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Saturday, January 11, 2020

How Neil Young's Eccentric Online Home Was Born | Fortune

Neil Young requested his Archives "[not] look like a website."

An in-depth review of Neil Young's quest to push the boundaries of sound into new frontiers is captured in How Neil Young's Eccentric Online Home Was Born | Fortune by Morgan Enos.

Over the decades, we here at Thrasher's Wheat have blogged the story of NYA in real-time fragments, but the Fortune article by Morgan Enos consolidates the tale into a bite size portion and answers the main question: "Wait, who runs this thing in the day-to-day?" Enos introduces us to Toshi Onuki, a Tokyo-based art director, who came on board because he worked alongside Larry Johnson on his various projects. In the understatement of the year, Onuki says: “I have to say that Neil’s approach is not conventional.”

The article is filled with inside details on the development Neil Young Archives and it's ongoing evolution which still seems to be driven by Neil's original vision and his ever shifting direction in response to the rapidly seismically shifting music delivery landscape.
A.D.E. programmed the Archives website up to the point of its paywall. “The winds can change quickly on that project,” Mike Ryan, the founder of A.D.E., tells Fortune. “They were expecting fairly low profit from [launching the subscription service], but we got 200,000 sign-ups in the first 48 hours.”

“I think the popularity of it has blown everybody away,” Gordon Smith, the company’s executive producer, tells Fortune. (A Different Engine is no longer involved with Neil Young Archives.)

Today, NYA is run by roughly half a dozen employees who work remotely or in “a couple of offices,” including the Pasadena location, according to Phil Baker [a veteran hardware developer and NYA technical advisor].

“We’re focusing on finding the archive material, cataloging it, and putting it onto the website,” Baker says. “It’s just a lot of curation that goes on day-to-day.”

"Daddy Went Walking" Song File
A user experience on Neil Young Archives

Full article at How Neil Young's Eccentric Online Home Was Born | Fortune by Morgan Enos.

Also, see our still relevant 2009 article Everything You've Ever Wanted To Know About The Neil Young Archives But Were Afraid To Ask.

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At 1/12/2020 11:09:00 AM, Blogger acidfrank said...

anyone besides me having problems with the hearse theater today - Sunday? its not displaying the play for me. i am logged in and able to play the audio catalogue ok.

At 1/12/2020 02:09:00 PM, Blogger NY 1970 said...

Same here.

At 1/12/2020 02:57:00 PM, Blogger Darth Malt said...

Likewise, I've been waiting all weekend for this. The kids are in bed, it's 10pm in Finland, and I've got a couple of beers in the fridge. And the video won't play.

At 1/12/2020 03:45:00 PM, Blogger Darth Malt said...

Acidfrank, NY 1970, can you check your subscription details from the website? My iOS app seems to look fine, but the website tells me my subscription is not valid, no matter how many times I try to reactivate it. Both website and iOS app play back the music albums, but neither will play back Mountaintop in the Hearse Theater.

At 1/12/2020 06:48:00 PM, Blogger Dan Swan said...

Mountaintop is back up

At 1/13/2020 12:09:00 AM, Blogger acidfrank said...

i checked my subscription and its good until JAN 29 when i renew.
audio cab works ok too.
but no Hearse play for the movie. argh.
btw I am using PC only
wish i could use my surround player that works w/netflix + youtube.
we need an app for stand-alone players w/internet access.

At 1/13/2020 05:05:00 AM, Blogger NY 1970 said...

Mountaintop now working here.

At 1/13/2020 08:56:00 AM, Blogger Flyingscotzman said...

Mountaintop - still streaming right now. An essential watch for an insight into how a great Neil Young record gets made, and a huge amount of fun, as well.

Catch it now while you can - knowing Neil it may disappear back into the Archives for 30 years.


At 1/13/2020 09:04:00 AM, Blogger thrasher said...

@ Acidfrank - bummer. hopefully resolved before screening ends.

try this, if not already. log out of NYA and re-boot/clear cache, cookies, etc.

re login on fresh browser session.

this has worked for us before when all appeared well. and the folks @ NYA have always been responsive on technical issues if that still doesn't work.

good luck!

