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Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Shepard Fairey and Neil Young: The 'Americana' Collaboration

Shepard Fairey and Neil Young
Photo by The Daily Details: Blog
(Click photo to enlarge)

One of the other interesting backstories on Neil Young & Crazy Horse's 'Americana' album is the artwork which accompanies each song. Unfortunately, the artwork is not included in the CD since it appears to have been completed after album production was finished. Maybe the Blu-Ray version? (See Gallery.)

Nevertheless, each song is illustrated and the paintings add to the 'Americana' experience. From Neil Young and Shepard Fairey Talk "Americana": The Daily Details: Blog : Details by Susan Michals"
"When I was first told about the concept, I thought it sounded like a cool idea, but I'm not a huge fan of the original versions of those songs, so I was eager to hear how Neil translated them," Fairey says.

"Then when he sent me the lyrics and some of the backstories on the songs, I was even more excited about the project—especially because of what's going on right now in the United States with the economy and a lot people feeling like the promise of the American Dream is not a reality for them.

A lot of the original ideas behind songs like 'High Flying Bird' are about a man that works so hard in a mine that when he comes out into the light of day he can't enjoy the world because he's blinded by the light—in essence, the fruits of his labor.

So I think there's a lot of parallels between the aspirations and failings of the American Dream, whether it was 1880 or 2012."

Oh Susannah, by Shepard Fairey - 2012
Mixed media (stencil, silkscreen, and collage) on canvas
(Click photo to enlarge)

From an interview with Shepard Fairey and Neil Young in Rolling Stone by Steve Baltin:
"We discovered a lot of depth in these songs and the visuals of these are just amazing," Young told us. "'Clementine' is so deep with its original verses and this art, you really get a feeling for the tenseness and desperation of the situation, the unresolved death and longing."

Fairey's work brought out a lot in the songs that Young believes he might not have seen otherwise. "Almost every one of them had a view that was unique to me," he said. "I wouldn’t have thought of it."

For Fairey, the project was a labor of love. "I’m just really excited I got to do this because I love Neil’s music and I love the way that music affects people viscerally and inspires them to look deeper into the meaning of the songs," Fairey said.

"We had to bring back the original words. Everybody’s forgotten what the songs are about in the first place in their kind of rabid celebration of the beauty of the songs and the lightness of some of the verses," Young said. "They took away the counterpoints the songs were a house for, and so the songs weren’t as strong. And now with the original verses back in and the art that reflects the tension of the original message, we’ve worked on it and made a different thing out of it."

Those words were music to Fairey's ears. "I’m so glad to hear that from Neil. We discussed some of that, but I almost didn’t want to press on all my political views just in case we disagreed," Fairey said, eliciting strong laughter from both himself and Young at that last part. "But my reading into a lot of the songs was it was very relevant to the struggle reflected in [John] Steinbeck’s The Grapes Of Wrath, which people are saying this recession is the most serious thing since the Great Depression and a lot of the same dynamics are at play, so I felt like it was very relevant."

Shepard Fairey and Neil Young
Photo by Claire Marie Voge | Rolling Stone
(Click photo to enlarge)

Fairey states, “Neil really liked the art and I was thrilled he asked me to collaborate by making paintings inspired by the songs on his “Americana” album. I’m a huge fan of Neil’s music in general, but when I heard the album I realized how much the subject matter of several songs reflected the aspirations and tragedies of those pursuing the American dream tied into issues relevant to the 99% movement which I have been supporting.”

Fairey says he listened to the music and lyrics to come up with concepts for visual representations of the songs. Then for each song, Fairey presented Young with ideas about a visual image that would best capture the meaning and/or protagonist/s in each song. The artist enjoyed hearing how Neil interpreted aspects of the songs that moved him the most musically and lyrically. Fairey states, “I showed Neil sketches, and then we discussed the ideas and refined them. He was very open to my ideas and encouraged me to go with what inspired me the most. Latitude for interpretation is something that Neil utilizes and seems to value as an important way for the listener/viewer to personalize their interaction with art and music.

