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Saturday, October 31, 2009

Comment of the Moment: "Neil Young's Imperfect Nature"

The Neil Young Comment of the Moment is from Greg M (A Friend Of Yours regarding some recent criticism of his concerts:

I can’t think of a better way to address the issue of the “imperfection” in Neil’s approach to performance standard, which after all these years a lot of people still have a hard time coming to grips with. I mean, we could go on and on and on about bent notes and off key vocals and rudimentary concert staging and FITR and blah blah blah blah blah.

If you know anything about Neil’s music- and I think every post contributor in this thread does, you have to allow for the thrown together, and “imperfect” nature of much of what Neil has done. It’s a part of who he is, a major part of what makes his music immediate, heartfelt, honest, and sometimes wacky, all of which sometimes leaves you scratching your head- at first.

From throwing Nils Lofgren onto an instrument he had never played for recordings that made it to vinyl, to the “non dominant” nature of his film making, to recording live to get the raw straight ahead take of new music that is devoid of over thinking and over production, and yes, to employing the vocals of wife Pegi, again we could go on and on. How many years are we going to devote to restating the fact that Neil’s music, career choices, and song writing are not “perfect” in the eyes of everyone?

After a while, it just begs the question: When are the critics going to get that the things they criticize are the result of an attitude that simply doesn’t take into consideration what anyone or anything other than the artist - Neil, demands of the music?

The art is not about you, it’s about a unique expression. Part of the uniqueness in this case is a haphazard, spontaneous, less is more approach. Get over it. There are things that I wish he had done differently over the years, but then I just kind of laugh to myself, and recognize that it’s just Neil being Neil. Don’t try to fit a square peg into a round hole. You don’t have to like it, but don’t try to demand of it something it’s never been about.

I’ve thought over the years, and I’ve never said it out loud, for the very reason of what I’m about to bring down on myself when everyone responds to this, but what the hey, damn the torpedoes. If Neil had chosen to over produce, and “perfect” every one of his albums, make them as slick as is technically and humanly possible, with some obvious exceptions, he would have long since been considered the number one performer of his time. But that was never going to happen, which I learned a long time ago. It’s a big reason why I love him - and I’m not telling anyone not to voice their opinion - but also a big reason why we shouldn’t even be having this conversation.

Greg M (A Friend Of Yours)

Thanks Greg M. ! You are a Friend Of ours.

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At 10/31/2009 11:47:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i hope Neil has one more good album left in him. Haven't been too excited in a while.

At 10/31/2009 03:38:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A reaction to...'i hope Neil has one more good album left in him. Haven't been too excited in a while.'

Don't be an idiot....

Greendale - Amazing! Living with War - Fantastic, Chrome Dreams 2 - Some stand out tracks. His playing on Booker T's album - Brilliant.
The guy has 7 great albums in him atleast. I know that from watching the energy flow out of him live in recent years. I know he has atleast one great 'love' album left in him. An album of acoustic beauty like 'silver and gold', or 'harvest moon'. Ateast one good rock album in him that will compete with 'Sleeps' and 'tonights'....Oh and I think CSNY will go on the studio and come out with something real special.

I want to start a thred. What is your favourite 'imperfect' neil moment?
Mines 'Everybody's Rockin' I love all that album despite it being so short. I reckon the archives of that period, 1980-1989 will be fascinating and full of great eggs.

What is yours?

G Mac - Preston, Uk

At 10/31/2009 03:49:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

hey Gmac, thanks for calling me an idiot simply because i have not been impressed with Neil's recorded output over the last few years.

You are all class.

At 10/31/2009 07:49:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Neil can do whatever he pleases, he doesn't owe me or anyone else anything. But like the first comment, I haven't been too excited in a while either.

It seems all of Neil's recent albums have had their share of fans and their detractors: some love LWW, some don't.. some love Prairie Wind, others not so much. It's been a long time since he's released an album that's received near universal acclaim simply because it has lots of really great songs. Chrome Dreams II had its moments but even that didn't connect with too many people outside of his core fans.


At 11/01/2009 02:51:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anon 1, no one should be calling you an idiot because the last several albums didn't strike a chord with you. Several of them clanked with me at first, too, even though I like them a lot now. I have some questions for you and Chris, who is also underwhelmed: Accepting that Neil can do whatever he wants, do you agree that what he has done of late is consistent with the approach he has taken to his music his entire career? Do you think that it's the same approach, just with less than pleasing results? Or do you think that the music is different because somehow Neil has changed?

