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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Comment of the Moment: "Truly Timeless Music"

The Neil Young Comment of the Moment is from the "Optimal" Neil Young Fans thread awhile ago. Pinto (or Flounder) said...
My primary interest is in great music.

I am a "fan" of Neil Young because he has written and recorded more great music than any other artist of my fifty-six year old lifetime. And that includes Dylan, because, though this might be heresy, I don't really think a lot of classic Dylan has held up that well apart from its historic value as being the first of its kind - the electric folk in particular. But that's just me. (I don't listen to Highway 61 anymore.)

In one thoughtful post, Mother Nature wrote about time as the ultimate determining factor in artistic evaluation. I happen to agree. For me, to be truly timeless, a song or recording has to carry meaning for me at age 56, regardless of how much meaning it carried at 18. The most objective criterion I can use for this is simply to look at whether or not I still listen to it.

So, in that context, I still listen to everything Neil recorded from Buffalo Springfield through Live Rust. I still listen to Trans, certain songs from Hawks & Doves and Life, all of Freedom and Ragged Glory and Sleeps with Angels and Greendale, the various live albums, and certain songs from Broken Arrow and Mirrorball (especially I'm the Ocean), Silver and Gold and even Are You Passionate.

I don't listen to Prairie Wind or Chrome Dreams (like many of us, I had been listening to Ordinary People on boots for years, so I'm extracting it from the album as a special case) or Living with War. I did listen to them all, several times, but when it came time to set the Ipod for a trip, I eventually stopped playing them.

So, for me, they are not 'great music" by the simple definition that I no longer want to hear them. And because they have come consecutively, and because there's no guarantee that another Freedom lies out there in the future, and because the lyrics and music of the new "car" songs do not strike any kind of responsive chord in my "great music" genes, and because none of Neil's peers, the great singer/songwriters of our time, Dylan and Paul Simon and John Fogerty and Springsteen and even McCartney and Jagger/Richards are producing a lot of music that makes me want to listen, I think it is fair to ask some of the questions that have been asked of late in regard to Neil without it coming across as disrespectful or antagonistic.

I don't know why the popular music creativity well seems to run dry. Novelists and painters seem to improve as they age, but I can't think of a popular songwriter (or band) whose work has gotten better as they have crossed the threshold of adolescence/early adulthood. If you read about the psychological aspects of dream theory, the best guess (because no one knows anything) is that dreaming somehow helps the mind to integrate one's fears and desires into the subconscious in a way that enables you to deal with them without being paralyzed.

I think, maybe, that for the geniuses who compose it, rock and roll songs may have some of the same effects, of resolving fear and desire and, in the universality of all our shared fears and desires, they help us to do the same.

As we finally reach adulthood, we may have achieved all the resolution we're going to get and the dreams fade. What stays behind is the permanent record of that resolution and Neil, regardless of whether or not he ever again records anything I want to hear, has helped me resolve more personal conflicts than all of his peers combined.

So thanks for that, Neil and God Bless.

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At 11/17/2009 11:38:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great post! To the extent the past few albums have not stood up to the standard of older Neil albums, I think you can take heart in the fact that for many people Neil's 80s albums didn't live up to his 70s albums but then came the 90s... so since Neil seems to constantly reinvent his music and because he's exceptionally prolific and diverse, he's bound to put something out there that will strike your fancy... even if we assume your premise is correct for the time being -- that artist's creativity or creative vitality tends to wane in older age, I would argue that Neil should be considered an outlier in that Neil's endurabilty, his tendancy towards being exceptional prolific, and his never let up approach, make him unquie even among unique artists ... in other words, his qualities are likely statistically off the charts and hence you can't expect normal data to apply to him. I'm not saying he walks on water, even though I love virtually everything he's put out, some things I love more than others, I'm just saying never count out ol' Shakey he's just got too many tricks up his sleeve and probably more than nine lives ... My gut feeling is that at a minimum he's got at least one or two more Harvest Moons in him, at least another Ragged Glory, and probably some other mind benders in a genrie that none of us could have imagined, granted he'll put the out when we all least expect it ... best of all, his live performances are completely off the charts, on a good night better than ever in my view. Now if we can just get some new North American dates for the Never Ending Tour ...

