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Wednesday, April 07, 2010

The New Yorker Demme & Young Interview: "Hating the Audience"


Much ado over Neil Young's recent quote in an interview in The New Yorker by Nick Paumgarten.

The interview contains part of a chat between Neil Young and Jonathan Demme on Skype. At one point, this exchange takes place which seems to have been grossly misunderstood and taken massively out of context:
N.Y.: Yeah, but generally we hate the fucking audience. They disturb the whole thing. (On the laptop screen, Young waves his arms back and forth in the air, in the manner of an enthusiastic concertgoer.) They’ve got people who do that. They have people who wave their hands back and forth in the background. That’s what they do. It doesn’t matter what the music is. It’s a way to make a living, I guess. (Demme looks up at the clock and exchanges a glance with an assistant.)

I remember we did a tour, and they had these cranes out in the audience, flying around, casting cones of light down on the audience, so that everyone in the audience had these halos on their heads. I walked out onstage and said to myself, “This is fucked up. I might not even play. This is so wrong.” All night long I was thinking, Why do I have to see people? I’ve never seen them before.

I hate looking at them.

This cherry picked quote provoked a backlash in the comments similar to this one by RM:
In the context of making a concert film, I can see the audience being an irritation.

But these statements are broader than that. Neil, if you're out there, seeing these kinds of quotes from you doesn't make me want to buy your next record, or come to your next show. They make me want to kick your teeth down your fucking throat! I have spent approx. $1050 on you in the past three years, if that gives you an idea of how much I enjoy your music. I also enjoyed hearing what you had to say. But this is fucking ridiculous. I'm not missing the point here, I understand that you create the music, from your experience and it's about you alone. But if you hate the audience so much, than stop fucking performing.

Fuck off, and spare us your little rants cursing the people who built your fucking train barn!

Everyone's always saying, Neil Young's so respectable. Other artists, the media. He's a living legend. Well let me tell ya these quotes make you look great.

A real fucking hero.


RM's interpretation was greeted with some vigorous defense. This from Anonymous:
When reading the interview I took this quote to mean 'we' being Demme and Young, hate the audience (shots) in concert films.

I was thinking about it last night while watching the Elvis Costello show with Bono and The Edge.

The shots of the audience were distracting and odd as if they had been edited out of sequence. Even worse were the squirm inducing shots of people laughing, clapping, nodding much too enthusiastically as if they has been coached.

So I agree with Neil and Jonathan I hate seeing the audience too.

All that waving around.

From Peter Dees in Holland:
I'm 100% sure the comments from the NewYorker are real and Neil's right! He's not there for me or for you, he's there to make his music. Anything that disturbs that should not be there.

I've seen the Smell The Horse tour in Rotterdam where Neil played a smoking version of Cortez, he almost reinvented the song there on stage. That song alone lasted more than 20 minutes, the whole show was between 2-3 hours and most of the time Neil was with his back to the audience in a small circle in front of the bass drum with Frank and Billy.

I don't come to concerts to be recognized by him, or spoken to, or to be greeted like so many artists do with something like 'hello Holland' or whatever. That sort of thing makes me puke. If you don't know one town in my country from another, how dare you say 'hello Holland' or whatever country. Shut the f#ck up and play.
So that's what Neil does. I'm happy with that.

I can completely understand this and I swear it is THIS attitude that makes Neil stand out compared to other artists. He really does NOT make music for us, he does it for himself and the music.

That's just the way it is and it's the only right way.

Peter Dees

From Darth Malt:
When Neil says he hates the audience, he's not talking about you personally or that he despises the people who buy his records. He's talking about the fact that when he's into making his music he doesn't want to be distracted by spotlights highlighting the audience or people waving their arms trying to get him to make eye contact or the drunken asshole in the front row calling out for Rocking in the Free World between and during every song. I totally get him. Is this something new?

