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Saturday, February 25, 2006

"Thanks for being one of the few people to tell the truth!": Jimmy McDonough


Thrasher & Thrashette had a good ol' fashioned movie date this weekend. Finally got around to seeing that new Neil Young movie everyone's been raving about.

Yes, it's what everyone has been saying about the film -- and more.

I found Shakey author Jimmy McDonough's recent put-down of Prairie Wind to be rather innaresting. McDonough's response to the San Jose Mercury News negative review by Brad Kava was "Thanks for being one of the few people to tell the truth!". Hmmm.

In the San Jose Mercury News review, critic Brad Kava calls the new songs "uncomfortably verbose and prosaic" and "faded versions of older songs."

So what are McDonough and Kava getting at here about the film's core material? How can critic Jim DeRogatis in the Chicgo Sun-Times call the film an "instant classic, one of the most musically sensitive and emotionally gripping movies of its kind" and have respected critics like McDonough sneer?

Who can say whether a song like "When God Made Me" in 5 or 50 years from now will be recognized for distilling the world's religions into ten succint questions? It would seem to be very difficult for any self respecting critic to call such a song "uncomfortably verbose and prosaic".

As we pondered that question while exiting, I was struck remembering the angry backlash reaction to Greendale where audiences looking for the old classic songs were confronted with new, unfamiliar songs that seemed marginal on first listen. Or back in 1973 on the brutally confrontational Time Fades Away tour where audiences expecting the sunny optimism of Harvest got new, unheard songs with raw emotional lyrics like "Yonder Stands The Sinner" and high amplification electric guitar instead.

So what we saw and heard was a film that truly respects the craft of making music. The loving close-ups of Hank Williams' Martin guitar are practically worth the price of admission alone.


The slow dissolves perfectly choreographed to the music would indicate multiple takes and extensive rehearsals yet - as we all know - were pretty much single take efforts at a live concert performance.

But for me, the best part of "Heart of Gold" were the small parts that you probably didn't even notice in the live concert yet are captured beautifully by cinematographer Ellen Kuras with understated fluidity. The knowing looks, glances and nods between the musicians onstage. The close-ups of Ben Keith's fingers on pedal steel. The reverence for the Grand Ol' Opry auditorium and those musicians who came before them.

And not only does film director Jonathan Demme capture the respect of musicians for their craft and fellow musicians, but also respect for the craft of filmmaking itself. Not resorting to any film tricks, special effects, cheering audience shots, fancy camera work or other intrusive techniques, the film's effect is as classic and timeless as the man and his music.

More on the movie "Neil Young: Heart of Gold".

UPDATE - March 15, 2006: Reaction to this post below in comments and at "Gang of 400" - Thrasher's Wheat's Cabal?.


At 2/25/2006 10:25:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

We saw the film last night in Atlanta & loved it! the theater was nearly full. We saw families and young & old. You could kinda tell it wasn't your regular horror movie date crowd!

At 2/25/2006 11:14:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I saw it last night in Cleveland. There was a pretty good crowd. I saw two couples walk out. Morons.

At 2/25/2006 12:05:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

why would you go to a Neil Young movie and then walk out? Seems like you'd know going in whether you liked his music or not. Probably same sort of folks who walked out of Greendale

At 2/25/2006 12:32:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think Jimmy is still bitter over the Shakey book thing.

At 2/25/2006 03:07:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Heart of Gold is well filmed, but Prairie Wind is no musical masterpiece. I think people are responding to the heroics of the surrounding story, not to the music itself. Nothing wrong with that. Just don't confuse the two. I don't find it any more personal than any of his other albums. They're all very personal. Emotional alone doesn't equal good. The more he pulls his wife into the musical picture, the worse his new music gets, even if she does make him more comfortable onstage. Silver and Gold was a pinnacle. She's not on it. Each successive one is worse. Of course, he doesn't have anything to prove and at least he's still active. And this was done under trying circumstances. And he didn't sell it for a car commercial. But until he starts bothering again with the lyrics, he's just marking time. Truth is lost somewhere and it shows.

