I refuse to join the revolt in Neil Young Nation

It’s a striking headline: Neil Young fans upset that he is releasing a new album:

Neil Young has announced the release of a new album, and no one could be more distressed than his fans.

For months now, Young obsessives have been awaiting the release of Archives Volume 1 – a vast library of early recordings, in the form of 10 Blu-ray discs. This week, however, reports have emerged that an album of new Neil Young material – called Fork In the Road – will pre-empt Archives, pushing its February release back into spring.

Often, this would call for celebration. Who needs old material when you are being offered shiny, new songs by a music legend? Alas, that’s not what Neil Young’s fans seem to be thinking. They have heard these new songs – on Young’s recent tour, or in a new viral video – and let’s just say they don’t like them very much.

“Would a record company actually listen to this garbage and then agree to release it?” asked one fan at the popular Thrasher’s Wheat site. “At some point, they’re going to have to take a stand – right? I’m actually rooting for the record company here.”

OK, I’ll admit it. My favorite Neil Young product in the past ten or maybe thirty years was a re-release of a Crazy Horse live show recorded in 1970 …and I don’t doubt there is some stuff in the Archives that will rock me, and I know that the production of this Archives project has been insanely tantalizing and slow, going back to the 1980’s… so yet another delay seems like a nasty joke.

Then again…

…this is not the crowd-pleasing thing to do, but in my view any artist doing anything worth anything is going to piss the audience off at least some of the time…

… I don’t look to Neil Young for political wisdom (I remember “Let’s Roll”…back then I half-expected Neil to start a band with Ted Nugent and Sammy Hagar), but I don’t blame him for wanting to express concerns about some dire realities. If he wants to sing that the ongoing wars are obscene, and that maybe the “bailout is not for you” that “it’s for the creeps watching tickers on TV”… why shouldn’t he? He seems sincere and passionate in this video, and what more can I ask from any artist?

…I haven’t heard many of the new songs, but “Fork In The Road” is not that bad… It won’t make anyone forget “Like a Hurricane” but it’s a solid unpretentious electric guitar workout, and I that’s what I want Neil to be doing. I won’t pay 250 bucks to see it in concert, but it could be worse… he could be playing with Crosby, Stills and Nash again.

A lot of people are complaining about the video for Fork In The Road and yes, it’s profoundly goofy… But also low-key and personal in the way that so much of the best new media is… Neil admits in the lyrics that his rock star sales have tanked, that the world has changed, but that he wants us to keep blogging till the power goes out (solidarity signaled with that UStream icon in the corner). The visual joke of having earbuds plugged into an actual apple is a groaner, but that’s always been Neil’s style — do you remember the “I hit my head on the microphone” gag in the Rust Never Sleeps concert film? (That one always kills me…)

The first Neil Young encounter that nudged me toward lifelong fandom was when I was eleven years old, watching the video for “Wonderin”… It wasn’t so much the music as his comic presence that grabbed me. At that moment I saw Neil as a peer of SCTV and Steve Martin, the comic sensibility was more vivid to me than the music…

And in a lot of ways, watching Neil bitch honestly and vamp for the cameras goofy and free brings me closer to a “classic Neil” of my own… One that the Blu-Ray technohippies who can’t wait to buy another “Sugar Mountain” outtake will never connect with…

About Brian

I am a Strategist and Discoordinator with UBC's Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology. My main blogging space is Abject Learning, and I sporadically update a short bio with publications and presentations over there as well...
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7 Responses to I refuse to join the revolt in Neil Young Nation

  1. Jeff says:

    Amen brother! One of the reasons I enjoy Neil is that he just does what he wants / believes in. How people are shocked that the Archives have been pushed back is beyond me – Neil constantly postpones albums. The new video *is* goofy, but as you said – sincere. He has a message, he’s sincere, it’s his career – all the more power to him.

  2. Cole says:

    Neil is the man for so many reasons, but the fact that he had something come to him that was important enough to release is further evidence. I love his work — old and new. I’ve been to two Neil shows — one of him solo in NYC that was so emotional everyone with me cried at one point or another and the other in Hershey, PA with Crazy Horse that was just flat out insane. I haven’t heard the new stuff, but I will certainly sit down and listen when I get the chance. I wouldn’t buy a blue ray disc set of the old stuff anyway — I don’t have a blue ray and am not in the market for it. I just wish people would get over their bullshit selfishness and enjoy life as it happens. Jeez.