The moment he starts pandering and playing *to* the audience instead of himself is the moment you get the fake choreographed canned performance you get from some many other performance artists. The reason I go into every single Neil Young gig within my reach is that I never know if he's going to walk off the stage, break into an awesome rendition of a familiar song that I've never heard played this way before, or sing 10 songs in a row about his new pet car project. And I cherish every *ing moment of it.

From ShittyHorse:
Neil can hate who he wants - I don’t blame him.

He still makes GREAT MUSIC. I've been to some shows where the audience was just brutal! And Neil wants to make play. I don’t blame him for being resentful. A Neil show is not a Dead or a Phish show- it’s not a party. It’s an emotional thing- Neil takes you an emotional rollercoaster that’s quite exhilarating.

Neil wants you to listen- enjoy the music and applaud when the song is over- not yell and scream and call out songs the whole time, especially at a solo acoustic thing. Neil is never one to tip-toe around a subject and this is just him being himself. Right on Neil!

From Sam:
By the way, he never said he hated the audience. I would feel a little uneasy if he was up there singing hating us all. He said he hated looking at the crowd, and the hand waving and whistle blowing too I'd imagine.

During the 07' tour in Boston, at the Orpheum, the crowd was mostly cool and didn't yell out too much while he was playing. That's just a silly thing to do really and it seems to happen quite a bit with these small shows."

Well. Maybe folks will keep this in mind during the upcoming "Twisted Road" Concert Tour?

"Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that." MLK


At 4/07/2010 08:50:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I attended my third NY concert one year ago this month and witnessed something that made me hate the audience, too. A women was yelling at Neil during Unknown Legend to insert her name into the lyrics. At other times during the show people all around me were either acting bored as hell or antsy because they wanted Neil to play what they wanted to hear. I also witnessed similar behavior at the Shocking Pinks tour in KC and many years later at the Greendale show in KC. Both shows were amazing examples of a real rock n roll show cum performance art, but too many audience members thought Neil should be their personal greatest hits jukebox. Makes me sick to think about it.
No wonder Neil has such disdain for his audience. People generally do not understand the difference between a performer and an artist. For the past 32 years I have believed that Mr. Young is an artist. And his shows will mesmerize you if you leave the man alone and allow him to do his thing. Waving your arms like a fool should be the last thing on your mind at one of his shows.
Personally, I feel for the guy.

At 4/07/2010 09:32:00 PM, Blogger Zak Claxton said...

Well, heh heh... I tend to agree that Neil was indeed referring specifically to the making of the film and dealing with audience issues he normally doesn't have to. And if the behavior of that specific audience was distracting to him and his music, you gotta cut him some slack for a quote obviously sounds bad on its own, completely out of context of the rest of the interview.

But still: Neil has never been a guy in love with being in the spotlight. It comes with the job, of course, and Neil does love to play his music and touring is what he does. But the actual aspect of being adored by thousands of people right in front of him has never, ever been his thing. As a performing musician, I 100% understand where he's coming from in that regard. Not everyone wants that sensation of being idolized. I sure don't like it. I don't think anyone should be taking this personally. It's just who Neil is and always has been.

At 4/07/2010 09:36:00 PM, Anonymous Tom said...

I hate some aspects of the audience, as one who has been in it. Like the drunks, liked the doped up morons who could be anywhere because they are so stunned they haven't a clue where they are, like the slobs shoving their way through the standing audience, spilling beer the whole way, like the dude and his babe who paid big bucks to the scalpers to get their front row seats and then are pissed because he's not playing HOG....I could go on, but I'm sure NY has seen it all, and would just rather not, at times. Pearls before swine and all.

