Neil Young Throttles It In The Home Stretch
On “Driftin’ Back,” the first track of Neil Young & Crazy Horse’s sprawling new CD, Psychedelic Pill, the Great White Wailer sings, “Dreamin’ bout the way things sound now, wrote about them in my book.” Only Young, whose long awaited 500-plus page memoir, “Waging Heavy Peace,” recently hit the shelves, could get away with this line without sounding like a crass self-promoter. Why? Because it comes encased in a set of nine songs so long, jam-heavy, and rambling – i.e. middle-finger-to-radio – he had to spread them over two discs. Plus, Psychedelic Pill comes just months after a tepidly-received album of mostly public domain tunes – Americana – on which he and Crazy Horse pummeled through “Oh Susanna,” “Clementine,” and other old time nuggets. Finally, Jonatham Demme’s third Neil Young concert film, “Journeys,” just hit theaters this summer, and most of it features extreme close-ups of Young’s weathered scowl (and what looks like a hearing aid). In a world where publicists, handlers, and record companies do their best to groom artists and to keep them from oversaturating the marketplace, this is not the most commercially-minded trajectory of 2012.
And yet. And yet. This is Neil Young we’re talking about, iconoclast personified. This is the guy who made an album of prescient analog electronica in the 80’s, Trans, followed by a rockabilly album followed by a country album, and an album of feedback, Arc, in the 90’s. This is the guy who refused to be filmed at the Woodstock festival, who refused to attend his induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and who refused to sound like “himself” when David Geffen sued him for not doing so. In other words, like him or not, Young has created his own alternate universe where, as ever, he continues to do what he wants to do, how and when he wants to do it.
According to a recent lukewarm Chicago Times review of Young’s latest memoir (“think digressive Christmas family letter, plus 499 pages”), the guitarist, aged 66, has a long list of projects to complete before he dies. Considering his acclaimed father Scott Young wrote forty-five books before passing away in 2005, perhaps this new ramping-up of activity is Neil’s new normal.
Fine. Bring it on. Regardless of the marketplace for recorded music, or even the debatable quality of same (Young is a passionate enemy of MP3 digital compression and has even invented an alternative, Pono), Neil Young will continue to draw massive crowds in the live arena. At this writing, Neil Young & Crazy Horse were the belles of the ball at the first-ever Global Citizen Festival in New York’s Central Park on September 29th, where, according to Fox News (!), the 60- and 70-something headliners “throttled” the adoring crowd as fellow performers Foo Fighters and the Black Keys watched in awe from the wings.
Bringing transcendence to a crowd of folks is no small thing. As Maya Angelou once said, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”