At 1/13/2020 12:24:00 PM, Blogger Jonathan said...

seriously enjoyed Mountaintop! lots of laughs throughout (mostly at Hanlon's expense)…

I did get a little bummed out watching Billy though...but overall the film just made me so grateful that all of the guys are still here...

one little comment from Neil during the Olden Days recording is when he says 'I want it kinda trashy...because it's a fine song'...something like that

hearing Neil comment on his own songs was fantastic!!!

At 1/13/2020 12:32:00 PM, Blogger Dan Swan said...

Excellent fly on the wall experience. Highlights for me was Nils tap dancing and the unique instrument with the glass bowls. I love the album immensely and the film reveals why.


At 1/13/2020 10:16:00 PM, Blogger acidfrank said...

its working now but I got to watch Mr. Soul.
too bad i had to go to work today. :-(

At 1/14/2020 10:17:00 AM, Blogger Flyingscotzman said...

Scotsman On The Mountaintop.

Right then! I've been to the Mountaintop and I have come back down again (apologies, to those who would have been quite happy for me to stay there indefinitely). And here are my traditional "long-winded", "pompous" comments.

This film might as well have been purpose-made for me. This sort of thing is right up my street. Rarely have I enjoyed a Neil Young project so much in recent years, which is a bold statement in a period that has included gems such as Earth. I'm not *always* a fan of studio documentaries, but sometimes, they are an essential part of the story. Mountaintop has its own story to tell.

This is one of those great documentaries where Neil just sets up the cameras and captures everything, and so, of course, everyone forgets they are being filmed and just acts naturally; or as naturally as you can expect in an environment that seems best described as "disorganised chaos", occasionally threatening to careen into "hostile".

Of course, our director Bernard Shakey (who looks both younger and significantly slimmer following his recent move towards an environmentally-friendly vegetarian diet) is still well aware he is being filmed, and as with Muddy Track, you do get the sense from time-to-time that the old rascal might just be encouraging a little bit of drama for filming purposes.

Regardless, there's an avalanche of natural drama occurring without any provocation from Neil. There's the cringe-worthy moment Neil puts his ear against a monitor speaker just as an ear-piercing squeal decides to emit from it, with the (hilariously) on-edge studio crew becoming increasingly frantic in trying to keep the chaotic studio under control. Or the moment an apoplectic John Hanlon (Neil's head engineer) orders the cameras removed from the studio so his x-rated ranting isn't included in the film (of course, it is). Then there's the beautiful moment where the camera continues picking up sound as it is removed from the studio, and someone see the bright side of the situation: "it's mayhem in there...but the moon's out and the mountain looks beautiful". I found it to be both moving and funny.

Now, the studio they are recording in looks very pleasant to me, but the emphasis throughout from Neil and Hanlon is that they are working in something much like a First World War trench. And just like the finished album, Mountaintop is full of this sense of sometimes-uneasy contrast between beauty and ugliness, chaos and control, focused attitude and light-hearted humour. Tender piano melodies paired with squealing speakers and gratuitous use of the F-bomb. It's just a really typical Neil Young project, full of character, and as such it feels completely timeless: squint a little, and it could have been shot 30 years ago.

At the heart of this film is the relationship between Neil and Hanlon. Crazy Horse are, as always, a little bit in the shadows: which of course is where they are most at home. As for Neil's relationship with Hanlon, it comes across as not entirely unlike that of Laurel and Hardy. Hanlon gets his fair share of Neil's wrath (rather mild, by rock star standards) in this film, but it's telling that when Hanlon asserts himself Neil quickly changes tact. You can easily imagine how the personalities of producer David Briggs and Neil balanced each other out in previous years. In this instance, It's all just a bit of studio banter among brothers, the long-established rituals of making a Crazy Horse album.

(End of part one).

At 1/14/2020 10:19:00 AM, Blogger Flyingscotzman said...

