ‘Love is a Battlefield' for my tastes."
Then it struck me with the thunderous force of vibrations from Neil's amplified E string: That was the whole point.
Human beings have two choices. They can cover themselves in armor made of fire-tempered cynicism and let the sword thrusts of the world bounce off along with the love and hope that the suit is equally resistant to. Or, they can get naked and swim in the polluted stream of human experience, which might result in an emotional rash no amount of antibiotics can put a dent in.
Though it gets easier by the day to choose the first option, as I looked around at the group of people my parents had assembled to share this beautiful night of music with, I was decapitated by the reality of how much joy ricochets off the armor along with the sorrow.
A realtor, an orthodontist, a company executive and their wives joined me and my friends, the waitress, the illustrator and the independent filmmaker. Those of us sitting in my father's corporate box didn't have profession, religion, political beliefs or even favorite flavors of ice cream in common, and yet there we all were enjoying the same gorgeous wall of sound.
Sure, we're all still upper-middle class white folk, but within that grouping, our life philosophies couldn't have been more diverse. The Godfather spoke to us all.
The reason Neil Young is one of the few songwriters of his generation who still makes music that matters is because he refuses to stop wrestling with cynicism. Sure, it occasionally slams him to the mat like Jake "The Snake" Roberts pulling a DDT on some unlucky opponent, but before he can pull the snake out of its bag and wrap it around his throat, he's back on his feet and bouncing off the ropes.
Neil Young has been fighting his war — against greed, against waste, against hate — twice as long as I've been drawing breath. That night, he added President Bush, Clear Channel and oil companies to the roster of battle royal participants, and still emerged standing from that psychic steel cage.
If there's one thing I've learned from him in the first act of my life, it's that endurance isn't always about being tough. Sometimes, it's about being sensitive enough to see the love that's all around you and strong enough to remain open to it even when you know the risks.
As the first notes of "Powderfinger" marked the opening of the second set, I flashed back to the looks of hope that had united the faces dancing across the stage at the climax of the musical tale.
Those looks had been mirrored by the faces sparkling around me like so many flashbulbs in the darkness.
Tears crept into the corners of my eyes as I realized that "corny" is the word that the cynical call hope when it's been so long since they've seen it that they can no longer remember what it looks like.
Praise Neil and pass the corn.
Jake TenPas covers pop culture and night life and edits the Entertainer.
Young Tests Boundaries of Film in 'Greendale'
Source: Denver Post (CO)
Author: Steven Rosen Special to the Denver Post
Published: Friday, March 05, 2004
Copyright: 2004 The Denver Post Corp
Contact: [email protected]
Santa Monica - Neil Young leans back in a sofa in his manager's office and laughs at the question.
How did he have confidence that his D-I-Y, low-budget approach to filmmaking, on display in his new "Greendale," would result in anything worth watching?
"I didn't have that," he says, stretching out one leg. "I didn't have the confidence. I didn't know what I was doing, so it was OK. I just knew I was having fun and it was going to go really quickly and we were all having a good time.
"We were rolling, we were grooving, and it was easy," he continues. "We all just traveled together from place to place and whoever was in the scene would be in it and other people would stand around and wait. All day, no matter what the weather was, we kept going."
In a way, that sounds like a rock-band tour. Young, who has been making records since the late 1960s as both a solo artist and part of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, was in Los Angeles (and nearby Santa Monica) recently as part of a tour for his latest album, "Greendale."
It's a suite of loosely connected songs about inter-generational Green family life in a fictional Northern California coastal town where environmentalism, political activism, media exploitation and crime are all concerns. The Canadian-born Young lives near Half Moon Bay, where much of "Greendale" was shot.
Young, 58, has been using the tour to also open the related film "Greendale" in the cities where he plays, as well as others. (It opens today at the Madstone Theaters at Tamarac Square.) It's not a concert film but not exactly a traditional drama, either.
There is no spoken dialogue, but occasionally the characters - many played by Young's friends and family, including wife Pegi - lip-synch snatches of lyrics while the recorded songs, featuring Young's plaintive vocals, play loudly on the sound track. Since the lyrics are like narrated conversations between the characters, it makes a certain sense.
And while the look is grungy to the extreme, there's a method to the madness. Young not only served as director (using the name Bernard Shakey), but also as cinematographer, using a hand-held German Super-8 underwater camera that a friend gave him. The film has been blown up to a grainy 35-millimeter for theatrical release.
Young is trying to create a mysterious mood - to cast a spell - with his impressionistic approach to depicting an imaginary community, just as he does in song with his wavering, reedy high-tenor voice. His eye becomes our eye, wandering about the locale to take in a tree, a passing bird, even the wind, itself, in a blurry, fleeting manner.
"This story is not 'Gone With the Wind' - you don't need 70-millimeter film," Young explains. "It's actually more important that the content appear to be more important than the technical side. It gives more validity to that content, gives the film more of a documentary or home-movie flavor. You almost expect the actors to turn around, look into the camera and say, 'Stop doing that, you're bugging me.' Like you would do with a home movie.
"Information is unfolding, and what you get is what you get," he says. "I'd shoot a scene until I knew I got it, and then I'd put that one in there, imperfect or not. We didn't try to hide we're making a movie."
Young in conversation is like a hard-working guy hanging out at home on the weekend. He looks at you straight-on with his blue eyes and does his best to make an interview as casual as his wardrobe - long-sleeve shirt hanging out and unbuttoned, a Vapor Records T-shirt underneath, sweatpants, and hiking shoes. His dark, longish hair is graying; his thick sideburns are even grayer. But if he's tired from having performed in concert the night before, it doesn't show. He's energized by "Greendale" and eager to talk positively about it in his surprisingly deep voice.
This is the fourth movie Young has directed, including 1973's "Journey Through the Past," 1979's "Rust Never Sleeps," and 1982's "Human Highway" (co-starring him and Devo).
"I've never had a great reaction to any of my films," Young says. "I have made few films and a lot of distance between them, but I think that's about to change because I've found a way to marry my music into film that's satisfying to me."
"Greendale" is an accidental concept album. Young had a general idea of what he and band Crazy Horse - drummer Ralph Molina and bassist Billy Talbot - were doing when they entered the studio. But he likes to let structure and meaning come to his songs, rather than imposing them at the start of the creative process.
"When I first started making the record, I thought I'll also make a long-form video here," he explains. "So I video-recorded the music with five cameras. We have all the masters on tape. I was going to add environmental scenes, atmospheres that went with the music and would be nice on DVD. But then as the songs developed, I didn't know they'd be like a story and that we'd have dialogue.
"So I shot dialogue (with) the actors, put it together with the music and it was terrible," he says. "It was a distraction. Nothing worked. The only thing that really worked was looking at the picture and just watching the Super-8. It was like another world. So I took the stuff with them lip-synching and that became the world of Greendale. And then I went further, exploring instrumentals and building a few characters."
Young, like his friend Bob Dylan, is a veteran roots-rock singer-songwriter still as interested in his future as his past. For instance, although he's been working for several years on a collection of rare and previously unreleased songs, he can't seem to complete it even though he knows he has a large fan base waiting for it.
"Whenever I get to point where I'm ready to put it out, I come up with other ideas," he says. "I constantly have to put it in on the back burner because of the things I'm doing now. I can't have it in the way of what I'm doing."
And he assumes whatever else he does, rock will be a part of it.
"It doesn't let go," he says. "When I was young, I couldn't possibly envision doing this when I was almost 60 years old. Now I'm aware of the physical changes, and of what I have to do to perform, but music is the driving force. As long as I'm writing new songs, I'll probably be performing. And at some point, I may stop performing and only write. But I don't see that yet."