I also was excited about this project because the concept of re-interpreting pre-existing songs filtered through Neil’s unique sensibility parallels what I have often tried to do as a visual artist by building upon iconic images that are an accessible part of the cultural dialogue.”

From Neil Young and Shepard Fairey Talk "Americana": The Daily Details: Blog : Details by Susan Michals:

DETAILS: Do you think the American Dream has become a fallacy?

Shepard Fairey:
I do.

Neil Young: Wow. That's a big one. All I can say is, everyone has a different idea, but this truly represents a lot of those things and touches on a lot of the core beliefs in the American Dream and questions them and makes you think about them.

And questions whether it's that different from what everybody else's dreams are everywhere else.

It turns out we may not be so perfect.

Poster by Shepard Fairey

(Click photo to enlarge)

Also, see The Americana-ness of Neil Young & Crazy Horse's Americana

Labels: , ,


At 6/25/2012 08:34:00 PM, Anonymous Mother Nature on the Run said...

Fairey's poster "Oh Don't You Cry" is a real grabber. Is this a poster about unrequited love or the story of our racist past?

The song "Oh Susanna" is not just a folk song that has outlived it's racist origin. It's primary source that reminds us about our historical racist past that found it's way into every aspect of our living back then including a popular banjo song.

I think Shepard uses the colors of brown and white to symbolize a white Eurocentric superiority over the recently emanicipated slaves. He uses red to symbolize how much blood was lost over our racist past.


At 6/25/2012 09:39:00 PM, Anonymous Mother Nature on the Run said...

Did anyone catch that at the beginning of the "A Day At The Gallery" that Neil put Geronimo and friends back into the driver seat giving him back the dignity and presence of being the great emancipator and lover of Apache culture?

Amen, Neil.

At 6/25/2012 10:14:00 PM, Blogger SONY said...

Interestingly enough, after hearing Oh! Susannah! from the Bridge show I looked up the song origin, and found all(?) the original lyrics. Neil doesn't use them all in the album version nor the Bridge show. Maybe there are more that are 'traditional', I don't know. The way I recorded it was all but one verse that I found. I left out the part about the buckwheat cake, cause it didn't fit with the remainder to me.

The song verses I found through wikipedia showed, to me, the unrequited love letter from the writer to Susannah, a story of his love and his intentions of following her or chasing her and the despair of maybe not finding her. This is not completely portrayed in Neils versions, but it's in the original.

Is that the love for a woman? Or a chase for freedom? I don't know. It may allude to some racist perspective, but it wasn't overt to me. It certainly speaks of the desire of the main character, who describes himself a 'darkie'.

So as many of you have read already from me, I'm not only blasted by the performance(s) by Neil, but also transcended into the storyline by learning and playing this song, which still puts the tingle down my spine when I hear it, whether I'm playing it or just listening. For that, it'll never go away. It's now cemented into not just my Neil experience, but my own musical development.

anyhow, this is what I found

Written in 1848, this became a nationwide hit. It was the unofficial anthem of the 49ers during the California Gold Rush.

I came from Alabama
A7 D7
wid my banjo on my knee,
I'm g'wan to Louisiana,
Em D7 G
My true love for to see,
It rain'd all night the day I left
A7 D7
The weather it was dry,
The sun so hot I frose to death
Em D7 G
Susanna don't you cry.


C G A7 D7
Oh! Susanna Oh! Don't you cry for me
G Em D7 G
I've come from Alabama wid mi banjo on my knee.

I had a dream de odder night,
When ebery ting was still;
I thought I saw Susanna,
A coming down de hill.
The buckwheat cake war in her mouth,
The tear was in her eye,
Says I, I'm coming from de South,
Susanna, don't you cry.


I soon will be in New Orleans,
And den I'll look all round,
And when I find Susanna,
I'll fall upon the ground.
But if I do not find her,
Dis darkie'l surely die,
And when I'm dead and buried,
Susanna, don't you cry.