I think it's the same approach, which is to create a musical interpretation of the present moment or whatever present stage of life he's in, all with a minimalist take and utilization of whatever is at hand approach in terms of performance. For me, this explains a FITR- it's a drier subject matter. Or a LWW- "No one else is talking about it, I'm not keeping quiet anymore, I'm going into the studio now with just the emotion and the message, and I'll use whatever I can get my hands on now, but I'm not going to think about it too much." The same thing happened with "Let's Roll", which was sent out to radio stations with no explanation or description, before it ended up on Are You Passionate.

I guess my question is: is the distinction between the approach and the end product being missed, with no understanding of Neil's throw it up against a wall and see if it sticks approach, which sometimes works and sometimes doesn't? You may or may not like this approach, but if it's not being taken into consideration, then it's easier for me to understand peoples criticism. The upshot I'm getting from a lot of criticism in the last several years is that people think that Neil has somehow changed, and I just don't see it. I think he's the same, and circumstances- his and the worlds as a whole- are just simply different, therefore the music is different. Just a theory of mine.

Anyway, most of my frustration in the last several years is not that people don't like the music here and there, just that they've turned their dislike into attack, and I just don't get this. Another post said it all: "'How could people get so unkind?'" For me, the source is the same, and the output varies depending on circumstances. I have no problem with people questioning the output, but not the source. Neils integrity has always been a big reason why I am a fan, and I've learned to take the "good" with the "bad", even though admittedly, I like it all. That makes me a sycophant in a lot of peoples eyes, but I don't know, I place my trust in Neil, and somehow the music just always seems to grow on me.

Greg M (A Friend Of Yours)

At 11/01/2009 09:28:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the thoughtful follow-up Greg.

To answer your question, I think Neil's approach is the same but with less pleasing results. Like I said, he can do whatever he wants and in fact I respect him for that. I appreciate that he follows his muse regardless of how unpopular the results may sometimes be. I admire him as an artist and certainly don't feel he 'owes' me anything (and I always buy his albums anyway). My dislike of his recent work is not meant as a criticism of the man himself or his artistic integrity.

But I can't lie and say that his recent albums are as pleasing to my ears as many of his older ones are. I've found all of his recent albums to have at least a song or two that really stood out, but the ratio of good songs to not-so-good songs just ain't what it used to be. Neil certainly doesn't 'owe' us another Freedom, but it sure would be nice if he released another album of that caliber. By which I mean: lots of great melodies, inspired lyrics, and a fresh sound.


At 11/01/2009 10:13:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

yea - what Chris said.


Johnny Rocket!

At 11/02/2009 04:05:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

To be totally honest, even though I love both the "highs" and the "lows", I would love to hear another spate of "highs" myself. I think it may be a little tricky, given how much ground has already been covered, the maturity level, the happy relationship and family life, etc. I think a lot of the "highs" came from places that can't really be repeated, but with Neil you never know. I think as an artist he has to write and perform, and therefore the odds are still in our favor. Just keep 'em coming, is all.

Greg M (A Friend Of Yours)

At 11/02/2009 04:48:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, please Neil just keep `em comin`! One of the great things about being a Neil fan is not knowing what he`s going to do next!

Following what Greg M said about changes in maturity, life-situation etc, Neil said in the wonderful BBC documentary "Don`t Be Denied" that he doesn`t even know who that person was anymore when he listens to his earlier work and he quoted Bob Dylan as saying the same, or something like that.

Neil has always written about what`s on his mind and he`s still doing exactly that. His priorities have changed and will continue to change, as happens to us all as we go through different stages of our lives.

Keep the faith!

P and L
Jill (Keep on Blogging)

At 11/02/2009 07:45:00 AM, Anonymous MARIAN M. said...

What I love is that there is just the perfect album to enjoy in just about any kind of circumstance.

For Halloween (my birthday), the perfect album was re-act-or.

The more I listen to Neil's albums, the more I hear, the more I enjoy, the more I appreciate Neil, etc. As I've said before, you have to have a real sense of humor to enjoy some of his stuff.

Keep on rockin!!!!

Marian M.

At 11/02/2009 09:15:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Happy birthday Marian M!


At 11/02/2009 10:02:00 AM, Anonymous MARIAN m. said...