The View From The Devil’s Sidewalk
Source: LA Weekly (CA)
Author: John Payne
Published: Feb. 27 - Mar. 4, 2004
Copyright: 2004 L.A. Weekly Media, Inc.
Contact [email protected]
Neil Young’s Greendale is the veteran rock man’s third ramble into
the realm of film as director “Bernard Shakey,” following 1979’s
fictionalized tour documentary Rust Never Sleeps and 1995’s surreal
comedy Human Highway, written and co-directed by Dean Stockwell and
featuring the guys from Devo.
The low-budget Greendale, shot and scored entirely by Young himself,
tells the tale of the tight-knit but unraveling Green family, who live
in a small town somewhere in rural America. (It was shot in and around
Half Moon Bay, just south of San Francisco.) The Greendale project has
been presented in several forms: as a live theatrical event; an audio
disc recorded with his band, Crazy Horse, and released with a DVD of
Young performing the piece solo in Dublin; a book; a DVD that includes a
Green family tree and much background information on the story’s
central characters; and now a film, opening in theaters this week.
Each facet of the “mosaic,” as Young calls it, contains elements not
found in the others, so if you really want to know what’s going on in
Greendale, you’ll need to experience it in more ways than one. But
even then you might not get the whole picture. That’s because Young
himself doesn’t know what Greendale represents — he’s making the
thing up as he goes along, and he’s as curious as you are about how
it’s going to end.
Young grew up in a Toronto. His father was a writer. One day Young asked
his father what he was going to write, and his father said that he
wouldn’t know until he’d finished writing it. Young’s similar,
intuitive approach to developing the Greendale story isn’t all that
different from the way he’s always developed his ideas, which is by
feeling his way into things; he uses his emotional reactions as his
guide. “That’s the way I like to do it,” he says. “It doesn’t
always work that way, but most of the time.”
L.A. WEEKLY: Greendale is, in part, about corruption, a corruption
that’s both micro and macro, back and forth, between small-town life,
family life, and the world at large — big business and government,
environmental disasters, religious wars. You seem to say that corruption
begins at home, but that the fish rots from the head down.
NEIL YOUNG: I think a lot of people feel that way. It’s pretty obvious
that something’s happening. The fact is that things happen that seem
to be covered up, but you can see right through it. People don’t trust
the information they’re getting because it looks like it came out of
Madison Avenue, or something selling the war, selling this and that.
Everything looks like a commercial — they get up there and talk about
how they’re saving trees by taking some of the trees out so that the
other ones can be safe from fire, and when Joe Blow on the street reads
it, he thinks, “Oh great, they’re saving the forests” or whatever.
And then you go, “But I know what’s going on, I think I know
what’s going on, I think it’s a payoff to the lumber industry.”
You’re being told that they’re going to revitalize the economy by
selling out the wilderness. You know, whatever you’re going to do has
a business-corporate kind of an angle to it, and it’s being sold as
something else to Joe Blow on the street. On the other hand, there’s
all these other people who are going, “Yeah, what a great idea,
we’re going to save the forest and we’re gonna make money at the
same time, we’re gonna fix the economy, this is great.”
Was there a specific incident that triggered the impulse to make this
film? Did the war in Iraq enter into it, or something of that nature?
No, we’re talking mostly about human things, about things that are
more personal. My father-in-law passed away a couple of years ago, and
my son was married on the same day, and you know, I really loved my
father-in-law and, obviously, love my son, so there was something
happening there that just got some kind of thing going. And then shortly
after that, in August of 2002, I started recording Greendale. But I
didn’t know it was Greendale at the time. We had decided we were going
to get together and write some songs and record them, just like we
always do. So I wrote one song and recorded it, and then I finished
another one and we recorded that, and after the third one it was obvious
that there was a story and there were characters, which was different
— I’d had songs with stories and characters in them before, but
I’d never had a series of songs where they continue like chapters. And
I could see that developing.
But I didn’t know where we were going. The first song I wrote was
“Devil’s Sidewalk,” which describes the town, and it’s really
like a travelogue of Greendale. But I didn’t know it was Greendale.
Then I went on with “Falling From Above,” which is the first song on
the record, and then “Double E,” which is the second song on the
album. You know, I record the songs as I write them, so one day I’d
write a song and then we’d record it, and then maybe that night or the
next day we’d mix it, and then I come in the next day, and I’ve
written another song. So it kinda unfolded that way.
Do you see Greendale as a collective fantasy that we all might have
about small-town life? Or is it based more on your own background?
It’s based on a family, and it’s just any town — this town happens
to be a coastal town in the USA, probably in California. And it has to
do with just one family that doesn’t even live in town. They live
outside of town, although one character, Sun Green, goes to school in
town. So it’s the Greendale experience, basically, with all these
characters. All I did was fill in the characters as I thought they were,
you know, and I just went along. I wasn’t trying to create anything
political. But these are my views, and these were things that I was
seeing, and when I get inside Grandpa’s head, I’m like, you know,
“This is screwed up,” you know, “Everything that I thought that
America stood for is being dismantled here.” He’s reading about all
these things in the newspaper and seeing them on TV and freaking out. So
his life takes quite a twist.
Grandpa is the core of conscience in the film. Obviously people are
going to say he’s in some sense you.
Yeah, and I have a character with Sun Green who is completely
idealistic, although she’s realistic in some ways, and very
calculating in some ways. So I can take that on too, but that’s Sun
Green. It doesn’t have to be Neil Young. All of these characters give
me a lot more freedom to express all the different parts of things than
my previous records, which were very personal, one-on-one kinda records.
Greendale is almost like I’ve abandoned that completely and moved it
into a bunch of people and made it family.
You portray the bucolic aspects of small-town life, and this idealized
family, then slowly reveal the dark underside of such a life. As I
watched this film, I thought of David Lynch, someone who’s way beyond
irony — he believes in what he’s expressing about a more innocent
way of life, but recognizes that it just can’t be, and probably never
was. As your story unfolded, were you aware of this sort of viewpoint
Well, it’s funny, when we took the film to Europe in April last year,
these people come in and they have all of these questions about the
politics, and the underlying sensibilities of all of these things, and I
realized, “What’s going on here?” I was really happy that people
are asking me these questions, but it was almost like I was learning
about the film by the questions people were asking. The characters and
their development just kinda oozed out. The people in Europe, they’re
looking at me like, “This is really what rural America is like? Are
people in rural America really that out of touch with reality?” And
I’m going, “I don’t know. I’m not sure if they are or if they
You made the film with an old 8mm camera — and much of it’s
hand-held. It’s interesting how the shakiness, or when you’ve got
some fuzz on the lens . . . you adjust after a while, it becomes a
Right. That’s the medium — it’s a funky view.
So about 10 minutes into it, “It is what it is.”
I didn’t make it to be a film, I made it to develop a record, and it
was just like, we just threw it together ’cause we didn’t want to
spend a lot of money — it’s not worth it. There was nothing about
the film that demanded we spend a lot of money on it. The cheaper it
was, and the faster it was and the dirtier it was, the better it was.
That was our theme.
Were you very hands-on in postproduction as well?
Pretty much, yeah. I worked with the editor. But the structure was there
already, so it was really just a matter of choosing the angles that
seemed to convey the feelings the best.
Were there any whole scenes that you discarded?
Well, we couldn’t discard anything, because the songs already existed,
and we just built around them, and they were in a certain order, so
there was nothing to think about there. The music was always playing
while we were shooting.
You surprised people by supporting Reagan back in the ’80s, or by
expressing sympathy with some of Reagan’s policies. And now you seem
to be a very anti-Bush guy. And you seem to be largely — in fact,
entirely — concerned with individual beliefs, personal freedoms. But
obviously, many expect you to toe some kind of party line.