At 2/25/2006 03:07:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I saw the film at a special showing Wednesday in Winnipeg.Rock Historian John Einarson introduced the film and told of his experience at the live taping of the concerts in August of last year. I found the movie to be very emotionally moving and had to fight back tears three or four times. This is a film that will touch the true Neil fan in places they've not been touched before. "Heart of Gold' is a true masterpiece and one that will establish Neil Young as "Thee Rock and Roll personality of our Lifetime."Move over Bob!!!

At 2/25/2006 10:16:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know this is a fan site but it seems like Neil Young could make an album of fart sounds and you'd be calling it his best in years. I haven't seen Heart of Gold but I was well disappointed with Prairie Wind. Where Greendale was fresh I think Neil Young sounds like a tepid old man whose finally come to terms with his irrevelance. The best indication is his Grammy nominations, what's next, a lifetime achievement award. I respect Neil Young for his ability to stay relevant throughout his career but apart from "When God Made Me", Prairie Wind seems like a concession.

At 2/26/2006 11:56:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

When Harvest Moon was released I asked my son to learn it. He did in a few days and I was flattered that he did for me. He was killed in an automobile crash on July 4th 2004. When I hear Harvest Moon I think he is playing it for me like he did when he was alive. Thank you for writing that song, it is ours.
Love Mona Vos

At 2/26/2006 12:09:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, it's hard to follow that last post. Sorry for your loss.
But about honestly assessing Neil's recent music...I like Are You Passionate. It was real. Some really good songs on that one. An album you like to listen to. Who wants to stick on Greendale or Prairie Wind and listen to the whole thing? Yuck. Critics are helpful when they're being discerning. They're useless when they're suck-ups.
I think Neil's last two albums are weak and the weaker they are, the less well they stand alone. So he glosses them up with these big productions and some people get suckered. He needs to get back to basics of craft, like words and tunes. This stream of consciousness hooey ain't working too good. He doesn't seem to really have anything to say right now. Just making noise. Maybe if he's quiet for awhile and actually goes deep in a focused and sustained way, he'll come up with something worth listening to.

At 2/26/2006 12:19:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, and dump the wife. Musically speaking.

At 2/26/2006 02:58:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

When I first listen to Praire wind I thought, " Where'e CSN?" The songs just seemed like they would have been well suited to a CSNY project, that is, light, harmonious, folky, kinda stuff. I was a little dissapointed.....I want the HORSE!!! But the more I listened to it, the more I got into it......but it isn't a masterpiece to me, haven't listened to it in a couple weeks, not tired of it, really, but I would rather listen to something else right now.... I have been hoping that Neil will get back with the Horse and do something that rocks, Greendale wasn't it. I hope he still has another album like Zuma or Broken Arrow in him. I am looking forward to seeing the film though.

At 2/26/2006 03:07:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

thats rather harsh to suggest dumping Pegi. Whatever her music talents, shes an inspiration for Neil's songs. If Neil wants to bring her onstage & play ukelele, ok by me! You're jsu jealous of there love.

At 2/26/2006 03:16:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

one mad jewish translesbian supports heart of gold

At 2/26/2006 03:20:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Some fans/critics/people take personal offense if Neil Young doesn't produce what they wanted/expected/needed. That's not the artist's problem. He'll just keep rolling along.

Yes, Jimmy McDonough has a very high opinion of his opinion. There is a big downside to choosing an egomaniacal fan to write one's biography, and I'm sure NY had plenty of time to regret that decision. Oh well, that's why there are lawyers.

At 2/27/2006 09:58:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Saw it in Denver yesterday with my 10-year old son. We both loved it.

But, Thrasher, please . . . are there really any people on this planet who "respect" anything this pinhead McDonough says??

At 2/27/2006 11:23:00 AM, Blogger thrasher said...

Denver - yeah, I've getting some grief for citing McDonough's opinion - valid or not. It does seem that McDonough only reveres the David Briggs/Crazy Horse discography at the expense of all else.
Kinda reminds us of our favorite question: "Which Neil Young do you like most?"

