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Saturday, January 05, 2013

Synchronicity and Neil Young



Here's one those weird little Neil Young synchronicities that we come across from time to time.

As you may recall, we recently posted on Smart Phone Etiquette regarding relentless texting during a Neil Young concert and the ensuing consequences. The post contained photos and video with Neil mocking texters by pushing his fingers maniacally into his palm.

Anyways. So what do we come across but the above video posted on a TW reader's Facebook page of Neil Young w/ The Trans Band at Deutschlandhalle, West Berlin, West Germany in 1982. (Thanks Matt L.!)

The song "Transformer Man" is from the Berlin video -- a fantastic document of the period -- where Neil had gone techno-synth-pop before anyone really knew what that genre was all about. And most are still scratching their head about the whole TRANS period still.

So take a look at the video, with the awesome Nils Lofgren, where neither are playing instruments, per se, but doing a wild, mind blowing performance art thing. Very cool.

So what's Neil doing anyway? He seems to be using his wireless mike transmitter as an early texting device as he punches away at it. It doesn't seem to have any discernable impact on his vocals that we can hear? But maybe we're missing the whole point still 30 years on?

Maybe Neil had an early prototype of an Apple iPhone back in 1982?

Well, Neil's always been a bit ahead of his time... or behind... we can't decide.

(This post is for Ben.)

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19 Comments:

At 1/06/2013 05:18:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

apple, iphone, facebook, twitter et al. All this shit sucks. A communication dominated by commercial interests. Don't play for money. Synchronicity? It should mean that it has a meaning for the individual. Trans was before all that shit. Face it.

Captcha: catman

 
At 1/06/2013 01:27:00 PM, Anonymous Johan said...

Wow Neil Young used to be young and thin and hip??? Who would have ever guessed?

 
At 1/06/2013 03:12:00 PM, Blogger setlistthief said...

That was such an interesting period for Neil..the Geffen suit, electronics, Reagan (which, btw, is addressed in "Waging Heavy Peace"). But underneath the props, synthesizers, vocoders, and glasses, I can hear a lovely Neil Young ballad.

And @ Johan, time fades away, huh? For all of us.

 
At 1/06/2013 04:46:00 PM, Blogger TonyACT said...

I have this concert on DVD and it is really good; which kind of contradicts the 'Shakey' book which claims it was a bad tour and poorly received - the fans in the video seem to be having a great time.

 
At 1/06/2013 05:17:00 PM, Blogger Phill said...

"I can hear a lovely Neil Young ballad"

Exactly. The naysayers and critics can moan that "Trans" and Transformer Man" aren't "Neil" but any man that writes such a beautiful song in dedication of his son is okay by me.

 
At 1/06/2013 05:31:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The 1982 European tour was advertised as "Live Rust '82", even the tickets of these shows said so (see Sugar Mountain.org's extras). Almost everybody watching these overdone Chip Monck light shows and listening to the vocoder tracks in Munich back then was alienated. European audiences used to be a lot more polite in those days and ever since got a lot more tolerant too with regards to Neil's music . So one can see some applause in the Berlin video, but that's probably well cut. Neil 's idea that European would appreciate the Kraftwerk aspect of his new tunes most certainly was dead wrong. Frankly, I believe that even in that place west of the Polish border nobody understood, what these tracks were about. So I strongly suggest that "Shakey" is right: It was a bad tour and was poorly received. When Neil later on also made some crude statements about Reagan's politics that in Europe were misunderstood to some extent it took a lot of effort on Elliot's side and five years for Neil to somehow get back a foot in the door in Europe. Sometimes one has to face the possibility that Neil Young is / was wrong. Although I appreciate some of his more intimate messages on various channels, I find it rather annoying that back then he used his audience as an emotional garbage bin.

 
At 1/06/2013 07:46:00 PM, Blogger Thrasher Wheat said...

"I find it rather annoying that back then he used his audience as an emotional garbage bin."

man, that's harsh.

here's the thing. whatever you thought of the whole techno thing back in '82, no one had a clue that "Trans" and "Transformer Man" were about Neil's son and what was going down with the Young family.

