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Friday, November 15, 2019

FILM REVIEW: MOUNTAINTOP by Neil Young & Crazy Horse

MOUNTAINTOP - Neil Young & Crazy Horse

Here is a special report from John Kwit on the film MOUNTAINTOP by Neil Young & Crazy Horse. John, a long time CSNY fan, is the North American Reporter for and Xtra Special EARTH Reporter for TW.


"Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn't matter with me now. Because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land."

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s final speech
Memphis, Tennessee. April 3, 1968

I don't know Neil Young and it's fair to say that 99.9% of the worlds population is in the same boat. Who can say what's running through his mind? All I know is his artistic creativity is currently like a brakeless 600 ton Big Boy locomotive barreling down a steep mountain pass. Wild. Unstoppable.

Advancing in age towards the setting sun, it is readily apparent that 74 year old Neil Young has something critically important to share. He recently reunited with a new configuration of his old band, Crazy Horse. Neil, Nils Lofgren, Billy Talbot and Ralph Molina have released a new album, Colorado, the first by the band in seven years. And even more eye-opening, Neil directed a film, Mountaintop, capturing the making of that album. Screened in almost 200 theaters for one night only, the film is as close as we will ever get to being a fly on the wall in the studio while the artist creates his masterpiece.

‘Mountaintop Sessions’ - Neil Young & Crazy Horse

The setting is somewhere high up in the clouds of the Colorado mountains. Pinpointing the exact location isn't important. Just consider it a marvel that somebody hauled a semi full of equipment up the hill to totally transform a large, yet cozy chalet into a recording studio. It turned into a sanctuary where Neil and the band seemed to truly get away from it all. No distractions. Lots of sweat equity. And just enough horseplay thrown in to make the mood light.

I'm no cinematographer or professional film critic, but it appears to me that Neil likes to dwell on the concept of time. Multiple time-lapse scenes dot the film revealing the comings and goings at the studio, clouds, animals, birds and the stars. He utilizes fish-eye and multi-screen shots to keep things interesting. It doesn't appear that anyone is acting. It's raw footage with real warts, laughter, joy and anger.

Nobody deserves an Oscar but album Recording Engineer John Hanlon should get an award for patience. In calming the tormented artist down he (hopefully) captured the muse on audio tape. I say "hopefully" because this is a film review, not an album review. What I saw and heard in the movie was mind-blowing.

"I want it up as loud as it can go!" - Neil
Neil Young & Crazy Horse in the Studio

(Frame via film Mountaintop)

Neil is large and in charge. In one scene, the vocals are horrid so Neil complains to Hanlon about the microphones: "I love singing into a wet sock." The volume level is constantly out of whack. Neil shouts at Hanlon to "Make it (the guitars) LOUDER!" followed later by facial stares that could melt an iceberg when ear piercing feedback is created by sound levels set too high.

Neil the musician is on fire in this film. The new songs appear to flow out effortlessly. He seeks perfection one moment then shifts gears when he realizes that a raw sound may actually be better as he opines, "It doesn't have to be good. It's going to be great."

Neil the jokester is also in the house. Instead of (perhaps) supplying weed to everyone, he hands out oxygen tanks & masks to altitude-fatigued band members valiantly struggling to keep up with the relentless jamming. What a movie poster or album cover an oxygen tank using band would have made!

Political rants are non-existent in the film although an accidental political reference pops up. Neil remarks that his song, Rainbow of Colors, is "a piece of f*cking gold." Those needing a quick history lesson can look up currently incarcerated former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich who put the same value on a plum U.S. Senate seat that he hoped to sell.

Neil Young w/ Engineer John Hanlon

Neil the conductor is a sight to behold. He has Nils add soft-shoe tap dancing sound effects to one song, He insists a tambourine is needed by Ralph in another. Falsetto vocals by Billy fit in to help us lose our minds. And how many artists have coaxed the sounds of an armonica (a glass musical instrument designed by Benjamin Franklin, yes the fellow from several centuries ago) into their recent work? God bless him, Neil Young just did.

Will Mountaintop win an Academy Award? Probably not. But Neil most likely would use the Oscar statue as a door stopper anyway. Mountaintop is another project made by Neil for Neil and his fan base, the rest of the world be damned. It now resides in his archives website where subscription-paying devotees may someday get another peek.

Regardless if you missed or saw the film, go out and buy the album Colorado. If it's anywhere near what was captured on film it's worth it. And if we're blessed to have a concert tour in the near future with the current configuration of Crazy Horse don't miss it. It would be a cause for celebration unlike all others. The road won't go on forever.

Neil took us to the Mountaintop. What did I see? An artist and band that have transcended all limitations. They are four unique individuals but one cohesive unit. Together. No separation. All one thought. All one voice. All one word.

This is NeilYoungCrazyHorse.

Billy, Neil, Nils, & Ralph - April 2019
photo: dhlovelife

One band. Under God. Indivisible. With liberty and justice for all.

John Kwit
North American Reporter,
Xtra Special EARTH Reporter,

Thanks so much for the report John! (Incidentally, excellent work and congratulations on your promotion to Xtra Special EARTH Reporter for !) Get some rest after the road trips and we'll see you down that road!

Also, here's John's review of Farm Aid 2019 - 34 Years of Farm Aid: Where Do We Go From Here? ☮️ ♥️

MOUNTAINTOP Film Premiere in Washington DC

Also, see:

COLORADO by Neil Young & Crazy Horse
Release Date: October 25, 2019 - Pre-order now
(Please shop locally & independently. But if you can't, we appreciate your supporting Thrasher's Wheat by clicking this link. Thank you!!!)


