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Sunday, September 12, 2004

Joel Bernstein and The Archives

From the Neil Young biography Shakey by Jimmy McDonough on Joel Bernstein and The Archives:
Joel Bernstein - a baby-faced longhair who made the leap from fan to Young's primary archivist - put it succinctly: "Neil does what he wants to do when he wants to do it and doesn't do what he doesn't want to do when he doesn't want to do it."

Here in the summer of 1991, Bernstein was deep into a career retro-spective of Young's work, and he was excited. Little did Bernstein know that it still wouldn't be finished ten years later and he'd have a few new gray hairs to show for his trouble.

The Neil Young Archives, a projected multi-CD set of Young's entire recorded output-released and unreleased-is emblematic of his tenaciousness and perversity. Numerous tentative release dates have come and gone since the project began in 1989. Exhaustively seeking CD technology refinements, Young has transferred his mammoth analog tape vault to digital not once but three times-so far. He's blocked any attempts to corral Archives into a practical size and driven everybody crazy by repeatedly abandoning the project to create new music. A booklet mock-up was de-signed only to be immediately rejected; Young wanted a four-hundred-page book. His vision encompasses every aspect of the project down to the box cover, and rest assured, one way or another it will be carried out. Like everything else, it'll be the way Neil Young wants it, or it won't be done at all.

Everybody keeps putting their own concept on this Archives thing- what songs should be in it, shortening it, doing all this shit that has nothing to do with what I'm going to do, y'know? So what I've done is, I've just stopped all that from happening-no one can complete any-thing.

-They, uh, noticed, Neil.

They did?

-Oh, yeah. They noticed big-time.

It was a helluva try. Real good. But it's not what I want. I don't mind the suggestions about what are good songs . . . But the pieces of shit should be there, too.


So you know the difference. Some of it is good, some of it is crap that wasn't released-there's a reason. Take a look, see what it is. That's what a fuckin' archive is about, not "Here's Neil Young in all his wonderfulness-the great, phenomenal fucking wonderfulness." That's not what I want.

I want people to know how fuckin' terrible I was. How scared I was and how great I was. The real picture-that's what I'm looking for. Not a product. And I think that's what the die-hard fans want-the whole fuckin' thing.

And when I've done the Archives, selected everything and it's all finished, I'm gonna destroy everything else.


I'm gonna bury it.

-You're not being glib? This is a decision you've made?

Definitely. I'm gonna dig a big fuckin' hole, dump it all in there, cover it all up. And it's gonna go away.

-But people have shovels. People close to you.

People close to me have shovels?!

-Are you the right guy to put the Archives together?

Hey-it's already together. All you have to do is make sure it's in chronological order, pick the art that goes with it, pick the packaging, put it out.

Y'know, I don't give a shit whether anybody BUYS it or not. I just wanna do it. And there may only be two hundred copies, signed by me. But it's gonna fuckin' exist. When it's done, people can do whatever the fuck they want, make any fuckin' order they want out of it. But they're gonna have the whole fuckin' thing to choose from. They're not gonna get part of it. Everything-the good, the bad, the ugly.

-Should I approach the book the same way?

No-music's different. If you put everything in the fuckin' book . . . First of all, the book would be fuckin' twenty volumes long and you'd never finish it. Second of all, it'd have all kinds of shit in it that might hurt people.

At the same time, it shouldn't be a book that makes me look like I'm great and that everything I did is perfect and that the whole book is contrived and put together to justify every fuckin' thing I ever did.


So obviously it's not gonna be that kinda book. But that's the one thing-I really don't want to hurt people. There are ways to say things where the reader can put things together. Draw their own conclusions. The weakness of an autobiography is the lack of perspective of the per-son who's writing it. So, for that reason, I'll never write an autobiography. Never. I told Pegi, "Never let me do it." There's no reason.

People keep telling me that my music has helped them through periods of their life, and I've never understood how that happens, but it must hap-pen because of the way I do it. The way I do things is I give enough facts to make people get a feeling-and then they can associate their own lives with these images that make it seem to apply directly to them. Like the song was written for them. They can't believe it's so directly and obviously about their life. That's because it's not so specific that it eliminates them.

To write an autobiography would go against the grain of all that. Plus it would be too hard. I'd rather make records. That's where my thing is. Now you say something.

-I'm gonna be institutionalized.

Fuck, we can make a lifetime outta this. This could be worse than the Archives, heh heh. We'll make an art project out of it if it fuckin' kills us. It's a book. As far as what's in it-that's up to you. I'm not gonna read it.

More on the Neil Young Archives.


At 1/06/2014 04:08:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I'll never write an autobiography."


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