What happens to me is, whenever anybody gets elected to office, my first
inclination is to get behind them, because they’re in a position to
win, to do something good. My natural thing is I’ll get behind it, and
I’m hoping they’ll do well. I hesitate to say anything, but I’m
rootin’ for ’em. So I’m taking up things that are on a personal
level, on a human level, you know. Reagan said people in their
communities have a responsibility to try to handle things in a
grassroots way — community organizations and working together to
ensure things that happen right in communities, and it has to be
happening there or government isn’t going to work, nothing’s gonna
change it if that’s not there. So I agreed with some of those things
that he said.
I look for good things in bad things, and I also look for bad things in
good things. I don’t see that it’s all good or all bad — it’s
all a measured balance of things. So I’ve never backed off of what I
was saying, what I was talking about. At the very beginning, after 9/11,
when we thought we needed the Patriot Act, I was thinking,
“Somebody’s gotta do something to tighten this all up.” I mean, we
can’t just have people coming in and out all the time. And it’s
still supposed to be a temporary measure that has to be re-voted on and
re-voted on — it’s never gonna be permanent. Of course, now we know
that if this administration has its way, it’ll be not only permanent,
but it’ll be more and more and more rights being taken away. So they
took advantage of the situation and used it, which I think is — whoa,
Neil Young will appear in person at the Nuart Theater on Fri., Feb. 27,
to introduce the 7:30 and 9:45 p.m. screenings of Greendale and take
questions in between.
"Different Ways of Telling A Story" Neil
Young on "Greendale"
Author: Jonny Leahan
Published: February 26, 2004
Copyright: 1996-2004 indieWIRE LLC
Every few years, it seems like a young director is discovered who
creates a film so raw and honest that he's hailed as the latest
visionary -- having made a compelling no-budget movie with fresh eyes
and a conscience untainted by The System. Even more rare is when an
established artist with a career spanning four decades is able to
achieve the same thing. Neil Young has done precisely that with
"Greendale," a music film that defies the very category,
delivering something entirely new that -- much like the man himself --
simply cannot be put into a box.
Although known primarily as a music legend, Young has directed four
other films, but none have been as hands-on and personal for him as this
one. Despite some impressive resources at his disposal, Young chose to
direct, shoot, and edit the movie himself using super-8 film, recruiting
friends and family as actors. The characters' only dialogue is the
lyrics of "Greendale's" 10-song cycle, sung by an unseen Young
and lip-synched by the actors on screen. Seeing them deliver lines like
"Turnin' the pages in this old book/ seems familiar/ might be worth
a second look," it's hard not to think of Young himself, as this
latest incarnation recalls so much of the mischievous minstrel many of
us grew up with in the '70s.
"Greendale" tells the story of a fictional small town and its
residents, primarily focusing on the Green family, who are going through
crises emblematic of the larger issues facing Americans today. A cop is
murdered, Cousin Jed is arrested, and Grandpa confronts the subsequent
media onslaught with tragic results. His granddaughter, Sun Green,
becomes an activist on the day he dies, and begins fighting corruption
and pollution with a hope that is only seen in the very young or the
Recently, I sat down to talk with Young about Sun Green, Super-8, and
the suspect media. "Greendale" premiered at the Toronto
International Film Festival; it opens theatrically in Los Angeles and
Austin, Texas, tomorrow, and follows in other cities across the country.
For complete listings visit: http://www.neilyoung.com/
indieWIRE: "Greendale" is not only a film, but part of a
larger mosaic that seems like it's taken on a life of its own. How was
Neil Young: Well, it started, of course, as a record. There was no
concept at the beginning to do a story or anything... the songs kind of
dictated what happened. And as the songs came out, as I wrote them, I
could tell that a story was developing and I just went along with it. We
were almost watching the thing unfold for the first time ourselves as I
was doing the songs. I knew I had enough of a story to make a movie.
Whether it was a real movie or not didn't matter, just the fact that we
could do it -- do it cheaply with super-8 -- so it wasn't too much of a
challenge for us, a lot of the decision making was already made. To go
ahead and make the film was pretty well a cakewalk, taking the
soundtrack and mapping out what we needed, where the locations were and
just bangin' them out. We did most of the film in about 12-14 days.
iW: You mentioned super-8. Can you talk a bit about the cameras and your
Young: Well, it's mostly super-8 -- I was all super-8, handheld a lot of
the time, with a Eumig Nautica. It's an 18-frames-per-second underwater
camera, which has hardly any dials on it at all; there's not much you
can do wrong so it was good for me. When we had the movie done and
thought it was pretty cool, it was time for me to go on the road to
Europe. I went over and I was doing solo acoustic shows for about six
weeks, and all I did was play "Greendale," and tell the story
in-between the songs and that's where the DVD that comes with the record
Then we took about three weeks off and did the Crazy Horse tour of the
U.S., and again I felt like I wanted to do "Greendale" with
Crazy Horse. So I had to create the stage play, and I mapped that all
out, and then we went on the tour and we filmed it. That gave us another
product, which was a live version, a stage play. So now we got the CD,
and a coming live CD, and the live show, and the "Greendale"
rehearsals, which is the sort of scoring of "Greendale," and
then there's the film, and then there's the book. I didn't have to sit
down and write it. We recorded it all and then I had it transcribed, and
then we just stuck it all together. I didn't pay any attention to fixing
it. I didn't try to make it right.
iW: A lot of people may not think of you as a director, but you've
directed five films now; do you have plans to do more?
Young: Well, I do feel like doing more, I had so much fun that I wanna
do more. It comes very easily to me. You know, I've been around the
track a few times making records, and people tend to put me in a box.
They try to put me in a box and say what I can do and what I can't do.
It's been like that for years, so it doesn't matter, but this gives me a
chance to do something new that's rewarding. The way I make a film it's
sorta like how I make a record. That's the way I wanna do it; I wanna do
it impulsively and I wanna do it at my own pace, which is fast. And I
don't like getting hung up on technical difficulties. I don't give a
shit about the technical aspect of it. We try to use what some people
might consider to be mistakes to create a sense of urgency about what
we're talking about. It's realism. Also, super-8 is cheap, so it has two
good qualities. It's really cheap! (laughs)
iW: What are the directors or movies that you love?
Young: Well, I was talking before about a film called "Crazy
Quilt" by John Korty (1966), which I really love, although I can't
remember a lot of it. And I like "Lord of the Rings" for the
modern stuff. It's nice to know that a great story like that can be
told, and it certainly is a great artistic achievement. That group of
people did a great job, and I like fantasy.
iW: I'm curious, tell me about this biodiesel fuel you're starting to
use on tour.
Young: It's a very Sun Green idea. There are eight buses and five trucks
on the road with us. They consume a lot of diesel fuel, so we're
changing that. We're gonna run 'em on biodiesel, which is not petroleum
based at all, it's vegetable based, and it can be grown here in North
America. There will be no damage done to the ozone during our tour by
our vehicles. The only reason I'm doing this is because it has to do
with the end of "Greendale." It has to do with the kind of
things that "Greendale" stands for. That's where Sun Green is
going, and if she can get enough followers that do those kinds of
things, then it can make a difference.
iW: Speaking of the end, "Greendale" opens with the line
"Grandpa said to Cousin Jed/ sittin' on the porch/ I won't retire
but I might retread." That made me wonder, are you ever going to
Young: I don't know what else I'd do. I mean, you know, sometimes I get
tired and I feel like I gotta stop for a while, and I do. I've been
going hard with this, but this is its time. This is the moment for
"Greendale," so I have to give it all the support I can. All
the things I used to count on to get my music out there -- record
companies, they're all gone. And radio stations, they're gone -- they're
completely controlled by the government. If they're not controlled by
the government, they're controlled by a programmer who's controlled by
the government. Mainstream radio is suspect. You can't trust it. It's
not gonna play what it wants to play because it doesn't know what it
wants, because it doesn't think -- it's not paid to think, it's paid not
to think, to just do.