At 6/25/2012 10:26:00 PM, Blogger Fort Mac said...

No Trespassing Ya Say .
Well all those quaint remakes of your Americana folk songs may sit well with ya south of the 49th .
The last song is not an American folk song , the last song is a Commonwealth Anthem , a piece of music and a flag many Canadians died for while you Yanks stood by . A piece of music with meaning beyond the muse of Neil Young
Music that solidified the cost of freedom with 160,000 Canadian souls.
Tell me , what does Neil Young know about the cost of freedom for Canada ?
Disrespect our Sovereign on Canadian soil , and you will be asked to leave , it will be deemed a trespass of conscience and integrity .
Long Live our Gracious Queen EH !

At 6/25/2012 11:13:00 PM, Anonymous Mother Nature on the Run said...

Yeesh. No wonder Neil likes living in the states.

At 6/25/2012 11:38:00 PM, Blogger Fort Mac said...

Exactly , he likes living in the States , so blinded and wrapped in the flag of a country cirling the drain
Oh Canada ! , Let our freedom and our Queen Reign without Yankee disrespect !
Big Joe Mufferaw 1812

At 6/25/2012 11:43:00 PM, Anonymous Mother Nature on the Run said...

Sony, we may have stripped away all the references to the inhumane characterization of African Americans in the song. We may have even liberated the song from it's racist origin. But the original song and lyrics must always remain as footnote and bookmark in our history books for anyone interested in studying the blind spots of racist practices in America.

For all you dodo brains, I'm not calling Neil or James Taylor or Johnny Cash or Judy Collins a racist for singing the song. I know Mama Cass was not a racist which is why she sang the song the way she did. She wanted to liberate Susanna from that lap dog boyfriend who left her in the first place.

Disclaimer: If you dance, whistle, or clap to the song, that does not make you a racist but don't sing this song anywhere near Cornel West without expecting at least a slight twitch in his left eye.

All I'm trying to do is to form a latitude of interpetation to personalize my interaction with the Shepard Fairey poster which I do believe shows a very young Stephen Foster humbling himself before God and banjo for making fun of blacks.


At 6/26/2012 01:32:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mother Nature on the Run

Would you please disappear. You are a sanctimonious bore. I love Americana and especially this song. I love it in spite of your hollier than thou comments.

Robert Christgau gave the album an A rating. This is the highest rating for an NY album since Freedom. Enjoy the music and keep your comments to yourself.


At 6/26/2012 03:09:00 AM, Blogger BIGCHIEF said...

If it's got a good beat and you can dance to it, it's a good song. You people are diggin a little too deep here .....

At 6/26/2012 06:54:00 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

Last two comments pretty much sum it up! If you spend all your time tearing a song apart, are you even listening to the music?

Thank god for the internet. In the past people with so much insight and wisdom only had the pigeons in the park to listen to their rants.

At 6/26/2012 08:30:00 AM, Blogger thrasher said...

@MNOTR - it's been awhile since we heard from you. glad you're digging Shepard's interpretations.

@everyone - let's all try and play nice.

@SONY - thanks for the rundown on your version of O!S. When are the song contest winners being announced?

@John EH Connelly - easy now. it's a big planet here.

At 6/26/2012 09:40:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I really hope these prints will be fo sale...I love them.

At 6/26/2012 09:51:00 AM, Anonymous Mother Nature on the Run... said...

The match with Shepard's posters becomes a perfect vessel turning the project into what it was meant to be. I actually caught the online Vanity Fair article in the airport. Did a double take because Neil omitted the more controversial lyrics *ahem* on Susanna's song.

“What Neil did was he rearranged the music but also focused on the lyrics that he thought would be the most powerful and maybe the most controversial,” Fairey told “As is the folk tradition, he made [each song] his own. Listening to the lyrics, I came up with what appealed to me about a song, filtered through my political beliefs and also what I thought would make the most compelling visual. And then I talked to Neil about it and he was actually really generous about [me using] what inspired me.” - (Julie Miller,, June 3, 21012)

Do you think we can get Neil to collaborate with Dale Chihuly? LOL Just like when he collaborates with Demme, Jarmusch, barns it's all good stuff.

