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Archive for December, 2012

(Photo Montage Credit: thanks to Ralf Böllhoff at Rusted Moon)

After surviving the Mayan apocalypse (or maybe not), we thought it only appropriate for our final blog entry of the year, to look back on what has been an extraordinary year for Neil Young.

As usual, our good friends at Thrasher’s Wheat managed to beat us to the punch — posting up their own yearend Neil Young recap earlier today. Perhaps they put it best too. Because if nothing else, 2012 will certainly be remembered by Neil Young fans as the latest, if most eagerly anticipated “Year Of The Horse” ever.

But there was much more about 2012 that made it arguably Neil Young’s busiest, most highly productive and visible creative period in years, if not decades.

Fans were alerted that 2012 was going to be something else entirely early on this year, when the 37 minute jam “Horse Back” with Crazy Horse was posted on Neil’s website.

This signaled to the world that 2012 would indeed be “The Year Of The Horse” and that Neil was once again ready to make that big rusty noise that is really only possible with one band. As the song made clear, the Horse was back.

This was followed by not one, but two new albums with Crazy Horse:

The first of these, an album of traditional folk standards given the more cranked-up Crazy Horse treatment dubbed Americana, was received warmly by fans in June, but also drew mixed reviews from critics. However, a fall tour with Crazy Horse, accompanied by a second new album, the two-disc opus Psychedelic Pill quickly erased any doubts that the Horse had lost any of its original “spook.”

The album itself combined epic jams like “Ramada Inn,” “Walk Like A Giant” and the 27 minute tour de’ force “Driftin’ Back,” with some of the most abstract, yet introspective and personal songwriting of Neil Young’s career (particularly on the latter song).

Taken together with the Neil Young Journeys film with Jonathan Demme and his own autobiographical book Waging Heavy Peace — and especially the way that each of these projects found Neil Young seeming to put his house in order and come to terms with his own place as both an artist and a human being — a convincing case could be made for the three pieces forming a more complete whole of their own.

Call it the “mortality trilogy.”

Speaking of books, the personal highlight of our year was of course the publication of our own Neil Young FAQ.

A labor of love which took this author two years to write, edit and get published (by Backbeat Books), the book was thankfully received warmly by Neil’s fans (thank you, Rusties). It also became a journey for us of rediscovering Neil Young’s artistry and legacy.

We made a lot of new friends along the way, and also received invaluable help from some of our old ones (thanks in particular go to Thrasher for his wonderfully poignant forward).

(Remember…It’s still not too late for Christmas, and Neil Young FAQ makes an excellent last minute gift for that Neil Young fan on your list).

One of our biggest 2012 highlights though, was Neil Young and Crazy Horse’s blistering performance as part of the Alchemy tour at Seattle’s Key Arena on November 10, 2012.

As we wrote in our original review:

These guys may be getting up there a bit in years, but you wouldn’t have known it on this night. This was like being shot through a time capsule back to the days of Rust Never Sleeps and Ragged Glory. At this show Neil Young & Crazy Horse played like a bunch of twenty-something kids.

As rock shows go, this was one for the ages.

It was an amazing, unforgettable performance.

Of course, there was other stuff we liked this year too. This included great new albums by some of our other old favorites like Bob Dylan (Tempest), Jack White (Blunderbuss), Bruce Springsteen (Wrecking Ball) and Patti Smith (Banga).

We also had the chance to see Springsteen twice on the Wrecking Ball tour (in L.A. at the beginning of the tour, and in Portland towards the end). Much like Neil, you have to wonder where a guy like Springsteen continues to get his energy. Both the shows we saw were three hour plus blowouts, which even saw the Boss stage-diving in Portland.

In any other year, 2012 would have belonged completely to Springsteen.

But between the Crazy Horse reunion; two new albums (one of them a double disc); a book (not to mention our own); and the third film in the Demme trilogy, 2012 was nothing less than Apocalypse Neil.

And it doesn’t look like there will be any slowing down in 2013.

If all goes according to plan, we could see The Pono, Neil Young’s revolutionary new digital music delivery system become available commercially as early as summer.

The Crazy Horse tour has also been extended to Europe, Australia and beyond, and rumors continue to persist that a second Archives volume could be in stores by fall.