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At 11/15/2019 05:47:00 PM, Blogger Dan Swan said...

Very disappointed that Neil is not going to release this film in December like he said back in October. It was originally planned to be a Deluxe Edition CD combo, but alas, Neil has again changed his mind. Now apparently, it will be shown on Hearse Theatre after another run at the cinemas. Although this could just be more fake news on NYA.


At 11/15/2019 05:54:00 PM, Blogger Dan Swan said...

.....oh yeah. I also ordered the $300 Crazy Horse shirt from the greedy hand two weeks ago and it still has not shipped. I’m moving next week and unfortunately Warner doesn’t allow address changes to orders so now it will be in the hands of USPS with our change of address. God help us.


At 11/15/2019 08:58:00 PM, Blogger Gabrielle E said...

Hi Dan,

So sorry to hear about your Neil Young Flannel order! We want to do everything we can to make sure you receive your order so please contact our customer service team here through Neil Young's Greedy Hand Store:

- Neil Young's Team

At 11/16/2019 02:10:00 AM, Blogger Shakeydave said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 11/16/2019 05:58:00 AM, Blogger Flyingscotzman said...

I haven't seen Mountaintop, beyond the preview clips, but the reviews I've read sound like it's a project that will be right up my street.

You can tell this is an album Neil has made an effort with. All the antics with Hanlon that people are upset about is just Neil conjuring up some of that edgy attitude in the studio that could easily have retired itself a few decades ago.

The Monsanto Years had a great subject matter (some of the songs came alive on Earth), but the sound was a murky-sounding mess, and the songs seemed more geared towards soap-box ranting than communicating. For the most part, Colorado communicates, and is a more engaging album because of it.

Colorado is one of those albums that really conjures up a dream-like mental picture in my mind, a feeling in images (this happened on Earth a lot, as well). It's the sort of thing that used to happen all the time with Neil's songs, the ones where he'd sit down and write at length, stick with it long enough to actually get into a dreamlike flow of words, and only then make something out of what he came up with. The end result, straight out of his subconscious, was probably as much of an exciting mystery to him as the rest of us. But this has happened a little less often as he has moved towards a more conscious, "this is going to be a song about..." style of writing that leaves less room for the listener's imagination.

The songs and performances on Colorado are very evocative, and in some cases very spooky and haunting, but perhaps seeing the songs recorded in a stark studio environment would reduce some of the mystery of these songs?

I've spoken before how some context can add to the enjoyment, but sometimes the best context is one that leaves in the shadows. Knowing the context of a song can open up new layers, for sure, but analysing "the meaning" of The Last Trip To Tulsa won't get you any closer to the feeling behind it.

I enjoyed the wonderful Inside Greendale documentary (from the 2nd Edition of Greendale) and felt it increased my enjoyment of the songs, so it may well be the same way with Mountaintop. The truth is most of Neil's film projects (or audience films of his concerts) are well worth watching, because he's such an engaging performer visually.


At 11/16/2019 10:35:00 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

Hello..looking forward I think to the showdown of neil vs.the donald,,Neil's trying to get dual citizenship while Donald's trying to get reelected. Who will win.donald speaks highly of neil on occasion,really.
It could be the Donald might shift some environmental policies if wants to hope to capture neilite votes,.I voted for the Donald and I've been to many neil shows, go figure.
Both these guys about the same age and what creativity from both.truly.jk

At 11/16/2019 04:09:00 PM, Blogger thrasher said...

@ Dan - yes, disappointting on release plans. We certainly enjoy the limited run. As has been the pattern with attending NY films over the years, we knew half the folks in the theater. All 15. :)

Bummer on Crazy Horse but looks like help might be on the way?!

@ Gabrielle - tanks so much for dropping by. Hoping you can help out our friend Dan here.

@ Scotsman - right, as John's review above indicates, it's a special film with limited appeal. We're happy to be part of the small target market.

We find the mega blockbusters, super action heros to be a bit - how shall we say -- weak and hollow.

Somewhat remarkably, we found Mountaintop achieving a similar impact that Prairie Wind did. The film sort of sneaks up on you so by the final song "I Do" we found ourself with a lump in our throat. The recording with the armonica is really something to behold.

who knew how that eerie glorious sound was made? as review notes, the armonica is a glass musical instrument designed by Benjamin Franklin.

jk - yeah, the whole Donald and Neil thing is semi-bizarre.

Definitely some odd synchronicities with 2 guys. Especially now with the impeachment proceedings.

Back in 1970, CSNY called out Nixon on "Ohio". 4 years later, nearly impeached, Nixon resigned.

Today, as Neil sings & speaks out against Trump, similar to Nixon, he also faces impeachment.

Then there is the Nixon/Lennon immigration business, similar to Trump/Young citizenship issue.

but some other time. yet another example of history repeating on a loop.

deja vu

At 11/16/2019 08:15:00 PM, Blogger Dan Swan said...

@ Gabrielle E : We sent a message through the Greedy Hand website at contact us, and explained everything we could, even though it says they can’t change the address. It’s under my wife’s name: Jeanie Swan. Order number 6300000020562 ordered on 10/25/19. If there is something else we can do, please let me know.


At 11/17/2019 06:47:00 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

Hoi John.You've hit the nail on the head.You couldn't describe Neil,his music,his band and his way he's working better than you did.It's Neil as we've known him his whole life through,genuine and true.A real artist and "inarestin'" human being.Well done,John.Much appreciated.Cees Mostert,the Netherlands.

At 11/18/2019 09:35:00 AM, Blogger Jonathan said...

fake impeachment...


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