So now all I've got left is satellite radio, which is great. I don't
have MTV -- I got nothin' that gets to kids, so I'm using this now. I'm
using the tour, the movie, all kinds of different ways -- all these
different ways of telling a story -- because I gotta keep pounding on
any hole that I can to get it through.
Concert Review: Neil Young
Source: Reuters - Hollywood Reporter
Author: John Lappen
Published: February 25, 2004
Copyright: 2004 Reuters
Hollywood Reporter: LA --Neil Young is a soul man who plays music
from the soul. It's not the type of Motown soul that finds one dancing
in the streets, it's a convergence of talent, passion and intellect that
finds itself erupting in Young's soul time and time again. And while the
"Greendale" tour isn't perfect, it's still a serious
reflection of Young's soul.
Back on the road -- or is it still on the road? -- with his
"Greendale" tour, centered on a grandiose concept album and
featuring a large-scale production with a set, actors, dancers, singers
and Neil and the Crazy Horse band, Young's magnum opus has garnered
mixed reviews since debuting last year. In a nutshell, the story
revolves around an extended family that lives in the fictitious town of
Greendale, Calif. The family is torn apart by a murder, but the gist of
the story is a metaphor for corporate greed, political corruption, media
distrust and environmental issues.
If it sounds like a lot to swallow at one sitting, it is. Not that it's
a complicated narrative -- Young talks the audience through the story
between songs -- but without dwelling too much on the story itself, it
just isn't that compelling. While Young's intentions regarding
"Greendale" are honorable and just, and the fact that he's
willing to continue to push his career envelope after all these years is
very cool, but it's very easy to strip away the narrative and the
amateurish play acting and get down to the core of business, which is,
of course, the music.
While the music on "Greendale" isn't the apex of Young's
career, it certainly shows him to be on top of his writing game once
again. Upon repeated listenings and certainly in a live context, the
music is powerful yet subtle, both spiritual and raw-boned. It starts
out slowly and builds throughout to a shattering climax that has Young
and Crazy Horse rocking out in their finest garage style but also laying
down a groove that is undeniable. While the set steamed and simmered
before its all-out climax during the last two songs, there were moments
in between of sheer beauty, anguish and pain. The latter included Young
sitting at a huge pipe organ cranking out a funeral dirge for one of the
characters and, perhaps the most beautiful song of the night, a solo
Young and his acoustic guitar on the poignant "Bandit."
Otherwise, Young's guitar pyrotechnics were kept mostly under wraps
during the 90 minutes that "Greendale" was performed. That's
not to say he didn't get off some ambitious and amazing licks, it was
just more subdued than the hell-bent-for-leather second set. Here and
there, he spiced his melodic rock and blues guitar workouts with some
tasty harp blowing and kept the pace mostly relaxed until the anthemic
finale that saw the whole cast singing onstage as Young and Crazy Horse
stretched out on a lengthy garage-band stomp.
The hour-long second set saw Young and the band in their finest loud
guitar mode. They tore through wonderfully ragged versions of "Hey
Hey, My My (Into the Black)" and "Rockin' in the Free
World" punctuated by a country-flavored "Roll Another Number
(For the Road)" that had the crowd on its feet. Throughout both
sets, Young bounced around the stage as he ground away, hunched close to
his bandmates. An apt sight as this was a night about family, in more
ways than one.
Concert Review: Young Takes Fans On Trip To
Source: Sacramento Bee (CA)
Author: Chris Macias -- Bee Pop Music Critic
Published: Wednesday, February 25, 2004
Copyright: 2004 The Sacramento Bee
Contact: [email protected]
From the outset, Greendale could be Anytown, U.S.A. Change comes slowly
to this fictional place (population 22,000), where the elders like to
hang out on the porch and muse about simpler times. The young,
idealistic people of Greendale just want to dance, maybe even hope to
change the world and get the heck out of town someday.
In Neil Young's eyes, Greendale is a microcosm of society. Bubbling
under the surface of everyday living is a world gone amok from murder,
corporate greed, dashed dreams and an overbearing information age.
"Greendale" is a veritable juggernaut for Young that includes
a concept album, a concert production and an upcoming movie (scheduled
to open at the Tower on March 12).
Young's tale of "Greendale" is complex, full of underlying
drama, oblique plot twists and complicated characters. Its accompanying
stage show is equally dense. Monday night's production at the Memorial
Auditorium was more like a full-blown musical than a mere rock concert.
The star attraction was Young and his trusty backing band, Crazy Horse
(bassist Billy Talbot, guitarist/keyboardist Frank Sampedro, drummer
Ralph Molina). Yet the show was augmented by sets, costumes and about
three dozen actors. A "show bill" was provided to the sold-out
crowd of 4,400.
The American concert debut of "Greendale" arrived in June
2003, about two months before the "Greendale" album was
released, and was met with mixed reviews. Fans and critics alike were
perplexed by the story line and low-rent props.
"Greendale" takes time to digest. The plot is based on
detailed vignettes and character sketches of Greendale's inhabitants,
such as the troubled Jed Green, who has killed one of Greendale's
beloved police officers. Sun Green, Jed's cousin, is a young
eco-activist with a pronounced sense of purpose, while the ornery but
lovable Grandpa Green is as old-fashioned as they come.
Despite the loaded "Greendale" libretto, Young and Crazy
Horse's gritty bounce kept the show centered. The music was certainly
accessible, dominated by midtempo, slightly menacing shuffles that
nurtured "Greendale's" melodrama. Young kept the volume fairly
low, which was perhaps a strategy to keep the show's musical and acting
"Greendale" resonated with many musical highlights.
"Bandit," a solo centerpiece for Young, yearned with an
exquisite upper-range vocal. The anthemic, one-two punch of "Sun
Green" and "Be the Rain" brought "Greendale" to
its rousing and rocking finale.
After "Greendale's" 10-song cycle, Young and Crazy Horse
kicked into another 10 songs that focused on greatest hits
("Cinnamon Girl," "Powderfinger," "Cortez the
Killer"). This is where the show really cut loose. Set to Crazy
Horse's rugged rhythms, Young's guitar howled and stomped as he shook
the notes from his strings.
In all, Young's "Greendale" show pushed the three-hour mark.
The concert also pushed the limits of theatricality in rock 'n' roll
and, like the end of "Greendale" itself, emerged triumphant.
Neil Young Casts Spell with Rock Opera Event
"Greendale" is an album, concert, Web site -- and movie coming
Source: Oregonian, The (Portland, OR)
Author: Jeff Baker
Published: February 23, 2004
Copyright: 2004 The Oregonian
Contact: [email protected]
Everyone who attended Neil Young's concert at the Rose Garden on Friday
was handed a program. On the cover was a drawing of Young's imaginary
city of Greendale showing the sun setting behind mountains, a whale
spouting in the ocean and the town motto: "Everything You're
Young and a huge cast of musicians, actors and singers delivered on that
promise with an inventive evening of musical theater that combined the
down-home sincerity of a high school production of "Our Town"
with a high-energy, high-tech rock show. It was an audacious creative
triumph for the 58-year-old Young, who performed his
"Greendale" album in its entirety, then returned for scorching
versions of several of his classic songs with his band, Crazy Horse.
