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Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Judgement Not To Pre-Judge "Americana"

The Comment of the Moment is from Friday Afternoon Insanity: Yes, This Is Still A Neil Young Blog and responds to some of the pre-judicial early reviews that have been floated in anticipation of the upcoming album "Americana" by Neil Young & Crazy Horse.

What seems to be most bizarrely troublesome about all the chatter is how much of it is totally baseless since the writers openly admit they haven't heard the songs they're criticizing.

But hey?! It's the Internets. Everyone has an opinion. Including the inestimable D. I. Kertis who said...
It's good to see Neil back with the Horse finally.

I'm not one of those fans who's in love with Crazy Horse to the exclusion of all else, but it's inspiring good vibes nonetheless. I was a bit surprised when I first found Neil's new album was going to be folk/protest songs, and I'm not surprised it's gotten some pre-release flak (haven't most of Neil's albums lately?), but as for me, I'm trying to keep an opened mind to it. A new NY album will certainly be a nice way to begin the summer, and while I never specifically wished for Neil to play "Oh! Susannah" or "Clementine", I'm rather intrigued to hear what the Neil Young/Crazy Horse take on these songs will be. (Remember, Neil's Crazy Horse albums don't always sound just like the Crazy Horse we all know and love--I'm thinking especially of "Sleeps with Angels" here.)

Although it makes me even more curious about this album's "sound", I certainly have no qualms with the children's choir. Indeed I find the concept somewhat endearing.

Chrome Dreams II's "The Way", which featured a kids' choir, keeps coming back to me in a good way (one of my favorite of the relatively recent albums, too), and it's really cool that Neil, as an older rock musician, seems to be interested in reaching out to children. I also look at it, perhaps even more importantly, from the perspective that this is, after all, *folk* music: songs (if you'll pardon the reference) by the people, of the people, for the people.

Most of them are probably in public domain at this stage, many are universally recognized at least within the US, and, being in essence commonly owned, are intended to be singable by anyone anywhere, including children. So perhaps the inclusion of the children's choir on this album serves to highlight the universal nature of the kind of music Neil is essaying here. That's just a thought before actually hearing how 'Americana' plays out, but we shall see what we shall hear in not too long.

What I absolutely do not understand, though, is the talk of imperialism (and even, in one post I saw somewhere, fascism) over the inclusion in the track list of 'God Save the Queen'. I don't want to get too deeply into things here, but suffice to say that, as well know, 'God Save the Queen' is the British national anthem (also the tune for the American patriotic song 'My Country 'Tis of Thee, by the way), and if anyone seriously believes that 21st century England is oppressively imperialistic or "fascist" simply for continuing to have a reigning monarch, that just strikes me as gross ignorance of the world beyond one's own borders.

I'm not saying any country is completely idyllic or perfect; I think England has its issues just like anywhere else. But just because a nation does not have all of its leaders elected like in the US, that doesn't mean the people are being oppressed or that the ideology is necessarily wrongheaded. So I do strongly take exception to remarks of that nature.

Other than that, I'd prefer for the most part to sit back and give 'Americana' a fair chance. There's no use in a knee-jerk reaction, and nothing positive to be gained by rushing to judgement here. I'm sure 'Americana' will be as controversial as anyone Neil Young release, but I think it should at least be allowed a chance to reveal itself before we get too far into the complaints and nitpicking.

P.S. I saw my "comment of the moment" spot; thanks . I probably don't come here that often because writing comments of the moment takes so much time and energy, but it's nice to feel wanted. I'm sure I'll have more to say on 'Americana', the Linc-Volt, and other matters in the coming weeks and months.

Thanks -- as always -- for your time and energy D.I.!!! Your opinions (as well as dissenters) are wanted and welcomed. It's all one comment, afterall.



Set for a June 5th release, you can now pre-Order "Americana" on Amazon.com (Thanks! You'll be helping to support us.)


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19 Comments:

At 4/28/2012 12:40:00 PM, Blogger Brian said...

I heard an audio version of Oh Susannah and it is absolutely a brilliant masterpiece. I was blown away by it. Typical Neil. I can't wait to hear the rest of it!!!