(Part two/Book two)

There're so many memorable bits, but I loved the section where Neil is prancing around the control room listening to Olden Days and suddenly breaks out into a Cheshire Cat grin: enjoying the music and tambourine overdubs, no doubt, but I suspect also impressed at his ability to (just about) hit a sequence of high notes that probably would have been out of his range at age 18, let alone 73. I loved all the creative touches, the tap dancing on Eternity, the glass harmonica, Ralph's typically dead-pan humour, Neil's little comments (e.g "it doesn't have to be good, it just has to be great") followed again by that familiar Cheshire Cat grin. And "One of the worst f*!#in' monitor systems known to man", delivered in the voice of a man who has seen his fair share of substandard audio equipment, I thought was hilarious.

The bottom line is it is infinitely more entertaining to watch Neil actively battling to make a great record in a dysfunctional studio in the middle of nowhere with a rough-around-the-edges Crazy Horse than it is when he steps into some technically-perfect Hollywood studio and tries to buy his way to artistic greatness with hired orchestras or celebrity producers. Sometimes, in recent years, I get the sense he's not really applying himself in the studio, particularly as a songwriter: full of great ideas but ultimately settling for the low hanging fruit. But I did not get this impression on most of Colorado. It's an album (and especially a film) that has both soul and substance, and that's what we are all here for.

Mountaintop has now disappeared back into the Archives, but I think it deserves a more permanent spot somewhere: either on NYA, or preferably as a Blu-Ray release. Actually, scratch that: I think it's best suited to being passed around as a 3rd generation bootleg, old-school-style. We'll see what happens, but in the meantime I am pleased Neil made this film. It might not be the best Crazy Horse album ever, but it's certainly one with a lot of special moments, and Mountaintop has a lot of additional special moments, too. I found it to be artistically moving, revealing, and genuinely very funny.

And, as a bonus, it's confirmed that my decision not to become a sound engineer was in fact a very lucky escape.


At 1/14/2020 12:30:00 PM, Blogger Dan Swan said...

@Scotsman : As always, a pleasure to read your thoughts. I particularly appreciated the “settling on low hanging fruit” observation.

As Neil stated “two days only, and there’s a reason for that”, I’m hopeful that this wonderful film will find an official release.

From what I’ve read, John Hanlon was a assistant to David Briggs back in the day, so I assume he was able to observe the dynamics that worked best working with Neil. They clearly have a mutual respect for each other.

Thanks again for your well written review.


At 1/14/2020 06:42:00 PM, Blogger thrasher said...

@Scotsman - Thank you.

Your comments are invaluable and we never find them to be "long-winded" or "pompous". Freedom of speech, just one's opinion is always welcome here at TW.

@Dan - good point on Hanlon & Briggs. We need to go back and check some album credits and see how far back working partnership goes.

At 1/14/2020 07:28:00 PM, Blogger Richie Cruz said...

I'm pretty sure John Hanlon started working with Neil and Briggs during the making of Ragged Glory.

At 1/15/2020 01:52:00 AM, Blogger Babbo B. said...

From "Shakey":

Tall and rangy, with long black hair and a Cro-Magnon brow, John Hanlon could play Neil Young in the TV movie. The engineer had worked with Briggs on and off for the last ten years, and the one gig he coveted was working on a Young record. Briggs wasn’t encouraging, telling him, “Neil doesn’t like working with strangers — he doesn’t like being around strangers.” But on Ragged Glory, Briggs insisted on using Hanlon, who was elated. ...

Hanlon proved to be one of those rare individuals the Horse could warm to. Establishing a rapport with Shakey was a bit trickier. The first day Hanlon walked over to check out the amps. “Don’t you ever walk in front of my amps while we’re playin’!” Young snarled. Hanlon was crushed. “Great intro. I wondered if I still had the gig.”

At 1/15/2020 09:57:00 AM, Blogger Flyingscotzman said...

...Thank you Dan, and thank you Thrasher.


At 1/15/2020 06:17:00 PM, Blogger thrasher said...

@ Scotsman - Film Review of the Moment:

lots of commentary, more on film than your review, tho. thanks for sparking the conversation from the MOUNTAINTOP!

a higher calling -- we suppose ...

At 1/16/2020 11:58:00 AM, Blogger Abner Snopes said...

I have to see the film!


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