I should get this out in the open first, before my fawning is dismissed simply as fan-boy type obsession: I'm a serious fan of Neil Young.
People tend not to just be okay with Neil Young; folks typically love the guy and his sound, or hate both. I happen to think Young is an extraordinary artist, and one who cannot be replaced when he is no longer with us. (And, sadly, that could have been the case a year or more ago, before he underwent treatment for a brain aneurysm.)
I was born too late to participate in the social and political protests of the late 60s and early 70s. Years later, when I learned about some of the more dramatic events, Young's songs helped light that passion for speaking out against things I consider societal ills:
Tin soldiers and Nixon coming,
We're finally on our own.
This summer I hear the drumming,
Four dead in Ohio.
In my mid-20s, some of Young's songs reminded me that I hadn't fully lived yet, and that there were a lot of things that a goofy kid like me could learn from folks, if I'd just pay attention:
Old man look at my life,
and there's so much more
Live alone in a paradise
That makes me think of two.
Now, in near-middle age, songs from his Harvest Moon CD help me reflect on old friendships, and be reminded that even though we get too busy sometimes to say it, letting people know they are loved and appreciated is important:
One of these days,
I'm gonna sit down
and write a long letter
To all the good friends I've known
And I'm gonna try
And thank them all
for the good times together.
Though so apart we've grown.
Yeah, I'm a serious fan. Sometimes it seems my life has been lived with a Neil Young soundtrack playing in my head. Now that I think if it, maybe I do qualify as a fan-boy.
Scratch that opening paragraph.
Neil Young: Heart Of Gold, directed by Jonathan Demme, is an intimate look at Young's two-night performance at Nashville's Ryman Auditorium. Although the film spends the first eight minutes or so with brief interviews of Young's band-mates, the remainder of Heart Of Gold allows the viewer a rare, close-up concert perspective that is so much better than front row. Demme made me feel as though I was on stage, beside Young.
Hell, a coupla times I felt like I could have been a roadie. Sure, I'd be happy to shake out his harmonica and hand him a clean one. With urgency.
Songs from Prairie Wind, Young's most recent album, are featured in the first half of Heart Of Gold. The songs are highly introspective, and speak to everything from spirituality to Alzheimer's Disorder to the tragedy of September 11. Young sings these songs in that shakey voice that reminds us how fragile and delicate the emotions and memories are. My favorite, When God Made Me, is hypnotic.
In the second half of the film Young sings many of his classics, and gives brief narratives about the events that lead him to write the songs. Poetic. And beautiful.
If you are a fan, I can't recommend Neil Young: Heart Of Gold more highly. If you hate Young, check it out anyway. This is a side of him you may not have often heard.