 
At 4/28/2012 03:11:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a long time Neil fan, I know better than to have expectations.Noone ever knows what to expect and if you follow Neil for many years,you know your never gonaa get what you want sometimes.But that's the beauty of his compilation of work.... there's something for everyone ! I have been very disapointed with his recent works, but am always open to them.I have also been critical of ticket prices and therefore the way Neil the businessman treats the fans.Personaly I think Le Noise is one of Neils worst.
I think it could have been much better had he not teamed up with DL.But without expectations, I am always open to new music.
When I found an audio of Neil and CH online, the first time I played it, it didn't seem right..it didn't grab me...it seemed awkward.BUT it wasn't the arrangement I knew and sang as a little kid ! This was totaly different.That was definately in the way !!!
I listened a 2nd time and got adjusted to the different arrangement.Listened to it the 3rd time and I had a big smile on my face as i turned it louder and louder.
It grabbed me big time and sucked me in ! Now I've listened to it on soundcloud about 60 times and I cant wait to have it on vinyl and play it through good audio equipment.For the first time in a while I am realy F-ing looking foward to a Neil release !!!! Oh Susannah with CH is just awesome.My only complaint and comment would be that the song should start at the 0:50 second mark when they realy get it together.Sounds like crap until that point and they turn the corner and ride away ! After you listen to the whole recording a few times, play it again and turn the sound off until 0:50 seconds, then crank it up fast and see what you think !

 
At 4/28/2012 04:28:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

LOL

I felt that same exact way when I first heard Cass Elliot sing THE VERY SAME version that Neil does!

Even the guy from Shocking Blue was totally blown away from the Big Three's version and similarity between the two songs!

 
At 4/28/2012 04:43:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

On Dutch television awhile back (2007)somebody asked about the similarity between Shocking Blue's song and Big Three "Banjo Song."

The writer said he was very much inspired by the Big Three's "Banjo Song."

The interview is available on this site: "www.dwdd.nl" from April 26/2007

Maybe one of our friends from the Netherlands can translate.

 
At 4/28/2012 05:21:00 PM, Blogger D. I. Kertis said...

Glad to be of service here, and also glad that my commentary hasn't caused any riots thus far. I was reviewing some earlier posts on 'Americana' the other day, and to be honest I'm glad I wasn't around for some of that drama. But I won't get into that; I'm sure will plenty of time to discuss all of these issues again when the album is actually released. Suffice it to say that I do appreciate the valid concerns some have for historical accuracy, fairness, and thoroughness, but I'm also not sure it's Neil Young and Crazy Horse's job, as artists reinterpreting these songs, to be the ones to give us the detailed histories behind all of them unless they wish to do so, which remains to be seen really. I dare say that most of us are also aware of the integral role racism and other social injustices have played in American history, and just as all of that is a part of our cultural/historical fabric that cannot simply be undone (and nor should be banished from our minds), so many of the songs slated for this new album have an indelible place in American musical history, warts and all. Neil likely does not intend this album as an in-depth history lesson, just 'Fork in the Road' was not really an in-depth examination of green energy development. It's really only to be hoped that, through the folk process of musical evolution, Neil and the Horse are able to create new versions of 'Oh! Susannah', 'Tom Dula', 'Gallows Pole', 'Jesus' Chariot', 'This Land...' and the rest, which honor their valid places in our musical history and perhaps transcend the murky origins of some of them.

From the publicity stumps I've read so far, it appears as though at least part of the point of 'Americana' in Neil's own unusual way, while acknowledging/appreciating (and contributing to) to musical history, also to highlight the sociopolitical issues that existed when these songs were originated and indeed are still relevant today, and to "sing for justice", not necessarily to romanticize the past and sweep under the carpet the unsavory aspects of our history. The former, rather than the latter, scenario sounds more like Neil to me. Judging from the aforementioned publicity snippet, it sounds to me like there's sincere intent here; it's at least consistent with what I have come understand of Neil's artistic conventions and themes. All of this remains to be confirmed, of course, but the other comments here at least give me high hopes for the music itself.

Also, a brief disclaimer: although most if not all of these songs are evidently considered folk material, I haven't done the research to confirm whether they are all technically public domain. Although that's a relatively unimportant point regarding the overall place and purpose of folk music, please don't take my word for it.

 
At 4/28/2012 05:26:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's not baseless chatter -- it's people snickering over Neil's ignorance. Just like they snickered over Cash & JT's ignorance when they sang the minstrel song, "Oh Suzanna!"

"Oh Suzannah" is song written specifically to make fun of blacks and made popular by a bigotted and racist Americana.

Is Neil a racist? No. Is he bigotted? No. Should he sing songs or make money from a song filled with racism and bigotry? Well, he already made his choice.

Apparently he doesn't care where the song came from or what it means. How is this different from a famous German recording artist one hundred years from now making an album called "Germanica" and using a children song not realizing one song was written and made popular during the "Hitlerjugend?"

