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Thursday, April 23, 2009

Comment of the Moment: And Yet Another Re-Appraisal of Fork in the Road

The assessment of Neil Young's Fork in the Road continues to veer back and forth across the road even though the album has been out for little more than a week.

It seems hard to believe that an album with such a short release time frame can go from the divided opinions prior to release to nearly utter critical disdain upon release and then back to recognition of the bluesy, riffing simplicity of messages of hope freedom, and a better way of traveling.

Need less to say, the critical reaction to Fork in the Road has been both fascinating and confounding. Our review of FITR, generated a spectrum of opinions which yielded a rather lengthy comment by Pinto (or Flounder) that was met by a fusillade of criticism over Neil's recording and touring motives.

Here's some of the pushback on Yet Another Re-Appraisal of Fork in the Road by Greg, who said:
Every now and then something prompts me to go back and reread the great Cameron Crowe Rolling Stone interviews. They always seem to provide a perfect perspective for the newest flavor of the moment controversy, as in the case of this blog. People very rarely change, or change their stripes. Maybe they have their lapses, and Neil is human for sure, but I’d be shocked to find out it was ever about the money. It’s about what’s happening right now- in his head, in his life, in the world around him. Is that really so hard to understand? People don’t understand something, they don’t like something, they don’t know- they freak out and start flailing about trying to make sense of something they’re not privy to. I’m not privy to anything either, but I rest my mind in the experience of what 40 years of Neil Young have given me, and it’s all about the music and the integrity. Money motive just doesn’t wash with me.

I don’t have anything more to say about the recent music- too much has been said already- other than to say that Thrasher is probably on to something by likening GD/LWW/CDII/FITR to the “ditch trilogy”, and in that event hold onto your hat for what might be coming next. Revisionism notwithstanding, I was there when it was happening, and clearly remember the gnashing of teeth in the music world over the impending demise of Neil Young, and the dismissiveness of the people who didn’t understand, who felt the need to save Neil from himself. Beyond this, Bill Shapiro of “Cypress Avenue” said it all when he likened Neil to a troubadour, someone who is compelled to perform for people. You might find someone like this playing to a local bar like as not playing to an “ocean of shaking hands”. It’s not about the money. As one blogger pointed out somewhere, heart rending and angst ridden youth produced heart rending and angst ridden music, but now having moved beyond these things, different things are producing different music- things like the deterioration of society, the degradation of the environment, war in the middle east, and the need for energy alternatives. Laced through all of it is the need for the artist, the individual, to make sense of it all and have something to say. There’s need, and it ain’t pretty.

I’ll let the following Crowe excerpts say the rest:
“Every one of my records, to me, is like an ongoing autobiography. I can't write the same book very time. There are artists that can. They put out three or four albums every year and everything fucking sounds the same. That's great. Somebody's trying to communicate to a lot of people and give them the kind of music that they know they want to hear. That isn't my trip. My trip is to express what's on my mind.“

“I don't want to feel like people expect me to be a certain way. Nobody expected Time Fades Away and I'm not sorry I put it out. I didn't need the money, I didn't need the fame. You gotta keep changing. Shirts, old ladies, whatever. I'd rather keep changing and lose a lot of people along the way. If that's the price, I'll pay it. I don't give a shit if my audience is a hundred or a hundred million. It doesn't make any difference to me. I'm convinced that what sells and what I do are two completely different things. If they meet, it's coincidence. I just appreciate the freedom to put out an album like Tonight's the Night if I want to.”

“One afternoon during a tour several years ago, Young sat in his manager's hotel room. The phone kept ringing, tour crew members bustled in an out... and through it all, Young sat on the bed with his son Zeke, peacefully watching the news.

The broadcast was interrupted by an emergency bulletin. Pat Nixon had suffered a stroke, an announcer said over a filmed report of the sad and beaten Richard Nixon tearily moving through the hospital's revolving doors. After a time, Young got up and disappeared into his bus in the parking lot. Onstage several hours later, Young played the song he had written…“ (Campaigner)

"People don't understand sometimes," he says, looking down at a pencil he's toying with, "how I can come in and go out so fast, how I can be there and want to do something and then when it's over, for me it's over. To other people it's just a beginning. Sometimes that's hard for people to take. I can see how that would be. I just don't like to stay in one place very long. I move around, I keep doing different things . . ." He looks up. "Just different things."

It must be difficult, I wonder, to decide which impulses to follow.

"I only follow the ones I get," says Young. "And if it makes me laugh... I know it's a good one. Basically I've had a really good time, even though my songs have mostly expressed the down side. I like that there's a lot of humor in rock & roll now. A lot of people take me so seriously. They don't know what to do with me not taking myself so seriously anymore.“

"I've got a job to do, I've got to just tear down whatever has happened to me and build something new. You can only have it for so long before you don't have it anymore. You become an old-timer... which... I could be... I don't know.

"After all, it's just me and Frank Sinatra left on Reprise Records."

Does anybody doubt that Neil is laughing and having fun right now, or that something’s getting torn down in the process? Is it just too much to handle that the same man employing the same method that in the past produced something “musically pleasing”, is now producing music that is not “melodic” enough or “lyrically complex” enough? I think it’s time for everyone to take a chill pill, and give the guy a break. After all, it has to be pretty lonely sometimes now that Frank is gone.

Greg M

More reaction to Neil Young's new CD Fork in the Road.


At 4/24/2009 08:31:00 AM, Anonymous DEBORAH said...

I put FITR in my car since the day I bought it and I've been listening to it everyday, the same way that I came to know LWW, CDII, GD....listen to the songs long enough and they will grow on you...Neil is Neil and that is why we all love him. Keep on Rocking in the Free World Neil !!!!

At 4/24/2009 02:41:00 PM, Anonymous D. I. Kertis said...


You actually included my comment in one of your past Fork in the Road Re-appraisal posts, imploring for me to come forward with a proper account. I have, and I just want to say:

I really do like Fork in the Road, but how about taking things in a different direction for a while. Why not get some discussions rolling about the Geffin Years and Neil's '80s music, for example. There could really be some lively debates there.

Yours sincerely,

D. I. Kertis

At 4/24/2009 05:11:00 PM, Blogger thrasher said...

Hi DI,

Yes, thanks for the identification. Great comment earlier.

I agree that the Geffen years are another source of endless debate.

Given that Neil's on tour and we have lots of debate on FITR, Archives, etc., I've got my hands full.

But by all means, if you want to get ball rolling, be my guest.

Write something and email me and I'll run after tour is over.

contact info link in right sidebar.


At 4/25/2009 05:02:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Isn't it better that FITR is garnering discussion? Rather than just being ignored and slipping quietly in to oblivion?
No Neil release will ever please everybody. He's covered just too wide a variety of styles for that to happen. And good on him for doing so.

DJW in England

At 4/26/2009 04:13:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Who are you trying to convince with these 're-appraisals' - yourself or us? This album has got to be the biggest piece of rubbish that Neil has ever released. And the attempt to claim it as a part of some trilogy is laughable! This album confirms for me that Neil can no longer write a decent song. He can still play a great live show though, it's only as a songwriter that he's washed up.


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