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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 other reasons.

"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."




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 creeping in?

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 aren’t.”

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 nonissue.

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, that’s bad.

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"

Source: indieWIRE
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 very wise.

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:

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 "Greendale" born?

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 methods?

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 came from.

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 retire?

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 'Greendale'

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 elements balanced.

"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 April 2nd 

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 Looking For." 

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 Mother Earth. 

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 site: 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, Honest

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.

Rating 4

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 storyteller.

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 red-brimmed hat.

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 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 himself.

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 live there.

A series of interlocking stories emerge, touching on themes of environmental conservation, pack media, activism then and now, and small-town decline.

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.



Merely Neil

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 anyone else.

"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 political story?

"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."

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," doesn't apologize.

"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 Bars."

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 fun."

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 usual."

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 half-hearted ones.

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 Eric Johnson.

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.


Film: Greendale

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, frankly, shit.

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 at.)

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 tragedy.

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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