Now we know.

And to have that opinion today is cold. very cold.

namaste

 
At 1/06/2013 08:57:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Two points.

1) The alianation of the european audience is understandable considering he performed there at a time the album was unreleased so nobody could have been prepared.

but and that´s

2) When I look at the setlist for example munich I see exactly four vocoder songs, Computer Age, Transformer Man, Sample And Hold and Mr Soul as an encore sandwhiched between what is pretty much a greatest hits collection conating 6 songs from the Live Rust Setlist + quite a bit from Harvest and Goldrush.

So from that point (15-20 minutes electronic music out of a two hours show) it certainly can´t measure up to the alienation audiences may have felt at the Tonights The Night and Greendale Tours which mostly ignored his famous songs in favor of unknown stuff.

He also added those songs one by one during the tour, and when he played open air festivals in the summer he only did Sample And Hold as an encore (Mr Soul was played without vocoder at first).

Certainly those three new songs plus the reworking of the Buffalo Sprinfield classic might have felt strange but for more than 90 minutes of those shows the audiece got exactly what it came for.

 
At 1/06/2013 11:10:00 PM, Blogger John EH Connelly said...

Thanks so much fer sharin that video ..... Iconic indeed !
Fer some reason unknown to me
Reactor ,Trans , Shocking Pinks are my favs .
I was so blown away at the time !
Something to do with being mesmerized by Rust Never Sleeps and then this freedom of expression
Saratoga Springs 82 revisited .

 
At 1/07/2013 09:39:00 AM, Blogger Matthew L. said...

Emotional garbage bin??

What is art, if not an expression of feeling?

Neil Young was using his audience as an "emotional garbage bin" when he wrote Heart of Gold, too.

Nothing is really that different between Trans and Harvest, except that Harvest has a traditional folk/rock sound, while Trans has an experimental, electronic arrangement.

In Shakey, McDonough indicated that the Trans tour lost money because of the gigantic stage they bussed around, and all the people that had to get paid.

McDonough (who I like) also writes from a perspective composed of his own very strong, somewhat arrogant biases, and I don't believe everything he wrote.

The audience in the "In Berlin" DVD appear perfectly happy with the concert. Maybe a little confused about the Trans material at times, but that's to be expected, and they respond well to it overall. I've watched the video many times, and the audience is pretty obviously having a fun time.

The "Trans Disaster" is highly overblown. It's almost become a popular fan meme to act as if it was a failure, when it was probably (IMO) one of Neil's most incredible artistic successes.

 
At 1/07/2013 10:59:00 AM, Blogger Matthew L. said...

I had noticed Neil's pantomiming with the faux electronic device. I think he's basically, from an 80's perspective, imagining a way that technology can be used to communicate with his son (which I guess is pretty obvious).

It's pretty amazing how clearly it resembles an mp3 player or ipad (or Star Trek communicator). Very prescient. The first Walkman came out in the U.S. in 1980, so I'm gonna say the Walkman was likely inspiring Neil in some form, in terms of form factor, when it comes to the portable electronic communicator that he's imagining here.

 
At 1/07/2013 11:04:00 AM, Blogger Thrasher Wheat said...

Good 2 points.

@Matt L. - exactly. That's the point we were trying to make, altho not as clearly as you laid out.

What Neil was doing onstage in 1982 on TM relative to what we see today in 2012 is really visionary.

While we could sort of imagine what the future might be, to see it so remarkably mimicked decades before fruition is well... just so... freaky.

 
At 1/07/2013 12:43:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well in essence that´s what a vocoder looked like in 1982. Before I ever saw that video I was assuming that Neil sat on the synclavier (the only instrument that is played on the studio version of the song, by Neil) like he does on the piano when performing the song, guess someone else is performing the instrument while Neil is using the device to alter the voice (and as far as I know playing notes on an instrument is even needed to make the singing on the vocoder work).

 
At 1/07/2013 01:03:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anybody know what he's saying when he holds up the little box and points to it?