At 2/27/2006 11:42:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am a life-long NY fan but I sure don't like everything he's done (can anyone say "Trans"?). But I love it when Old Black is cranking and the Horse is pounding. However, I have to say, Prairie Wind has definetly gotten under my skin. The more I listen, the more I like it. "There for You" is beautiful and poignent (maybe because my kids are getting ready to go off to college). And I agree that "Only a Dream" is amazing. And have any of you all downloaded tabs and started playing these songs? They're fabulous acoustic songs with vintage NY double-D tunings. Prairie Wind is extremely relavent and in the moment. I can't say that about many artists.

At 2/27/2006 12:24:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lets face it, all this controversy over HOG and "Prairie Wind" is exactly what Neil Young is all about. Unpredictable,evolving into who knows what, and not one to be pigeonholed, isn't this the Neil Young we have all come to love.Art,and the beauty of it is in the eye of the beholder, or in this case the listener. Mr. McDonough can listen to "Prairie Wind" and feel his interpretation is the "right one". I, on the other hand, hear it quite differently. Both opinions are valid. Neil Young has been a force for five decades BECAUSE he creates controversy.I wouldn't have it any other way...would you??

At 2/27/2006 04:06:00 PM, Blogger JimDC821 said...

I've seen HOG.. it appears as two movies to me. First, the "new stuff" Prairie wind, which is actually the "old stuff" or the music of an Old Man, paying homage to his forbearers, and then there's the "old stuff" which comes across as shiny and new in this venue.. The ending was superb, "Old Laughing Lady," going back to his roots. If you've never seen the B&W video of NY in Edinburgh playing that song on banjo on a street corner, you've really missed the connection to what he is all about -- in that version he was playing to anyone and everyone -- at the end of HOG he was playing to an empty audtorium -- the loneliness of finding yourself at the end of the road. In 1970 Edinburgh, his whole career lay before him, now, he's reached the part where we can only look back in retrospect. The Archives will pull this together for everyone.

At 2/27/2006 04:12:00 PM, Blogger JimDC821 said...

At the end of HOG, Neil plays a wonderful version of "Old Laughing Lady," which harkens back to one of the first times we see NY, circa 1970 Edinburgh, sitting on a street corner, banjo in hand, playing to anyone and everyone who passes by. In those days, his entire solo career lay before him. Now, in Prairie wind, we find him at the end of an incredible show, playing this classic ballad to an empty auditorium.. he invokes the loneliness of "the end." He sees it coming, as we all must do, and he is preparing himself. He even (clumsily) stores "this Old guitar" into its case, as if it were a casket, since, after all, he only borrowed it for awhile. He understands the circular nature of life. These are the images that make him great.

At 2/27/2006 05:11:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jimmy McDonough is a blow hard that can't get it into his head that he was utilized (note that I didn't write 'used') by Neil the same way he has utilized people for the past 35 years--to get his message/muse/music out there.

As like many longtime Neil fans, I have come and gone through the years (all of the 80s)--just as Neil himself would expect.

PW isn't a perfect album. So what? Which Neil album is? The closest is OTB, imho. HOG, the movie, is an amazing film. Unexpectably emotional. This time, for a change, the critics got it right.

Neil Young, bar none, is one of the true artists out there. Picasso was accused of 'sliding' in his later years as well. He's the musical equivilent.

Neil can, and will, do whatever the fuck he wants--I'll be there. Most of the time. Just as he would want.

At 2/28/2006 05:21:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

For all of those slaggin' on Jimmy McD, recall how Jimmy steered Neil back to his roots ...>>>
Horse & Briggs.

Jimmy speaks the TRUTH.


At 3/01/2006 09:31:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"recall how Jimmy steered Neil back to his roots"

This is what I meant in my post by "egomaniacal fan". JmD was granted access to Neil Young's inner circle. He confused this with being part of the inner circle. He then, in his mind, conflated his status to that of the Enforcer Of The One True Path for Neil Young To Follow. This mind boggling arrogance resulted in his expulsion (too late IMO) from the inner circle, and hence accounts for the bitterness that fouls "Shakey". It's a shame because it could have been a great biography if there had been a stronger/better editor at Random House. His overt intrusion into the life of his subject is an element of (the now very Old) "New Journalism". The author-as- participant is original, funny and wild as practised by the late Hunter Thompson. Not only is JmD about 30 years too late to the concept, but he is definitely NOT original, certainly not funny and not at all wild. Just really, really irritating. I think he was the original inspiration for the line "Won't somebody shut him up?"