At 11/17/2009 02:02:00 PM, Anonymous sugarmtn said...

"I don't know why the popular music creativity well seems to run dry. "

I can't help but think that some portion of this is a function of the listener. Most of us have gotten older just as Neil has. That music he wrote in the 70's served a purpose for us then and we likely still feel what it meant to us then. But our lives and needs have changed too.

I have to think that there are younger listeners who 30 years from now will decry the lack of good music that they remember from today.

At 11/17/2009 03:33:00 PM, Blogger Greg McGarvey said...

IMO, every album Neil's put out this decade has plenty of stuff better than, for example, "Hey Babe," or lots of other stuff from the '70s ("back when he was good," as some might say). Overall quality of the writing today versus then... in my mind, it's close, just a little more spread out now that he has a family. "No Wonder," "Two Old Friends," "The Painter," "After The Garden," "Going Home"? Fuckin' brilliant!

I would argue that, as a live performer, he has absolutely gotten BETTER with time. I think Trunk Show will be conclusive proof of that.

At 11/17/2009 04:36:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Battle drums were pounding,
All around her car,
She saw her clothes were changing
Into sky and stars"

Fabulous stuff!

At 11/17/2009 08:03:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The painter stood
Before her work
She looked around every where
She saw the pictures and she painted them
She picked the colors from the air

Green to green
Red to red
Yellow to yellow
In the light
Black to black
When the evening comes
Blue to blue
In the night

It's a long road
Behind me
It's a long road

If you follow every dream
You might get lost
If you follow every dream
You might

She towed the line
She held her end up
She did the work of too many
But in the end
She fell down
Before she got up again

I keep my friends eternally
We leave our tracks in the sound
Some of them are with me now
Some of them can't be found

It's a long road behind me
And I miss you now

If you follow every dream
You might get lost
If you follow every dream
You might

At 11/19/2009 04:20:00 AM, Blogger doc said...

Ya know, the one thing that I like about Neil's music is its ability to "bite you back" so to speak. What I mean by that is... you can put Neil's music in the bottom draw for years, get on with your changing life and musical tastes, experience all those forks in the road that requires decisions on which path you go down..then as you reach the wonderful reflective ,nostalgic age that is the 50's, you can open that bottom draw and savour those wonderful tunes again from the 70's that used to wear out your stylus... and pop in a "Modern" CD in the car of those tunes,played with such a crispness and purity that it is a joy to listen me fanatical or obsessed, but I must have let Neil "Live at Massey Hall" cycle through my car CD player endlessly for the past 6 or so months and I can never get sick of listening to it... I keep reinventing this renaissance of Neil's Music...Yep,to me Neil's music is brings me back to a stage in my life with great memories, no responsibilities and no concerns of the state of the world.Treasure your youth Gen X's and don't take anything for granted.
I've have grown old with Neil in a way, we change with age as life's experiences and challenges are thrown up at us, but I love to reflect and reminiss and happily Neil is my vehicle to do it in.

Great post Pinto, I can always relate to your comments be it positive or negative..must be an age commonality thing! lol


At 11/19/2009 02:47:00 PM, Blogger The Loner said...

An interesting and wellwritten post! I do not agree with it all the way, though. I think very few artists can beat Neil's string of records, even in the 00's. Just keep the inspiring Living with War and Greendale and the beautiful Silver and Gold and Prairie Wind in mind. To me Spirit Road and No Hidden Path from Chrome Dreams II were higlights of his European 2008tours as Going Home was a higlight of the 2001 tour. He is still very creative and inspiring - the music and the other projects. When it comes to music creativity I think Neil has been close to the top, most of the last 45 years or so. I agree that most artist were most creative in younger years. The are excepetions, though. Johnny Cash's last 5 records were in my opinion his best - yes I know he did not write that many songs during those years. And listen to Rodney Crowell from The Huston Kids in 2001 up until now, aged 59 - his music is much more interesting than before.


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