Ooopps! That would be embarrassing now, wouldn't it?

Rock on,
MNOT

 
At 4/28/2012 06:29:00 PM, Blogger D. I. Kertis said...

Of course, Neil could also be choosing to sing songs such as "Oh Susannah" because of their valid places in American musical history--just a thought. And given the prominence of this song in American musical history, it seems a little unfair to condemn (even implicitly) every musician who has ever performed it. I imagine most of them did not do so with the intent of mocking black Americans. So should we instead exercise censorship and ban the performing or recording of this and other songs with archaic lyrics? This music and these issues are indelibly a part of our history, as I'm everyone will agree, and to entirely shun a song such as 'Oh Susannah!' for its racial overtones would, in my opinion, do just as great an injustice to our history--including all those who have suffered through it--as to play the song pretending the racial backdrop isn't there. How would behaving as though the song doesn't exist altogether be 'whitewashing' history anymore than denying its racial origins (which, by the way, Neil and Crazy Horse have not done)?

I am, firstly, in favor of artists' prerogative to what they like in their own forum. I am also in favor of acknowledging and calling out, as we study history, the injustices inflicted on countless people throughout American history due to racism (not to mention further social wrongs that need not be enumerated here), and in fact, I think that presenting folks song such as 'Oh, Susannah' can make or compelling evidence of what black Americans have been subjected to throughout our history. As far as I can see, whether denying the racial origins or shunning the song altogether, we would potentially be denying and obscuring the racism in our history--and why? Because it's unsavory, unjustifiable, and highly unfortunate? I think it could be argued that A) Shunning the song altogether brings us to the same place as if we had denied its racial origins, and B) A strong argument could be made that pretending these songs don't exist in our folk catalogue would could be just as insulting to black Americans, if not more so, just as it is highly insulting to the Jews and other victims of Nazi persecution to deny that the Holocaust occurred. While I certainly can understand and relate with a righteous passion for social justice, I am not at all convinced that behaving as though certain songs don't existthey represent does justice to either our musical or sociopolitical history.

Allow me also to remind everyone that most of us have not even heard Neil and the Horse's take on this song, nor the overall artistic statement(s) that may carry across the entire album. It's my experience that with any Neil Young, the real artistic drift of what's going on is often subtler or more layered than we might at first realize. I certainly don't think it's fair either to dismiss an entire album based upon one of its tracks, or to assume one and only possible basis/motivation for playing (i.e. ignorance). I reiterate: let's wait to appraise what Neil's giving us here until we actually have it.

I apologize if my post was read to poo-poo others' valid concerns, as it was not in the least my intent to suggest that these issues don't matter. I am simply not convinced that obscuring the more troubling parts of history is the way to move towards justice today I simply do not agree with condemning an entire album based upon one track selection, nor with assuming anything about the artistic intent (or lack thereof) here. Once more, I feel we should wait to fully assess this project until we've heard the album. When it comes to Neil Young, there is often more at play than meets the eye.

 
At 4/28/2012 06:40:00 PM, Blogger Thrasher Wheat said...

@MNOT (R?) - So, just for the sake of argument and mindless chatter.

Let's just supposition that Neil knew full well the total historical background of O!S. It would stand to reason that he did since he's not exactly known for being completely haphazard about these sorts of things.

And -- just for the sake of argument -- the point of including O!S on Americana is to highlight how little progress we've made here in America on the racial front.

Clearly the song was selected and recorded well before the murder of Trayvon Martin for "walking with Skittles & Tea while black". Americana still has massive racial problems. Let's discuss that because some hippie singer s0ngwriter is concerned with racial injustice.

You know. Tall white mansions. Little shacks. Bullwhips cracking. Screaming.

You know. Making $$$'s from a song filled with racism and bigotry?

right?

 
At 4/28/2012 07:32:00 PM, Blogger D. I. Kertis said...

Thrash, is there any way it can be made possible for posters to edit after publishing? I ask because I notice a few irritating typos in my previous post here.Also, "anymore whitewashing..." should have been reworded as it "any less whitewashing...". Sorry if I seem pedantic; I just don't want my hasty typing to get in the way of my message. Thanks, D. I.