Young calls "Greendale" a "musical novel." Older
rock fans -- and there were plenty among the 5,000-plus at Friday's
concert -- might think of it as a rock opera, similar to the Who's
"Tommy" and "Quadrophenia" or the ambitious albums
Ray Davies produced with the Kinks.
Like those early rock stories, Young tells his tale through a connected
set of songs that include recurring characters and themes. The
difference is that Young has taken the whole thing on the road with
elaborate staging, actors who mime the words he sings, and sophisticated
sound and lighting techniques.
All that makes for a fascinating, rewarding, live-music experience.
Young and his large troupe (most of the actors are family, friends and
crew members) have been performing "Greendale" for the better
part of a year, more than enough time to get their timing down and for
the audience to become familiar with the music. Most of the crowd in the
Rose Garden's Theater of the Clouds configuration Friday appeared
familiar with "Greendale" and listened intently to the music
and to Young's between-songs monologues.
Story with a Message
The story of "Greendale" is simple. The Green family: Grandpa,
Grandma, Earl, Edith, their daughter, Sun, cousin Jed and others live in
the Northern California coastal town of Greendale. Life is good until
Jed, in a moment of panic, kills a policeman.
The media descends, with disastrous consequences for the family. Grandpa
dies of a heart attack while telling reporters to get off his lawn. Sun
becomes an environmental activist who chains herself to an eagle in the
offices of Powerco and then leaves for Alaska on a mission to save
If the story is simple, the music is both simple and subtle. The Crazy
Horse rhythm section of drummer Ralph Molina and bass player Billy
Talbot held a steady beat while Young squeezed solos out of Old Black,
his favorite guitar. His lyrics moved easily from the point of view of
each of his characters: Earl Green pondered his life in a hotel room as
Young sang "Bandit" on acoustic guitar; the policeman's widow
talked to his gravestone in the beautiful "Carmichael";
Grandma wondered where her husband was as Young played an organ solo on
"Bringing Down Dinner."
The overall effect was magical and uplifting, so much so that by the
time the stage filled for the finale, the rousing environmental anthem
"Be the Rain," the audience was standing and roaring its
belief in Young's vision.
Young began the encores with a long, ragged version of "All Along
the Watchtower." Frank Sampedro, who played keyboards during the
"Greendale" songs, strapped on a guitar and traded riffs with
Young on "Powderfinger," a great rendition of "Danger
Bird," "Hey, Hey, My, My," "Don't Cry No Tears"
and "Rockin' in the Free World."
"Greendale" is a multimedia experience: album, concert, Web
and movie, the latter which opens in Portland on April 2. In any format,
it is a powerful expression of the feeling Young sang about in
"Falling from Above," the first song on "Greendale":
"A little love and affection in everything you do will make the
world a better place."
A Singer's Passion for Images Greendale Playful,
Source: Vancouver Sun (CN BC)
Author: Katherine Monk, CanWest News Service
Published: February 20, 2004
Copyright: 2004 Vancouver Sun
Contact: [email protected]
Starring Ben Keith, Pegi Young, Sarah White, Eric Johnson. Directed by
Bernard Shakey (a.k.a. Neil Young). Parental guidance. 87 min.
Some people pick up a camera because they have a need to record what
they see -- others take photographs to show us the things we can't.
Neil Young is one of the few who seems to do both. He records the images
in his own head, and offers them to us as pictures of everyday life.
He's done it musically for decades as a rockin' folk music troubadour,
but he's been experimenting with film for almost as long.
In 1972, he made a personal, low-budget odyssey under his
nom-de-celluloid-plume, Bernard Shakey, called Journey Through the Past,
which intercut live concert footage featuring Crosby, Stills and Nash
with surreal images of Klansmen on horseback and talking-head
politicians. A few years later, he followed it up with Rust Never
Sleeps, the 1979 concert film with Crazy Horse, which he also directed.
Then in 1982, he made The Human Highway -- a quasi-narrative adventure
that fused the low-tech, verite heart of the French new wave with the
quivering soul of Young's songs.
Now, there is Greendale -- a new film that will make its way across
North America one city at a time in tandem with Young's concert tour.
Greendale is called a "companion piece to the album of the same
name," but even those unfamiliar with Young's music will be able to
understand it as a multi-narrative tale because Young is a natural
He writes songs in images. Think of any Young song, from Powderfinger
("I held my rifle to my eye, never stopped to wonder why, then I
saw black and my face splashed in the sky...") to Wrecking Ball
("The restless line of cars goes stretchin' down the road but I
won't telephone 'cause you might say hello") -- and his talent for
conjuring mental pictures with an emotional edge comes through.
What may be harder to understand is the translation of these poetic
images onto the big screen, because Young's films do not look, or
behave, like anything we've come to see in a movie theatre since Bunuel
dragged a razor blade over an eyeball.
To call Greendale an art film would be appropriate -- considering its
personal style, its no-budget, handheld Super 8 photography (shot with a
$500 underwater camera) and its impressionistic structure that moves
from one defining moment in the history of a small town to the next.
But there is something about the term "art film" that doesn't
quite work when defining Greendale. A more appropriate term might be
"folk art film," because it accommodates the handmade,
down-to-earth feel of Young's camera work with the small-town subject
matter that includes everything from the murder of a police officer to a
young woman's quest for environmental salvation.
We can feel Young's sensibilities shine through every over-saturated and
grainy image. The rougher it is, the more honest it all seems, no small
feat when you consider the film contains no live dialogue at all. The
cast of friends and family simply lip-synch the songs on Young's album,
resulting in what looks like an amateurish music video.
In many ways, that's exactly what Greendale is. But there is more to it
than that. The movie is filled with a passion for the moving image. It
can be seen in the long, composed shots of the haunting Northern
California landscape and in the little tricks Young uses to let his
devil character move through walls and appear at the drop of a
As a filmmaker, Young is curious and engaged, but he's also playful and
never takes himself too seriously. There is something frail and human in
the images he creates. They capture more than the little fictional town
of Greendale and the lives of its citizens. Greendale captures our
moment in time, where reality TV distorts the everyday and the
photographic medium has been debased by the needs of the mass media.
Young may be growing old, but he is still searching for new ways to
express himself. Greendale proves there's meaning in the quest not for
what you find, but what you create.
Fifth Avenue Cinemas.
Greendale Keeps It Simple
Source: Vancouver Province (CN BC)
Author: Glen Schaefer, The Province
Published: Friday, February 20, 2004
Copyright: 2004 Vancouver Province
Contact: [email protected]
Neil Young's movie and concert sing of renewed ideals.
The first date of Neil Young's Greendale tour started off last night
with Young stopping mid-way through the first song, the wistful
"Falling From Above," as he knocked a sheaf of papers from a
stand below his microphone.
"I never look at these papers, but if I don't see them I
panic," he laconically told a sympathetic Queen E crowd. Graying
pony-tails were equally divided between men and women.
Papers re-arranged, Young resumed singing lyrics that included the line
"I won't retire, but I might retread."
It was actually a fitting start to the tour, with its simply painted
sets, essentially a staged retelling of Young's new movie. By show's
end, with a stage full of young dancers air-punching to the idealistic
strains of "Be the Rain," Young's message about renewed ideals
and grassroots idealism had won over the shouts from the back seats for
his older stuff.
Young talked to the crowd between songs, elaborating on the life stories
in the fictional town of Greendale. Actors mimed the parts as Young and
backing band Crazy Horse played.
Young returned for two encores, kicking off with a combustible rendering
of Bob Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower,' nodding to his country
wanderings and starting the second encore with "Hey Hey, My
The tour hit Vancouver last night -- with Young's movie opening for a
week's run today.
