Saturday, August 04, 2012

Jonathan Demme's "Neil Young Journeys"

Neil Young is probably the only rockarolla of his generation who gets more interesting as he ages. In 2010, he performed selections from his then-current release Le Noise (a play on producer Daniel Lanois' name) and a selection of older material at Massey Hall in Toronto. Filmmaker Jonathan Demme documented the performance, as well as a visit Young made with his brother Bob to Omemee, the town in North Ontario where he grew up (immortalized in "Helpless"). The resultant documentary, Neil Young Journeys, is playing at the Modern Art Museum today at 5pm and Sunday at noon, 2pm, and 4pm. You owe it to yourself to check it out.

Neil's been well represented on film, most memorably in 1979's Rust Never Sleeps, arguably the best rock concert film of all ti-i-ime. He even released a full-length video for Le Noise when it was new, but Demme's vision still adds to the experience, in the same way Julian Schnabel's did to the 2007 film of Lou Reed's Berlin (even though the scenes of Neil driving around his old stomping grounds recall both Wayne Kramer in MC5: A True Testimonial and Mike Watt in We Jam Econo).

Playing solo on acoustic and electric guitars, organ and piano, Neil kicks up a thunderous sound. The minimal, plugged-in acoustic on the opening "Peaceful Valley Boulevard" sounds like an orchestra, while the howling electric on "Sign of Love" sounds like a choir. A haze of feedback and sampled and looped sounds hangs over the whole affair (recalling Arc and the Dallas show he played where Sonic Youth opened and sent the Harvest fans running for the exit with their hands clamped over their ears). While I've always said Neil has gotten farther on less voice than anyone but Bob Dylan and Uncle Lou, he's kept his over the years better than either, and puts his lyrics across with a snarl that you get to see up close thanks to Demme's occasional use of an ECU microphone cam (which he stays with even after a fleck of spit hits the lens at one point during "Hitchhiker," a peculiar editorial choice).

The old songs benefit from this stripped-down but edgy approach, particularly "After the Gold Rush" and "Down By the River." There's no "Sugar Mountain," "I Am A Child," or "Old Man" here, thank goodness, but Neil alludes to his own aging in "Sign Of Love," the lovely (and unreleased) "Leia," and "You Never Call" (a farewell to his ex-wife Carrie Snodgress, who died in 2004). Not to mention the moment when he offhandedly remarks, "That's why you don't have to worry when you lose friends, because they're still in your head. They're still in your heart." This old man's blues give me hope for the future.


Post a Comment

<< Home