  3. I agree. This is Neil Young doing what he does, and I think he’s earned enough cred for us to support it.

  4. Jim says:


    That Wonderin video is awesome, you bring in a whole different dimension of Neil with that one. I was always tripped out by his soundtrack for Jarmusch’s Dead Man, I thought it was brilliantly suited towards the vision of the film, and the way it represented the train was wild.

    I also see your point about him being fed up, and the “Fork in the Road” tune kind of summarizes that feeling, but as with must artistic work when you start spelling it all out so blatantly, they kinda lose their power. Southern Man is kind of an exception here, so maybe I have to think this through. Because at the same time that is kind of where we are with this media currently, the artistic forms of expression are still emerging and he’s actually very much part of that by sitting with his face in the camera on UStream. It’s fascinating in fact, and I’m sorry they repo’d his flatscreen TV, I can relate.

    On a related note, I was reading the recent Filmfax, and they have an inerview with a producer on th Twilight Zone who was talking about the show. he talked a bit about Serling (america’s Neil Youn in many ways 🙂 ), and I always get excited when people talk about Serling. Seems like for his live TV stuff before twilight Zone, Playhouse 90, he tried to introduce a story (A Town Has Turned to Dust) about the then recent Emmet Til murder, and the horror of violence and racisim in the US at that moment before the Civil Rights era took off nationally. CBS shot him down time after time, until he was forced to have it be in the South West with a MExican boy. Soon after Playhouse 90 was off the air, and he got his idea for use allegory and fantasy to talk about the social and political convulsions the US was going through in the early 60s. And the rest is beautiful TV history. The ability to imagine an alternative world through allegory through which you frame the complications of this one is amazing, music is different I’m sure, but that impulse for metaphor, obscure allusion, and damn good writing seems so relevant these days. Plus he worked like a madman and wrote himself to death, but he was very much in tune with his moment and what it meant to be creating in a time of turmoil and terror. Sorry for the long diversion, but I love these posts.

  5. Brian says:

    Thanks for the comments all – given the backlash so far, I’m waiting to get flamed for this post.

    And Cole, I gotta agree… my experience with Crazy Horse in the mid-1990’s ranks as perhaps my single best concert.

    Jim, I love where you go in your comment. I don’t disagree that Fork in the Road loses some poetic power with its explicit style (same as with his recent Living With War) – in many ways I see these recent quickie protest albums as almost the musical equivalent of blog posts… and I don’t suggest that these songs will be what Neil is remembered for…

    That Serling nugget is fascinating, you’ve written a few things lately that make me want to dig deeper there.

  6. Thanks for the Wonderin’ video. It’s great.

    It reminds me my brother (who is six years younger than me) and some of my friends (decades older than me) all see Bowie’s “Let’s Dance” as a joke in the broader Bowie canon.

    But I’m actually amazed by it. Not in spite of it being such a product of its time — but because it is of such a piece with its time, in a way that doesn’t happen by accident. There’s a concept of modernity on that album that’s invigorating, even for a post-modernist like me.

    Neil is different to my mind, more a Dylan character that just does his own thing. But I wonder about people that need to listen to Neil or Dylan in Blu-Ray definition. Kind of missing the point.

    Related note, I saw Eric Gaffney (Sebadoh co-founder) Friday at a local venue. Only 14 people showed up. He is on his second year of playing acoustic with just a bass player. His ex-wife is worth 10 times him for managing Peaches. I bumped into him and his bandmate loading their stuff in the trunk in the parking lot.

    He did the whole concert and played not a lick of Sebadoh. In fact, I hadn’t heard a single song other than the trucker song he covered and the Ramones song he ended with. Everything else was obscure. Some were “off a CDR that never really became a record. You know, which is why say it’s ‘off a CDR’ and not a record. It was CDR.” Others were on records we can’t get and others on the CD he brought with him.

    I suppose another person would think it sad, but I found it invigorating, because he didn’t care. Here’s the father of late 80s low-fi and frankly there’s enough residuals, just enough, to keep him in health care and mac & cheese. And he doesn’t have to pimp out anything he doesn’t want to. It’s a noble thing, IMHO.

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