Thank you for your kind wishes, Jill!

Keep on rockin!

Marian M.

At 11/02/2009 11:20:00 AM, Blogger Five Hairs High said...

"The art is not about you, it’s about a unique expression."
Absolutely true

At 11/02/2009 11:55:00 AM, Blogger Jacob said...

Neil's "imperfect" nature is definitely a reason why I love the man and his music.
Basically he just strolls into the studio when gets enough song ideas, records those songs with whatever bandmates he has handy at the time, and then releases whatever came out of these sessions. (Or at least that's what it has seemed like during this decade.)

And because he's Neil, it works.
Is Fork in the Road a "classic" record? Probably not from a technical viewpoint but it's still a hell of a record. And I'd rather have Neil keep releasing records like he has been instead of shelving records like he did back in the '70's.
Neil makes great music and it seems like he finally realized that it doesn't have to be perfect for us to love it.

At 11/02/2009 12:32:00 PM, Anonymous Bombshelter Slim said...

"If Neil had chosen to over produce, and “perfect” every one of his albums, make them as slick as is technically and humanly possible, with some obvious exceptions, he would have long since been considered the number one performer of his time."...

OR, if Neil had chosen that path he might have created many piles of shit!! Thank god he didn't...

At 11/02/2009 01:36:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A lot of great comments, but these two stick out:

"Neil has always written about what`s on his mind and he`s still doing exactly that. His priorities have changed and will continue to change, as happens to us all as we go through different stages of our lives.

Jill (Keep on Blogging)"

And this one from Bombshelter Slim,

'If Neil had chosen to over produce, and “perfect” every one of his albums, make them as slick as is technically and humanly possible, with some obvious exceptions, he would have long since been considered the number one performer of his time.'..."

OR, if Neil had chosen that path he might have created many piles of shit!! Thank god he didn't...

Greg M (A Friend Of Yours)

At 11/02/2009 05:19:00 PM, Blogger D.I. Kertis said...

When it comes down to it, Neil Young is about being real. My impression, from his work and from interviews, is that what he abhors and always tries to avoid is being *fake*: manufacturing a product that expresses something other than how he feels and what he wants to do. With each new project he undertakes, it seems that Neil runs these constants through an equation. This is why we have Everybody Knows this is Nowhere; Harvest; Tonight's the Night; Rust Never Sleeps; Trans; Landing on Water; Sleeps with Angels; Are You Passionate?; Greendale; Living with War; even the Archives. All of these are expressions of Neil at the time they were created.

Even album like Trans, although it is not organic in that it utilizes digital equipment to distort Neil's voice, it is very personal and captures what Neil wanted to say at that time as he wanted to say. Similarly, Are You Passionate? has a very polished sound because of the style of music Neil wanted to express himself through. All of this work is in fact organic in the sense that it comes from his mind and soul.

One of the most consistent and pleasing elements of for me of Neil's catalogue is that, unlike other stars, he is never afraid to be human: to allow his uncertainty and indecision show. He doesn't pretend to have answers if they aren't there. In fact, he encourages the listener to answer the questions he poses for themselves. His answers, when supplied, are given as one point-of-view. He doesn't profess to provide the only correct perspective. And if he's feeling down or insecure, or if he doesn't know where he's headed next, he'll say so-- in whatever way suits him. He's not about putting on any sort of "show" or artificial exterior but about honest expression of the self.

Which comes back to Greg's comment: "The art is not about you." Well, I for one don't think any art is really about *you* unless you create it. Art is by its nature an expression of the person who creates it one way or another. The audience may relate on some intellectual or emotional level--that is another essential element of art, that it stirs the mind and soul, that it evokes feeling--but it is not created simply to please the audience nor designed for them in any way. If they like it, great. If not--make your own if you want to be exactly what's in your head. Otherwise, move on and look for other avenues of pleasure and fulfillment.

Of course it is a mark of good art that an audience can relate, but this is ultimately secondary to the artist's needs and desires, for art is is one's expression of one man , which another may perchance appreciate but which he need not be obligated to give the time of day if he is not inclined to do so.

This is the difference between art and entertainment: the one is designed for self-expression while the other is designed purely to appeal for others. Art can constitute entertainment where it stirs the observer emotionally or intellectually and entertainment can be art if sufficiently effective to its aim. But whereas entertainment must be pleasing to others, art need only please the artist.


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