At 4/08/2010 12:19:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've seen Neil young 10 times. Let me just say this-Neil works his ass off for the audience, never letting them down (at least he never let me down) his concerts are always for the fans.He gives 100 % and you know he appreciates you. I'm sure neil was referring to the film shots. Come on people get with it, if you are a true fan you understand neil and he doesn't hate the audience. ---THIS NOTES FOR YOU

At 4/08/2010 01:42:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I probably was the first to post this skype communications to the Rust list and wrote it was probably a fake discussion. Obviously no-one denied it so it has to be true. I can understand his point of view, but would he be playing and living without the audience? Well, we know Neil is a man of contradictions and this is another one.

At 4/08/2010 05:47:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This time last year Australian audiences were being slagged off for sitting on their hands and not getting up and booging around like idiots. Now Neil wants people to sit on their hands. Neil just shut up and sing. It might not change the world but you might finish a record on time.

As Neil gives fans what they don't want I request him not to release a fantastic solo acoustic record and not to make a fabulous reunion album with Crazy Horse. And I request that he does not do it this year.

Olden Grumpy

At 4/08/2010 08:36:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

the video for CINAMON GIRL (from the WELD tour) is FULL of people who are basically saying "look at ME digging Neil, *I* am really into Neil, I know all the words to CINAMON GIRL..." IF that doesn't bother you,and IF ya can afford the tickets, by all means go...even if I had the money, I wouldn't go...
and I'm OK with that...*I* think Neil wants his fans to enjoy the show, but stop trying to be part of the show...

At 4/08/2010 10:02:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

How anyone can defend the collective idiocy, idol worship, heathen display of audiences at rock concerts is beyond me. I question how musicians can even stand performing.

At 4/08/2010 02:21:00 PM, Blogger Jacob said...

Why all the hate towards Neil? Geez; I'm sure it was all taken out of context but even if Neil did hate me it wouldn't stop me going to his shows. Hell, I'd be honored 'cause that would mean that he knows me.

At 4/08/2010 09:40:00 PM, Anonymous Bluejay said...

ASG said, "*I* think Neil wants his fans to enjoy the show, but stop trying to be part of the show..."

Yes. There are a lot of tapes of Neil's shows (including the recent Glastonbury show) that had less impact for me, and I bet for a lot of people, due to incessant singing-along. I want to hear Neil, not a crowd of rowdies bellowing out the words to "Down by the River" -- obviously some songs such as "Homegrown" and "Rocking in the Free World" it's okay, but they should know when to quit.

At 4/08/2010 11:16:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This seems like a good context for the old saw: "Believe only half of what you see, and nothing of what you read", especially when it comes to Neil. As stated already, I think the quote probably has everything to do with contrived audience shots, or people more into themselves than the music, etc., but who knows what else he was reacting to? Like the infamous Reagan quote, the only thing anyone remembers is the quote itself, and not what provoked it. Then it was a reporter egging Neil on to slam Reagan, and Neil using perversity to make a point. Now? I don't know, but I'm willing to bet there's more than a little perversity going on here, too.

It also doesn't mean there's not some real honesty in there somewhere, either. Audiences tick me off a lot, too, and I'm just a fellow spectator. Take the Greendale concert outside Chicago, where Neil stopped mid song and shouted "Fuck you, shut up!" at the zillionth mindless "Play Southern Man, man!" Or two separate shows at the Fox in Detroit. The acoustic only concert is starting, and people are still talking to each other- the girl sitting next to me going on and on about how she almost didn't make it on time- and me sitting there thinking "But you did make it, and now you're going to miss the music while you blab away?" Or the next night, when the drunks couldn't keep quiet through "Such A Women", and Neil again stopped mid song, sarcastically grabbing a guitar and playing the worst version of "Heart Of Gold" I've ever heard. And this is just me, what do you think Neil has seen in the last 40 years?

I know that support for Neil these days equates to mindless worship, and I don't expect everyone to be like me, sitting there completely quiet, knowing full well that there is no way to reasonably anticipate what the next song is going to be, but damn, it's Neil and you should know better, you get what you get. Try to appreciate it when it's happening.