 
At 1/07/2013 01:25:00 PM, Blogger Matthew L. said...

Is he dialing up sounds on that thing? Is that a vocoder?

Nils and Neil are both singing through the vocoder, if you check out the other tracks. Particularly in Sample and Hold, and Computer Age, where both are playing guitar. They have (wireless?) headsets being used to process the vocals through the vocoder.

At one point Neil sings through both the wireless and the stage mic and you can hear his natural voice combining with the vocoder-affected voice (on Computer Age), which I think is a really nice touch, as it melds the human and the electronic sounds into one - very symbolic of what he was getting at as well.

So, I don't know, I think he's pantomiming.

Okay, I just checked, and all the photos of 1980-era vocoders appear to be of large, rack-mount boxes. So I think the little box is an imaginary ipod.

Or perhaps a PONO!

 
At 1/07/2013 02:38:00 PM, Anonymous Peter D said...

@anon 05:31
I would very much like you and other people to stop talking about 'European audiences' as if
1. audiences are one organism consisting of human beings that act, think and feel the same.
2. there is such a thing as a 'European' audience
3. these 'European' audiences all are the same
4. you are the one that's enlightened enough to know what they think
5. we are dumb enough to believe 1, 2, 3 and 4.

Furthermore it seems like you either can read the minds of Neil and his management, or you have worked closely with them around that time, as you make remarks about their strategy to come to Europe. If that's true, please tell us more.

As a European, I frankly cannot remember five years in which there was considerable effort done by the undivided continent I am living in, to make sure us poor citizens were not exposed to the presence of a condemnable rightwing musician such as Neil Young.

Neither do I remember hearing or reading reports of Neil and / or his management trying hard to set up a tour in Europe and failing, all because of severe resistance by the United Nations of Europe.

 
At 1/07/2013 03:26:00 PM, Blogger Matthew L. said...

I'll make the assumption that Peter's description of Neil as "condemnable" and "rightwing" is sarcasm.

But thanks for setting us straight, Peter. We shouldn't generalize, that's definitely true. I bet there are lots of folks in Europe who think Trans is the bees knees.

There are no American audiences, as we are all off in our dune-buggies gunning down famous people on the beach...

...or something.

Or in Neilspeak: "It's all one audience!"

 
At 1/07/2013 05:19:00 PM, Blogger Thrasher Wheat said...

Thanks Peter! touche

As Matt/Neil says: : "It's all one audience!"

 
At 1/08/2013 03:49:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I stand by my comment above, although I agree that "emotional garbage bin" might sound harsh. But I think it's quite ahistorical to argue from a knowledge about the background of this tour that we have now.
Infact there were just four vocoder songs during this show. But there was this inappropriate laserlight stuff. ( Yes, I thought it inappropriate, but most pepole didn't, it's just that Neil Young said something like that himself later on.) The regular songs were perfomed quite differently from what they sounded on "Live Rust", and it was the sound of the latter that could be expected according to the promotional efforts. (Yes, I did expect it this way, but nobody else did.)

As for European audiences: Poncho at least at one point said, that there is a different attitude of European audiences, at least towards the Horse . Don't you think that this is somehow reflected in the performances?

And, my dear fellow Europeans, what about country music in the 80's? Country music in the 80's in Europe was widely seen as a reactionary genre. (Not by you of course, it was just me back in these days, while everybody else in Europe knew already, that there was country music worth listening to.) It is not conceivable that a Harvester tour would have drawn the then average Neil Young audience (Yes, I am stereotyping again, forgive me, you were different back then already..).
At least the hardcore fans went through a long learning process along this twisted road. At times Neil Young's music surprised, disappointed, alienated parts of the audience. In some cases the reason might be this following the muse thing, but on some occasions parts of the audience were not able to follow. I fully agree with the postion maintained on TW that this is what makes this musical ride worth the effort.

That Neil Young's support of some thoughts of Reagan's political agenda did do some damage to his reputation seems to be a fact, although I conceed that "Shakey" (p.562ff... and 587ff...) is not the gospel, but it's a valid source.

 

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