At 3/01/2006 05:04:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anybody who posts:
"Jimmy steered Neil back to his roots ..."

Is as delusional as Jimmy McD.
Elliot can't 'steer' Neil, you think Jimmy McD could?

Besides any Neil fan knows, he'll only react in the opposite direction of the magnet pole. You want Crazy Horse? All the acclaim for PW/HOG will do just that, be patient.

At 3/01/2006 05:34:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

truthiness is over-rated

At 3/01/2006 06:12:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As Stephen Colbert says about "truth" - "I'm not a fan of facts. You see, facts can change, but my opinion will never change, no matter what the facts are."

At 3/04/2006 02:25:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

McDonough makes a one-sentence comment and you twerps go on the attack like a bunch of spurned Scientologists. What a bunch of bedwetters. I hope Jimmy is laughing his ass off.

At 3/04/2006 10:05:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

and what do you expect??
After Neil what did wouldn't you be pissed too?

At 3/06/2006 01:18:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I couldn't wait for my husband to come home from out of town, we had dinner at the Old Philadelphia Bookbinders and then walked across the street to see Heart of Gold. It was a magical night. The film was every bit of what I expected and was only too thrilled to see the close ups, the tears when he spoke of his father, the love in his eyes when he glanced back at Pegi and then he took us way back to a time we were way to scared to travel to, without his music, and that was surreal. You have to have an appreciation for life for at least the last 40-50 years to know what Neil is feeling and passing on and if you are a TRUE fan you will know exactly what that is!

At 3/12/2006 02:03:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you for an unflinchingly honest review of Heart of Gold/Prairie Wind. It is so refreshing to hear the truth plainly spoken. I'm a huge fan of Young. He can be a masterful talent, but when you get past the hoopla of his health scare and take a naked look at the music of Prairie Wind, it's inferior. Your description of the lyrics as verbose and the tunes as faded imitations is spot on. The critics have been giving him an easy ride lately, bordering on idolatry, and it's stomach-turning. And he seems to believe them. I haven't given up on him yet, and he's interesting at the least. But he's drowning in sycophants. What he needs more than anything is to hear the truth loudly and frequently about the inferiority of his last couple of albums. Thanks for your warning to a drowning man.

At 3/12/2006 03:42:00 PM, Blogger thrasher said...

townsend22 you're harshin' my mellow.

But sycophant? Not guilty.

At 3/12/2006 09:05:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


At 3/12/2006 09:32:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I saw NY on the Stewart Show and thought it was great. Then I went to NY's web site and found PW and listened to all the songs and thought they were great. They made me cry. Then I decided I was a fan and started nosing around, even though I'm old and grew up hearing various tunes by NY. He's always been pretty emotional about things. PW doesn't seem like a departure from a song like Ohio or Rocking in the Free World, it's just where his heart and his music are now. If you don't like PW, and like other NY, maybe you weren't getting the other stuff? While we were living through Kent State, I didn't cry when I heard Ohio, but I do lately. Maybe I wasn't getting it, either. But I'm not going to blame NY's heart. It's pretty clear NY is not in it for the money to please people. He hopes he does both, I'm sure, but he's channeling feelings. If you want an artist who does just what you like, try Wayne Newton.

At 4/02/2006 04:48:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That last post is funny, especially when you consider Neil actually played Wayne Newton in his film Greendale and put him in the song Carmichael.

At 4/11/2006 09:54:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

For the record, I'm townsend22 and I never posted here on March 12. Those are indeed my comments but the only place I ever posted them was in an email in mid-February to Brad Kava at the Mercury News. It's not cool that someone pretending to be me posted my comments here.

At 4/14/2006 05:18:00 PM, Blogger thrasher said...

Hi Townsend,
Not sure what's going on here but be glad to delete your comment.
let me know


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