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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