We can’t wait. See you next year!

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It took us awhile, but we finally finished reading Neil Young’s epic autobiographical book Waging Heavy Peace. And, as you might expect, we have a few thoughts about it. We now know that Neil Young’s favorite new band is the Pistol Annies for one thing.

But the two main things that struck us most about the book, were Neil Young’s easy, matter-of-fact writing style and just how surprisingly forthright he is with regard to his own self-assessment — both as an artist and as a human being.

Neil Young seems to have become much more aware of his own mortality in recent years, perhaps owing to his recent brush with fate after a brain aneurism a few years back, or maybe because of his own genetic predisposition to health issues ranging from polio and epilepsy, to Alzheimers (which killed his father).

In any event, much of what Neil writes about in Waging Heavy Peace seems to be part of a recent, but nonetheless ongoing effort to get his house in order.

It is a work that is, by his own admission, very much still in progress. He expresses grief over losses (Danny Whitten, Ben Keith, Larry “L.A.” Johnson); as well as some regret over how he has handled relationships — from family and friends, to those he has worked with over the years — often while pursuing his own self-interested obsession with “chasing the muse.”

When judged by rock star standards, Neil Young has historically been very private, and particularly protective when it comes to his personal life. Yet, in Waging Heavy Peace, Neil talks more openly about these things than he ever has before. Which makes this book even more fascinating, especially for the diehard fan. The fact that he does so in such a no-holds-barred, warts-and-all manner often makes for a reading experience that is more like a peek into Neil Young’s personal diary.

Written in the same non-chronological, random style that one might find more suited to such a personal journal, Waging Heavy Peace jumps around from topic to topic quite a bit. With each new chapter, Neil just talks about whatever is on his mind at the time.

Reading this book almost feels like you are sitting down, across a table from Young himself, and having a relaxed and casual, but very personal conversation with a longtime friend. Much of the credit for that has to go to Neil Young’s very breezy, but engaging writing style. For a first timer, Neil Young really does nail it. His journalist father would be very proud.

A few other things that really stick out in our minds after reading Neil Young’s Waging Heavy Peace:

1.) Neil Young really is an “idea guy”

…And when he is particularly passionate about one of these “ideas,” he sees it through with the same stubborn determination that has also marked his pursuit of “the muse” artistically.

In the same way that Neil has often forged and followed certain musical paths regardless of their seeming lack of “commercial appeal,” he has refused to allow any perceived financial road blocks to get in the way of his various “side interests” — from Lionel Trains and the Linc-Volt, to his most recent obsession, the Pono.

Many artists — particularly those of Neil Young’s generation — have been quite loud in voicing their disdain about today’s digital music delivery systems, and how it has affected everything from sound quality to the future viability of the album format itself.

Neil Young makes it clear in Waging Heavy Peace that he isn’t happy about the crappy sound of MP3s either.

But rather than simply pining away for the “good old days,” he wisely recognizes that where you can’t necessarily beat the advances of technology, you can join it in the hopes of making things better. To that end, Neil has put both his energy and his money behind the Pono, a device which he boldly claims restores the same sound of an original performance that is mostly lost on current digital formats and devices.

2.) Do we detect a “trilogy” theme here?

This gets back to our original point about how it seems that Neil Young, perhaps recognizing that the clock is ticking, seems to be making peace with himself these days. With both this book, as well as the recent Neil Young Journeys film with Jonathan Demme and the Psychedelic Pill album and tour with Crazy Horse, there seems to be a common thread of both coming to terms with and embracing his past.

In that sense, they really do seem to form three pieces of yet another Neil Young trilogy.

Perhaps the most obvious connection can be found in the lines of Psychedelic Pill’s longest song (and the longest of Neil Young’s career), the epic 27 minute opus “Driftin’ Back”:

“Dream about the ways things are now, write about them in my book, worry that you can’t hear me now, or feel the time I took.”

But you also get the sense of Neil Young’s rearview mirror self-appraisal in Demme’s Journeys documentary, a film that spends as much time revisiting Neil Young’s childhood past in Canada, as it does with the Massey Hall concert footage from the Twisted Road/Le Noise solo tour.

The three projects, though wildly different in terms of style, really do seem to have a common, shared connection.

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