New Neil Young Video a revealing Winner


Directed by Alix Westbrook

Sexy Intellectual (2011)

* * * *

This two-hour video is true to its title; it opens Neil Young’s music box and samples the myriad styles that have inspired him from his boyhood on. Toward the end of the film one commentator notes that Young has been a sponge his entire career, yet within ten seconds of anything he’s every done you know it’s a Neil Young song! Young is not only a chameleon; in some cases he’s flat-out stolen licks and lyrics from other performers. As the film so astutely shows, “Tonight’s the Night” lifts melody lines from The Rolling Stones’ “Lady Jane,” “The Last Trip to Tulsa” is Young’s take on Dylan’s “Desolation Row,” and “Ambulance Blues” stripped of the vocals is a Bert Jansch guitar solo. But here’s the thing: Neil Young has never denied any of that! He has proudly honored musicians that have inspired him, refuses to be pigeonholed, thumbs his nose at corporate rock, continues to experiment--even when he doesn’t understand a genre--and lives according to a principle he took from Dylan in that he never bothers to explain or apologize for what he does. Is it any wonder that only a handful of performers have left their mark on as many forms of music as Neil Young? Since first hitting his stride in the 1960s as a solo artist and with the raw band Crazy Horse, Young has performed rock, folk, country, folk rock, country rock, punk, electronic music, grunge, and rhythm and blues. As he approaches his sixty-sixth birthday in November, Young continues to inspire.

Here We Are in Years is one of the stronger rockumentaries I’ve seen in some time. As Westbrook reveals Young’s influences we receive a survey history of rock music. The expected influences are there--Elvis, Little Richard, Dylan, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones--but what is most revealing is the exploration of less-obvious role models. Do you associate Neil Young with surf music? Watch the sequences featuring The Fireballs and The Shadows and you will. Of course Neil Young was influenced by folk music, but Jansch and Ian and Sylvia played a bigger role than Pete Seeger or Woody Guthrie. Young co-founded Farm Aid in 1985, hangs out in Nashville a lot, and owns Hank Williams’s guitar, but he didn’t play much country music until the early 1970s and his biggest influence wasn’t the Williams, Johnny Cash, or the Carter family, it was Don Gibson, whose “Oh Lonesome Me” he turned inside out. And when rock lost its way in the late 1970s, Young grooved on The Sex Pistols and adored punk’s irreverence. He felt the same way about early electronic music and embraced bands such as Devo and Kraftwerk, even while admitting he didn’t always understand all of what they were trying to do. As one music critic noted, “the lure of the new is irresistible to Neil Young.” So of course he embraced grunge, performed with Pearl Jam, and made several grunge-influenced albums. Or did he and Crazy Horse actually invent the genre? Just like he may have invented country rock.

Unlike far too many rock films, this one actually tells us some things we didn’t already know. Want to hazard a guess who his first guitar mentor was? You only go to the head of the class if you said Randy Bachman (The Guess Who, Bachman-Turner Overdrive). Who was his vocal model? Did you know it was Roy Orbison? Favorite Beatle? Most influential member of The Rolling Stones? Probably not whom you thought!

Okay, the film could have used more comments and music from Young, but the commentary is incisive and connections and influences aren’t merely asserted; they’re demonstrated. This DVD hits the streets on June 21 and I’d recommend you check it out.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Actually the song he took from the Stones is 'Borrowed Tune' off the album 'Tonight's the Night.'