So, call me simple minded, but I think I'll wait for the interview where the whole context for the quote is explained, and at that not an isolated quote, but the whole thing.

Greg M (A Friend Of Yours)

At 4/09/2010 04:09:00 AM, Blogger michielster said...

Seriously people, there's nothing wrong with being a tad critical of your idol. It's okay to admit this isn't cool.

At 4/09/2010 10:34:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

crowds are a bunch of fucking loudmouth idiots. you wanna hear "heart of gold", well stay home and listen to it then.

i agree with neil 1000 percent. fuck the crowd.

At 4/09/2010 12:09:00 PM, Anonymous Dylan said...

While it's a shame to have to hear Neil use the word "hate" when referring to his fans of, all people, I must say that anytime I've seen him in a small venue, more than a few members of the crowd have been extremely disrespectful. I've seen Neil personally reprimand people on both occasions, once at Radio City Music Hall for some dude screaming the whole time Neil was trying to tell the Greendale story, and again at the United Palace Theatre when he had to actually stop in the middle of the intro to "Sad Movies" to tell someone in the first few rows to be quiet. At the same show, some jerk yelled "Werewolves of London" throughout the acoustic set. I can only imagine how 40 years of incessant heckling would alter someone's view towards a group of people. One would hope that higher ticket prices would somewhat eliminate the riff-raff, but unfortunately it doesn't seem to work that way. I'm going to see him in Worcester, and can't wait though!

At 4/11/2010 06:49:00 AM, Anonymous pieceofcrap said...

May I remind my fellow rusties in this skype-fueled discussion of some classic audience-put downs from the Hate Master himself?
Just a quick grab. "I need a crowd of people, but I can't face them day to day'; "Why in crowds just a trace of my face could seem so pleasing"; "An ocean of shaking hands, that grab at the sky" (I hope that it matters, I'm having my doubts); "I gotta get away from this day-to-day running around"; "I went and played too hard, and I lost my fun".
There's more where that came from, you all know the songs.
So, no surprise here, folks. Neil has never been big on crowds - as a writer anyway. And as far as performing in front of huge crowds goes (bigger than in this movie, for sure), he's always hinted he developed a kind of PTSS after 1972 (the TFA tour) and 1974 (CSNY), which apparently returns now and then, this time with a vengeance. Also, check out the clip in NYA box where he loudly complains to Joel Bernstein about beer drinking morons who hassled him on his solo-tour in 1992 ("That's my legacy, I've created them!".) I might add that I myself - while something of a beer drinker - watched him grill two drunks in the front row in Amsterdam (2008), commenting on their behavior with a line that nicely contrasted with the subtle lyrics he'd been singing: "SHUT UP. ASSHOLES!!" Which worked. Must be on tape somewhere.
There's some evidence to the contrary, of course. A rare audience-friendly gem being thus one: "I'm happy singing in a crowd, the lights are bright, the music's loud. I like to look at every face." (you know the song). Yeah, even Neil sometimes has a weak moment on the bus.
But hey, in the end we can always comfort ourselves knowing that our man is much harder on his peers in the rock-world than on us, poor listeners. Look what he wrote about thém: "But I hate them worse than lepers, and I'll kill them in their cars".
Phew, we lucked out!

At 4/19/2010 10:56:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

guys. follow the link. this is obviously about the audience as a shot in a concert film.

extended clip:

(In the film, a camera mounted on the drums captures Young as he plays the last, distorted notes of a long jam in “No Hidden Path.” Behind him, in the front row, members of the audience look as though they had been robbed of their belongings in the main plaza of a foreign city. Demme has said in the past that he believes no concert film should ever include shots of the audience.)

J.D.: As long as there is a musician in the foreground, it’s O.K. to show the audience.

N.Y.: Yeah, but generally we hate the fucking audience. They disturb the whole thing. (On the laptop screen, Young waves his arms back and forth in the air, in the manner of an enthusiastic concertgoer.)


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