 
At 4/28/2012 08:40:00 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

In regards to a few things. Being Canadian myself, I know where Neil brings these Songs in from. School...these "oh so" many years ago now, at least in my and Neil's neck of the woods included these songs from grades 1 thru 5. Most likely because the Teachers grew up with them and passed them down to us as Students. Did we see this "apparent" Racism of OS? Not me...they were simply songs to be sung at that age. So many Stephen Foster songs were known by all the kids I grew up with. Now again, a reference to being Canadian. Take a moment to think about "God Save The Queen" once more and you may see the connection. Not a slight towards America but a nod to Canada when Neil learned these Songs. Canada is a Commonwealth Country although I never have sung "GSTQ" but I am sure with Neil being Older them myself, he did. Just a nod not a prod. But these are simply opinions. Roger LIVE RUST.

 
At 4/28/2012 09:35:00 PM, Blogger Greg Mantho said...

I'm exhausted.

A Friend Of Yours

 
At 4/28/2012 09:51:00 PM, Anonymous Brent said...

Mother Nature On the Run has to be the biggest wet blanket in the history of the internet.

 
At 4/28/2012 09:53:00 PM, Blogger no one said...

The comments of the idiots like Mother Nature on this UNRELEASED AND UNHEARD music by one of the great artists of our lifetime, who encapsulated the entire history of religion vs. science in one line of "Thrasher" and then, just for the hell of it, summed up the sixties in the next verse, remind me of the Rolling Stone review of those great revolutionaries Paul Kantner and Grace Slick in "Blows Against the Empire" when they compared the force of the blows to trying to topple the Empire State Building by throwing spoonfuls of sand at it. Neil Young couldn't find the collective wisdom of this site with a microscope.

 
At 4/29/2012 03:44:00 AM, Blogger Matt & Jes Wedding said...

@MNOTR

Been over this already, but you ignore the points whenever they are brought up, so I'll try one last time...

First off, no one is snickering at Neil. Nor are they snickering at James Taylor because he didn't give a 15 minute lecture on "the history of the song Oh! Suzanna" before he played it live. Song meanings change over time. The original intent and malice that the song was written with and for is no longer present in the current incarnation of the song in our collective "Americana." Is it interesting to see where the song originally came from and how it has changed over time? Yes. But if this song has become "illegal" to reproduce in your mind because an old version of the song (which is not what Neil is playing) was racist, then there are a whole lot of other things that should be "illegal" as well.

As I stated, song meanings change over time. This one has had 150 years to churn away in the collective American psyche, and in the mid-60s was reborn as a different song with a different meaning...you know, the version that EVERYONE knows. Not the original version that NO ONE knows.

In a much more recent example of song meanings and change over time, think about Eddie Vedder and the song "Alive." Here is Ed recounting how the song has changed during VH1 storytellers, from twofeetthick.com:

Ed retells the story of “Alive” saying “it’s a song about someone I know very well (laughs) … Ok, it’s about me” and goes on to say how the chorus is sung by fans with exuberance and it has trancended from being a song about a curse, to being an uplifting song. He concludes with “you changed the meaning of the song, you lifted the curse”

And it only took 15 years to completely reverse and change the meaning of the entire song. Different circumstances, sure, but same idea.

So snicker away if that helps you. I just don't see the point in living life stuck in 1830.

 
At 4/29/2012 06:32:00 AM, Blogger BecauseSoundMatters said...

Thanks Matt, Now I understand why Neil played Homegrown at FarmAid so many times. Allways thought he wanted to transform the farmers into hippies by singing a song.

 
At 4/29/2012 09:46:00 AM, Blogger viper said...

Oh for God' s sake. I have never seem such a flap. You should wait until you hear the album and not prejudge. Youre talking about NY and Crazy Horse here. I think they will blow us away as usual. You people will then have to eat your words. Just be PATIENT!

 
At 4/29/2012 10:26:00 AM, Blogger The It's Man said...

@ Anonymous 4/28/2012 04:43:00 PM asking for a translation,

Robbie van Leeuwen (the writer of Venus) doesn't appear on that show, but Leo Blockhuizen (the guy behind the DJ set) said he talked to him and asked him about it;
his reply, "Listen, all those blues songs sound the same as well."

"I know the Big Three, I know the song and of course I have listened to it and has been my inspiration."

 
At 4/29/2012 11:10:00 PM, Blogger AWM said...

Maybe they'll do the Sex Pistols' version of God Save the Queen.

The Queen is gone but she's not forgotten. This is the version by Johnny Rotten.

 
At 4/30/2012 01:04:00 AM, Blogger rojo said...

As Brian Wilson said " I can here the music" Just play the music and quit judging.
Mike and company
Red Truck Trading Co.
Cave Creek Az.

 

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