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Sunday, November 14, 2004

A&E Biography of Neil Young

The airing of the premiere of the A&E cable channel Biography of Neil Young was not exactly prime time. Try 10:00 AM on a Sunday morning. Oh well. You can't exactly expect to find "rock's ultimate survivor" on during family hour.

Nonetheless, as expected, the A&E Biography was certain to both please and disappoint the fans. First off, the positives.

A&E interviewed what are definitely considered to be Neil experts:

aande-jimmy-mcdonough-2004 aande-dave-zimmer-2004
aande-ken-viola-2004 aande-john-einarson-2004
biographer Jimmy McDonough, author Dave Zimmer, author Ken Viola, Neil historian John Einarson.

Without a doubt, these guys know their Neil history. The program script was factually correct and relatively straightforward.

There were some rare photos which was nice.
aande-neil-buf3-2004 aande-neil-buf-2004
But obviously, Neil did not cooperate with the program and there was little background music variety and live footage. The principle performance footage consisted of the music video of "Rockin' In The Free World" and Neil's appearance at the Winnipeg Reunion "Shakin All Over".
The emphasis was on Neil's early years and the first half of the segment was the best focusing on the Canadian Years and The Buffalo Springfield era.

This gave author John Einarson the opportunity to tell some of his wonderful stories about the Squires, Rick James and The Mynah Birds, and Randy Bachman. Good stuff.
Ken Viola had the best quote on listening to Crazy Horse live just after the recording of the album "Everybody Knows This is Nowhere":

"Like standing at the top of the highest mountain on the most beautiful day and hearing the wind blowing, air so pure that it hurts to breathe."

"Shakey" biographer Jimmy McDonough dominated the program, with material from his book and several innnaresting anecdotes.

As for criticism, I can't say I'm in disagreement -- like many others before -- about some of the techniques that the A&E Biography series employs such as "scene recreations" intermixed with stock footage. I was particularly troubled by the scene about Neil contracting polio at the age of six. A&E gives us a re-enactment of a small boy clutching his shoulder with blurry hand held footage and then intercuts archival photos of polio wards and then back to a photo of Neil. I'm really apalled by this technique because it makes Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11" look like it was produced by Edward R. Murrow.

Thankfully, this sort of creative license was used sparingly but clearly the show's producers were challenged and used all sorts of bizarre edits. Lots of punk audience footage was edited in with little relation to the time frame or narration as if to imply these were Neil's fans during the late 1970's.

The program raced through much of the 70's, 80's , 90's & 00's as if not much really happened. Oh well, maybe when Neil chooses to cooperate with a more serious effort we'll get a more balanced portrait.

The good folks on RUST blasted the program for it's numerous factual errors and poor editing. All of the A&E Bio slamming led a Rustie to comment that they were "glad they didn't have cable."

Still, all in all, the interviews with the Neil historians McDonough, Einarson, Viola,and Zimmer were definitely worth the price of admission.


(Thanks Bill L. for the heads up on the program!)
For more, see Dave Zimmer's Neil Young Biography.


At 11/15/2004 10:32:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice job, Thrasher!
Johann in Rotterdam

At 11/15/2004 01:48:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the review. I don't have A&E so I'll have to catch up with it when it's released on DVD.
What exactly has Ken Viola written? I checked Amazon and he isn't listed there. I remember McDonough mentioned him in Shakey.

Tired Eyes

At 11/30/2012 03:11:00 PM, Anonymous ted fitzgerald said...

HI there, I have just stumbled on this web site, yes, after 8 years.
i'm the poor bugger who travelled all the way from England to film and interview Neil and his associates.
I first filmed Jimmy in Portland Oregon and he was great, said a lot of good things and had a real proximity to the fact and anecdotes and Neil's character.
Upon reaching LA I set about confirming and organising all of the other interviews we had lined up on the phone a week or two previously. over a period of days, one by one these guys who had said they were more than willing to talk dropped out.I'm not mentioning any names but they were close to, and some inside, Neil's inner circle of associates.
As a co producer and videographer for this production I was at my wit's end, no one to film who knew Neil! There was one tell tale comment from the last person to drop out of interview"Neil casts a long shadow" So as producers we were stumped. Thanks heaven for Nuritte-the hippy chick-she sat and talked at length after some persuasion,Jimmy Mac, the guys in DEVO( thanks kid) and many thanks to the guys at Sunset Sound Studios, I believe the name has changed, they were very helpful.the volume needles,tape reels and sliders and parts of the engineer interview were all shot there, and those are my hands on the piano..check out the gold wedding ring, that's my fathers'.
So we were left with very little to use to create a workable documentary which covers a whole lot of ground. I wasn't involved in the editing and much of the later young years were grafted on in post.As a musician myself, i was impressed as hell with those people who gave up their time to be interviewed, and really disappointed with those who withdrew. what could have been a great tribute and fascinating insight into an iconic musical legend fell short of our own expectations due to these no shows.
If this sounds like an apology, it's not , we did as well as we could with what we had, and boy, it was pretty tough at times. This is more like just an explanation. Enjoy it for what it is, not perfect, but worthwhile, much like the man himself.


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