Listen to Greendale's songs and there's no mistaking the distorted,
simple chords and equally simple rhythms that he still, amazingly,
manages to twist into new shapes and riffs.
Watch the movie set to those 10 songs and the sensation holds. Young
worked the camera for this raw, home-spun effort, casting family,
friends and crew as the people of a fictional small-town caught between
1960s idealism and post-Millennial corporate culture. Kind of like Neil
Ben Keith, Young's sideman on steel guitar since the Harvest days, plays
Grandpa Green, a retired working man yearning for kinder days (guitar
tech Larry Cragg takes the role for the stage tour). Tour manager Eric
Johnson plays a bad-seed cousin who ends up shooting a cop, while
Young's wife and daughter, Pegi and Amber, take acting parts as well.
There's no dialogue in the movie, all the characters simply mime the
words, as Young himself sings all their lines. Lyrics vary between
wistful and sardonic, often in the same song, and all rendered in his
distinctive nasal quaver. The movies images are simple -- an artist at
work, a young woman arranging hay bales on a mountainside to make a
protest message visible from the air, or Satan hitchhiking to Alaska.
The man himself appears in only one scene, playing Wayne Newton as a
couple reminisces about a trip to Las Vegas.
Young shot in eight-millimetre and blew the results up to 35-mm,
resulting in frames that come in and out of focus, the visual equivalent
of the feedback and squawks that mark his songs. The sound is an even
more pared-down version of his Crazy Horse lineup.
On screen as on stage, the genuine, naturalist approach from a group of
non-actors fits with the piece's overall lack of artifice. Young may
have invented this small town, but it seems that he and his cast really
A series of interlocking stories emerge, touching on themes of
environmental conservation, pack media, activism then and now, and
Along the way, Young goads his longtime fans with reminders of how old
they're getting (a grandmother remembers her magical Summer of Love) and
admonishments not to take all of this too seriously (as when he gives a
dying character the line: "I wish the singer would shut up.")
There was a time in the bloated early-1970s rock scene when it seems
every ego with a guitar came up with an over-reaching, over-orchestrated
rock opera or concept album. So fitting, then, that when the perennially
self-deprecating Young finally penned a unified long-form work of his
own that it stands as a spare, elegant rebuke to all that 1970s excess.
Greendale is another dispatch from an artist who's gone from Woodstock
to country to grunge and all the arenas in between. And it's good to
hear from Young -- occasionally profound, almost by accident -- that
he's still passionate, still opinionated, still doing all right.
Music Legend Turns Filmmaker but Young as Modest as Ever
Source: Vancouver Province (CN BC)
Author: Glen Schaefer, The Province
Published: Thursday, February 19, 2004
Copyright: 2004 Vancouver Province
Contact: [email protected]
The nasal voice and the self-mocking wit over the phone couldn't be
"I take a lot of time to create the effect of throwing something
together," says Neil Young on a cellphone from a road somewhere
south of San Francisco. The phone fades in and out.
"Can you hear me? I'm in my truck. I'm just leaving my recording
studio, where I was rehearsing for my tour and going to an editing suite
where I'm working on the film of the stage play."
All this multitasking comes around the movie, the stage show and the
album Greendale, a 10-song saga about a small-town American family.
Young launches a North American stage tour tonight at Vancouver's Queen
Elizabeth Theatre. Members of his road crew act out the parts of
Greendale's characters as Young and regular backing band Crazy Horse
provide the soundtrack. The six-week tour includes three shows at New
York's Radio City Music Hall.
Tomorrow, Greendale the movie opens in Vancouver for a one-week run. The
story about nature lost to corporate greed, privacy lost to tabloid
media and small-town values lost in the fading of 1960s idealism unfolds
in 10 raw, simple songs that vividly render a family called the Greens.
Young says this longer story-telling form is new for him musically but
the issues are those he's touched on for years.
"I like to do new things but they're not really new, it's just me
repackaged, you know," he says.
Prod him for clues on how he's stayed relevant for audiences from the
Woodstock era through the 1990s grunge scene, and the 57-year-old
Young's modesty can be maddening.
"It's the same thing over and over again for years and years. I
have the same point of view," he says. "I just like to be able
to start over again in the way that I do things and not have to live by
what people expect me to do, I guess."
For the Greendale project, he went into a studio with a stripped-down
drums-bass-guitar lineup, with no songs written. Three songs into it, he
found that the same characters were appearing -- retired blue-collar
Grandpa Green, his ex-flower child wife, a drug-dealing son, another son
who turned to art after serving in Vietnam, and the family's third
generation, budding teen activist Sun Green.
"This project was really a gift -- I was able to write a story and
have it come out through writing songs, like a writer would write a book
in chapters," Young says.
The physical work of filmmaking has clearly given Young a creative jolt.
Learning from past collaborations with shoot-and-run indie directors Jim
Jarmusch and Alan Rudolph, Young assembled a cast drawn from friends,
family and his musical crew. The cast mimed the words to Young's songs,
as he took camera duties himself.
"I'll never be the new kid on the block with music, I've got too
much history," he says. "But with film, what I'm doing is
apparently interesting to filmmakers and to festivals, because I bring
the music into it and use music as the base. Movies give me a clean
slate. The reaction to my films is more intense than the reaction to the
record. It touches them in a different way."
Young figures he has more films in him. "It's more fun making films
'cause I get to do more physical stuff. Using the camera is a lot of fun
and I like getting up early in the morning, working early."
There was a time in the bloated music scene of the 1970s when a
succession of overblown rock operas marked a high-tide line for musical
egos, and were in part responsible for the later punk-rock backlash of
stripped-down songs and lyrics. Young's musical wanderings never took
him close to that line, so fittingly his approach to a long-form story
is still more punk than opera.
"It just turns out that it's all better if I do it fast and funky.
It's better if the stage play looks like a high school play."
Indeed, the movie's teenaged star Sarah White -- she'll also join him on
tour as Sun Green -- is a school friend of Young's daughter Amber, also
featured in the movie. "Sarah is a great dancer and a fine actor. I
saw her in a high school play at my daughter's school. The thing that
struck me about those plays was their simplicity and honesty.
"My goal is to make the content feel immediate, like there wasn't a
chance to build a big set, there wasn't a chance to shoot the shot
again. There wasn't a chance because the moment had gone. And if you
keep piling that on through the whole project, then people kind of get a
feeling of . . . a transparent urgency to what this is."
The urgency Young talks about comes out in the movie's scenes of Alaska
oil drilling, California clearcut logging and a story of lives ruined by
drug-law enforcement and TV tabloid news. Did he mean to tell a
"Not really. I think it's a human story, I think it's about values.
These characters seem to be reacting in a spiritual or heartfelt way to
the change that's come to their life. The laws are being changed, the
morals of the country are changing. The film is more about things that
happen to this family, how they reacted, how the generation turned over.
Politics is just really in the background but a lot of people focus on
It's put to him that those issues -- the environment, the drug laws --
have a political aspect.
"I guess when I think politics, I think too much of these guys with
the suits and the little tie clips," he says.
He's always resisted labels. There was a point in the mid-1980s when
Young alienated many of his fans with what sounded like an endorsement
of then-U.S. President Ronald Reagan. Young, who later took on the first
President Bush in the song "Rocking in the Free World,"
"A Republican said something I agreed with and people were putting
this guy down, and I'm going, 'You can't be so black and white about
this.' The guy was saying that people in their neighbourhoods have got
to get together and work themselves and help to make it a better
country. It's not all going to happen from government programs.
"I think that makes sense. Turns out the way they tried to do it
really crippled a lot of people and ruined a lot of people's lives. That
was wrong. But the idea is a good idea."