I really love the music video. It's priceless. I love how the two characters appear out of the bright white light and then disappear into it at the end. I can see that video playing at some contemporary art gallery. The music almost becomes the background while the images, lyrics move into the foreground. But like I said earlier the real star is Shepard Fairey's posters.

At 6/26/2012 10:41:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I thought MNOTR said he refused to listen to "oh Susannah."

At 6/26/2012 11:23:00 AM, Anonymous Mother Nature on the Run said...

Where did you read that? Judging by the Shakey character's comment above and your assessment of what I shared last month, at least 94% of cannot grasp the real Americana significance of this song which is why it is all the more a parody until Shepard's poster enters into the Americana arena.

At 6/26/2012 12:05:00 PM, Anonymous Mother Nature on the Run said...

One shouldn't have to go very deep here but did anyone catch which side of the barbed-wire the guy is on? And on which side of the fence the sign reads?

Is the viewer watching a person being denied equal access to economic prosperity? The barbed-wired signifies the economic class division in our country.

In Shepard's interpretation, he puts the guy in a beautiful backdrop of mountains and dams. The guy, like so many of the 99%, are being denied economic prosperity because all the wealth is in the hands of the 1%.

And the sign, reads "No Tresspassing" because that 1% also owns everything including the mountains, prairies, and that guy's economic sustainability.

At 6/26/2012 12:53:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

@MNOTR - got your meds refilled , huh?

At 6/26/2012 01:26:00 PM, Anonymous Mother Nature in the Slipstream said...

Neil's music is my only drug and the refill is free and available 24/7. However, if you must know, I'm stuck in a slipstream.

At 6/26/2012 03:22:00 PM, Blogger Dan1 said...

Regrets for being off topic ... but, 7 minute interview clip on CBS with Neil and Demme and Charlie Rose (re: Journeys) ... some really cool moments like when Charlie asks him which songs are autobiographical, Neil's answer is quite endearing ... worth watching whether you're a 96%er or a 4%er ...


At 6/26/2012 03:38:00 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Thanks Dan1

I'm FAR from being part of the 1%. I own land and houses.
Spend more time doing than complaining. Don't like your position, change it!

At 6/26/2012 03:38:00 PM, Blogger Dan1 said...

Also, Journey's release dates on NYTimes web site now ... Some showings as early as this friday:

At 6/26/2012 03:38:00 PM, Blogger SONY said...

Thanks Dan1. That interview's got some funny in there. I did look at the theatre schedule for Journeys and, alas, it won't be premiering in my town at the George Eastman House Theatre like Trunk Show did. May have to shuffle off to Buffalo for that one.

@Thrasher - song contest was to conclude yesterday I thought, the 25th, but no word on the site yet. I believe I garnered the fewest votes for O!S rendition I did. Oh well, that wasn't why I did it anyway.

At 6/26/2012 03:41:00 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

No Canadian dates?

At 6/26/2012 09:10:00 PM, Blogger Sandy Horne said...

The responsibility of the Artist:


Leave the results behind.


At 6/26/2012 09:38:00 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

I think Sandy might be my new best friend..

At 6/26/2012 10:23:00 PM, Blogger Sandy Horne said...

Thanks Dean

At 6/27/2012 08:11:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

@MNOTR, April 1st it is referenced by another poster. I can't find your posting where you said you refused to listen to it, possibly because so many of your posts have been whitewashed from history (kinda like Neil did with Oh Susannah...). But I do remember you saying it. Glad you have listened though. As a piece of art and music, I am enjoying it, and hope you are too.

At 6/27/2012 08:45:00 AM, Blogger Tweck9 said...

I am very much enjoying MNOTR's commentary and perspective on the song.

Thanks, MNOTR, for providing not only a good deal of historical background for us, but for putting it all in context and spending the time to lay it all out in such an engaging fashion.