It was a lesson for Young in how the media spotlight can amplify a
comment and turn it into something bigger.
"With the media you've got to be careful what you say, although I
don't give a shit, you know. It was a lesson but it didn't matter."
Young doesn't talk a lot to the press -- this is a rare interview aimed
at getting the word out about his movie -- and his attitude to the
spotlight shows in a line from one of the Greendale songs: "It
ain't an honour to be on TV. It ain't a duty either."
Young laughs over the phone when some other Greendale lyrics are put to
him, as when a dying character says: "I wish the singer would shut
up, how does he come up with this stuff?" Is he getting tired of
his own voice?
"I don't know. It just comes out and it is what it is. Yeah, well
if I was looking at me for 40 years I'd go, 'What the hell is he still
doing, what is this?'"
The stage tour will include all 10 Greendale songs, played and acted
out. Then Young and Crazy Horse come back for an encore that changes
with every show.
"We'll play whatever we feel like playing at that point," he
says. "We've been rehearsing songs from Zuma and American Stars and
Young toured U.S. stadiums last summer with the Greendale show but he
says venues such as the Queen E. suit the show's minimal staging.
"This will be the last leg of Greendale, so it will be good. It is
a play so you'll be able to see even more in small places, it should be
Neil Young and Crazy Horse perform tonight at 8 at the Queen Elizabeth
Theatre. Tickets ($85-$125) at Ticketmaster.
Neil Young Bucks Convention -- Again
Source: Vancouver Sun (CN BC)
Author: Kerry Gold, Music Critic, Vancouver Sun
Published: Thursday, February 19, 2004
Copyright: 2004 Vancouver Sun
Contact: [email protected]
Singer-songwriter's multimedia Greendale will endear him to hard-core
fans, but alienate and confuse the half-hearted.
Neil Young fans don't take kindly to their hero being criticized, as
I've found out over the years.
Slag Young and face the kind of nasty, name-calling, below-the-belt hate
letters that you'd expect from a Spice Girls fan who'd just spent a
year's allowance on a concert ticket only to have you trash the show.
The difference is, Young fans are old enough to drive. They're also old
enough to remember when hippies weren't just a fashion style, but a
social movement. Although Young has shown Republican tendencies (he's
admitted to being a Reagan fan) he is still an unreformed hippie, and I
suppose he represents those qualities of quiet but consistent rebellion
to fashion and celebrity and mainstream establishments.
I like to picture Young immersed in a little world of his own making,
bent over his model trains out in the barn on his Broken Arrow ranch, or
scribbling down song lyrics in response to injustices he views on
television or reads about in the paper. There's no doubting Young's
importance as a songwriter, and he graces us with his presence when he
kicks off the 2004 portion of his Greendale tour at the Queen Elizabeth
Theatre on Thursday. Fans have been going back for repeat viewings of
the stage play set to live music (Crazy Horse will be in the house).
Like a lot of other tour stops, the show coincides with the week-long
screening of the crudely shot, 80-minute film version of the play,
opening Friday at Fifth Avenue Cinemas. Later this month, Greendale will
be released as a CD and DVD box set, featuring concert footage from his
concert in Ireland.
I had the good fortune of meeting Young once, a few years ago when he
played the same venue. Padding around backstage in mack shirt, jeans and
moccasin slippers, wife Pegi nearby, he was quite possibly the most
unintimidating presence known to the rock world. Up until the surprising
barrage of interviews he's been conducting lately (only with film
critics in this market), Young was a reluctant interviewee, so it was
surprising that he'd be so gracious with the fans at the meet-and-greet,
shaking hands, signing photos, discussing the L.A. Lakers. Long-haired,
easygoing Pegi had the air of someone more comfortable baking hemp-seed
muffins than schmoozing backstage. She had a mission of her own: to
educate the small backstage crowd on her Bridge School project for
severely disabled children (Young's two sons -- one by Pegi, the other
by actress Carrie Snodgrass -- have cerebral palsy). They were a nice
pair, Neil and Peg. The kind you'd like to have over for a potluck.
Although I've fairly or unfairly equated him with that stoner idealism
of judgmental, middle-class hippies, I mostly like what he represents,
like when he's belligerent with stuff like Time Off for Good Behaviour
and Rocking in the Free World. It's no wonder that post-punk rockers
like Eddie Vedder and Kurt Cobain fell over themselves idolizing the guy
-- he had more attitude than the whole grunge movement. But I like Young
mostly when he's soft-hearted and hopelessly lost to the mood, as in
Only Love Can Break Your Heart and Out On the Weekend. For that reason
in part, I am cynical when I read about his concept album-film-stage
play, Greendale. It sounds like Young on a well-meaning but haphazardly
executed socio-political mission, as in his 9/11 response, the painful
Let's Roll. It's been awhile since an album divided an audience so
distinctly, because Greendale is either regaled as the return of Young
the rock 'n' roll saviour, or relegated to what many view as more of the
tepid run that he's been on the last 20-plus years. Let's just say the
fans who've been writing me nasty letters are of the former belief. For
his part, Young is also belligerent about his detractors:
"If you are baffled or infuriated by Greendale, you shouldn't read
anything other than People magazine," he told one reporter.
"You should stay in the comic book section a lot longer than
I guess I'd better head down to the comic book store because when it
comes to appreciating the musical heft of this output, barring a couple
of pleasing tracks, I'm failing to be moved by the Greendale town
spirit. As for the concept, Greendale is set in a fictional Northern
California town, where Young chronicles three generations of the Green
family, grandpa, grandma, FBI agents, eco-terrorists and all. It's the
backdrop by which Young takes a jab at western culture and the media,
and it lacks cohesion and focus, and stretches metaphors to the point of
transparency. Showing his enthusiasm, Young wrote, shot and directed the
film version, under his alias, Bernard Shakey. If the project is
endearing him to hard-core fans, it's bound to alienate and confuse the
To his credit, Young has always bucked convention, whether it be what
fans expect of him musically, or what's expected of him as a rock 'n'
roller or folkie. Openly refusing to please fans, he's motivated by
boredom, or an avoidance of it, and just like his playing on Greendale,
he keeps it simple that way.
The record label is touting the project as Young's most ambitious yet,
and judging from the oddball production style, it's easy to see why. The
cast is comprised of Young's tour production crew, wife Pegi, steel
guitarist Ben Keith, legendary manager Elliot Roberts and tour manager
At a concert in Australia, he even enlisted a reporter to play a part,
as if the intention were less about execution and more about a freestyle
community happening of sorts.
Either Young is the brilliant madman enjoying a creative reawakening, or
else he's touring his very own Waiting for Guffman. We can only see and
judge for ourselves.
Directed by Bernard Shakey
Source: New York Press (NY)
Author: Armond White
Published: February 10, 2004, Vol. 17, Issue 6
Copyright: 2004 New York Press
An edifying tour through Neil Young’s country–and ours.
Greendale is Neil Young’s epic vision of how Americans live
spiritually, politically. He’s had several cracks at this material as
a studio album, a live-concert DVD and now the latest, a full-length 8mm
movie-musical version, which shows at Lincoln Center’s Walter Reade
Theater this week. It’s one of the most estimable items in "Film
Comment Selects 2004," an annual series that Young and Andre
Techine make surprisingly worthy this year.
Whatever version of Greendale you encounter, it earns a place alongside
the more ambitious expressions of small town living: Winesburg, Ohio;
Our Town; even Altman’s Popeye. It’s both recognizable and
idiosyncratic through Young’s scrutiny of our most mundane habits and
setting them to music that kicks in even when the imagery perplexes.
Greendale presents contemporary American crisis as seen through the
characters of a white farming community. (A hand-drafted map of the
fictitious place–population 25,810–serves as an emblem and a guide.)
Each character is unexceptional except for a rebellious streak running
through querulous Grandpa Green; his son, the unfulfilled artist-figure
Jed Green; and his restless daughter Sun Green. The film’s time frame
is unspecified but there’s tension, from a general world-weariness and
occasional news out of the Middle East, which suggests we’re in the
present. Young’s Greendale project follows right behind his 2002 album
Are You Passionate? (best album title in a decade), which was his
unabashed response to 9/11. That marvelous record never got the
attention it deserved because Young’s target audience, from old
lefties to new grungies, were dismayed by his gung-ho certitude in the
single "Let’s Roll" that dramatized the last moments of
Flight 93 that went down in the fields of Pennsylvania.
Our already fragmented pop music culture was shaken to
near-disintegration by 9/11, and shaken further by Young’s singular,
forthright conviction. The new hawkish rock ’n’ roll icon seemed to
contradict the pacifism of his hippie-era heart of gold. Are You
Passionate? charted a bravely personal expedition as Young left behind
his Pearl Jam/Nirvana fascination to engage nearly-esoteric musical
Americana–the bedrock of blues that he resurrected with session
players Booker T. and the MGs. The album’s raw, sore melancholy
produced a lonesome sound that simply had to grow on you. It reflected a
long, hard political process, probably similar to Springsteen’s in his
9/11 album The Rising, only not meant to be "official." In
Greendale, Young locates the unofficial territory where his outrage and
his hope are not so strange. His defiantly unfashionable position gives
voice to those Americans who lately feel completely unenfranchised–enraged
by al Qaeda and Tom Ridge and isolated from Fox Cable News as well as
the Nation. That this community has rarely been seen on the screen in
our so-called indie era is a sobering realization. But it gives the
Greendale movie surprising charm.
Directing under the name Bernard Shakey and editing under the name Toshi
Onuki, Young displays unexpected film wit. Disappointed by indie
trendies (Sundancers), Young shot Greendale on film but, in an audacious
esthetic ploy that distances him from the many dilettantes, he gives the
entire movie the patina of UFO sightings. Blown-up to 35mm, the grainy
look is weirdly trenchant, befitting Young’s subject of hometown
paranoia. It is neither resolutely dispassionate nor slick like Lost in
Translation. (I’m not sure whether Sofia Coppola’s current cascade
of honors is for being naive or just for being a rich girl. Either way,
it’s pathetic.) Millionaire Young has not lost the common touch;
that’s the source of Greendale’s humor and bold good sense.
Grandpa Green (played by musician Ben Keith as a gray-ponytailed Ted
Nugent look-alike in flannel plaid and a thermal undershirt with a
shotgun propped against the wall) presents a cultural coincidence that
Young can’t avoid. But he never shirks it. (After all, this looks like
militia land.) Unlike Michael Moore, Young accepts what he has in common
with other Americans, even those who are not fellow travelers. When the
actors lipsync Young’s recording, the songs gain an expressive
dimension. Several blue-notes away from folk-rock, it’s a different
but authentic idiom–white folks singing in the voice of the
impoverished, a sluggish, forgotten sound. These "amateur"
images–sometimes color, sometimes b&w–would be trite if not
cogently matched to lyrics that turn American wisdom into credible
non-rap rhymes. "A little love and affection/In everything you
do/Makes the world a better place/With or without you."
Plainly, Young is challenging U2’s chic piety. His command of
elliptical, poetic details was always superior (and deceptively simple),
but it’s satisfying to see him find such visual equivalents as Jed
Green in jail looking out the window at black crows followed by a
menacing news-helicopter, then his view blocked by iron bars. It’s a
successful cinematic version of extended metaphor.
Each version of Greendale exhibits Young’s command of American folk
art. This little movie doesn’t feel like an earnest Canadian bore;
it’s as sophisticated as the art movies of Winston Wheeler Dixon where
autobiography bends the verisimilitude of documentary toward the
immediacy of fiction. Plus, there’s Young’s pluralized, adopted-USA
sense of class as heard in his warmest records (American Stars N Bars,
Comes a Time). Greendale is not a town of hicks but of people who are
conscious of how the world works, like Jed Green challenging the
middle-class art world with his own paintings. Young is interested in
the virtues of folk art and this movie recreates the vigor and honesty
of "primitive" paintings. That’s not a familiar impulse in
today’s film culture but it is restorative, something that cannot be
said of Mystic River, which treats the American working class as,
Here’s what’s special about Greendale: Sure, Young distills this
moment of global dread to hippie pieties about saving the earth,
protesting against pollution and the politics of greed. But that’s
because those worries are something to hold on to, a proverbial politics
that Young relates to plain folk wisdom. (One song advising "Keep
doin’ your work and leave the drivin’ to us" puts hegemony in a
nutshell.) As a filmmaker, Young visualizes those same concerns in ways
that recall the political/spiritual anguish of the deforestation and
pollution scenes in Bresson’s The Devil Probably. (When Young resorts
to showing a devil figure fancily dressed in red and a dashing hat,
confusing various characters, it’s too quaint, too universal, to scoff
Most importantly, Young understands that any trepidation Americans felt
after 9/11 must be connected to the kinds of disillusionment that
conscientious people have felt before. (To hell with all that "the
world changed" nonsense; only America’s sense of invulnerability
has changed.) Young’s sorrow and contained rage are realized in music
and images that are as yet unmatched. The closest I can come to it is to
imagine Public Enemy recording a musical version of Malcolm X’s
"When the Chickens Come Home to Roost" speech, but ending with
Chuck D letting out a genuinely sympathetic, post-9/11 "Ouch!"
Although Greendale doesn’t provide the esthetic elation of Torque, The
Dreamers, The Return or Teacher’s Pet, it is gratifying as the pop
assessment of 9/11 that we need right now. Peter Jackson and Sofia
Coppola have thrown us into a culture of denial–which may be what some
people want, but I’ve been waiting for Neil Young to make his
intransigence unignorable ever since the stunning Are You Passionate?
was released. On that album, the "Goin’ Home" track was as
good as a Sam Peckinpah movie, similarly mixing exhilaration and dread,
raising the stakes of personal honor to the level of existential choice.
It met the grief of Drive-By Truckers’ "Angels and
Fuselage," a searing, heartfelt lament for Lynyrd Skynyrd, and
whipped it. Young’s social awareness bestowed personal blessing on
lives that were sacrificed, not simply taken. "Goin’ Home"
was as profound as Young’s love anthem "Like a Hurricane,"
eschewing namby-pamby liberal ambivalence for a brave confrontation with
The hominess of Greendale should be less troubling than Are You
Passionate?. Its assessment of how folk-art expression (pop music, home
movies) compliments our political and spiritual ideas and amounts to a
revelation. Not many contemporary artists have responded to the
post-9/11 question of how to make relevant art. Young proposes an answer
by emulating the simplicity of folk art: the forcefulness of style,
technique, purpose that can be felt in every version of Greendale. Two
authentic moments stand out. On "Sun Green," Young sings,
"No one could explain it/It just got great reviews." That
sizes up the current tendency to praise superficial product regardless
of its content or intention. Young critiques the political acquiescence
that has infected every aspect of popular culture, replacing actual
thinking, ever since the late-80s triumph of capitalism (what some
people like to call the fall of communism). And the glorious
"Grandpa’s Interview" offers a daring bromide: "It
ain’t an honor to be on tv/And it ain’t a duty
either"–blessed curmudgeonliness. Greendale’s a modest movie,
but it’s also heroic.
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