When people have smart, erudite, deep or wise things to say, there's always going to be some haters who are jealous of your thoughtfulness.

So keep on posting. You do us all a service.

At 6/27/2012 04:56:00 PM, Blogger bobdylanfan said...

I have read that Neil and Crazy Horse are touring to LA at the Hollywood Bowl. Let's hope they add Vegas to their venue!!! Neil came here a couple of years ago, but that was for a SEMA convention. He was in and out in a flash, and was not singing then, just making a brief appearance at SEMA. Las Vegas is less than 400 miles from L.A., hoping Neil and the gang come here as well. You know tickets will sell here, because it has been awhile since he has sang here.

At 7/29/2012 07:06:00 PM, Blogger Fort Mac said...

"Easy now , it's a big world "
Almost missed this , and yes Thrasher it's a big world , much larger than the bubble most Americans , such as Neil Young live in .
So when am American or anyone else disrespects my history as a free nation , I will respond .
Always interested to hear when Americans spew their patriotic views and think they distinctly own this right and no other Free Nation as Canada is allowed to share similar patriotic views .
Can you imagine the American response if Stompin Tom Connors released a song in America ,disrespecting the efforts of Americans soldiers .
How dare you American , lecture me on the Big World , step outside , and read some history other than your own .
Long Live our Gracious Queen

At 7/30/2012 11:03:00 AM, Blogger thrasher said...

@John EH Connelly - Once again. easy now. it's a big planet here.

let's try this again. Americana. North & South. That includes Canada & mexico last we checked along with a bunch more countries.

Lots of diversity. Not sure where your anger is coming from?

At 2/08/2013 11:18:00 PM, Blogger Fort Mac said...

Americana does not include Canada and Mexico , only an arrogant Yankee would assume so !
Let me share with you a wee bit of Canadiana history there Thrasher Lad !
Millions of Canadians of my generation attended public schools , and sang God Save the Queen , before Mrs Clarkes spelling class.
Millions of Canadians sang God Save the Queen before each hockey game !
Millions of Canadians fought and died under the the Union Jack !
Millions of Canadians hold our Queen , our Sovereign in high regard , as you do your American symbols .
So when a self righteous Rock Star , born in Canada , that should know better , disrespects our Sovereign Queen , and calls it Americana .
He is a Yankee turncoat , no longer welcome in the True North Strong and Free !
Northern Man don't need him around anyhow

And yes yer damn right , we should be angry .
How dare he , as he is a recipient of of an honour bestowed upon him by the Queen herself , The Canadian Governor Generals Performing Arts Award , and yes I was there in Ottawa when he received this honour , so Shame on Neil Young for disrespecting his Country of birth .
He's a hypoctite , that calls himself a citizen of the world .
Bullshit !!!
I realise you think of him as a god like figure that can do no wrong , Wake up !
If you ever travel outside yer bubble of God , Mother, apple pie , and hand guns you will hopefully someday realise why Americans are despised world wide .
And if yer ever up here in Canada , check out our money that is above par to yer greenback , the picture of our Sovereign Queen adorns it all EH !

At 2/09/2013 04:41:00 PM, Blogger thrasher said...

@John EH Connelly - For about the 3rd time, easy now lad.

Really. Have you even read the liner notes?

check'em out.

At 2/09/2013 05:12:00 PM, Blogger Fort Mac said...

Open yer eyes to the world around you , it no longer rotates around America !

Come join the free world EH !

At 2/09/2013 05:35:00 PM, Blogger thrasher said...

no one said it did. EH!

At 2/09/2013 07:37:00 PM, Blogger Fort Mac said...

Your arrogant assumption says it all !

Open yer tired eyes

Oh please open your tired eyes

Born in the USA EH ???

At 2/10/2013 02:21:00 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

As a proud Canadian I have to say, unless you are over seventy, we don't really give a shit about the queen. I sang God Save the Queen in class also. Neil has done more for Canada than the queen. The monarchy serves no purpose here.


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