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Sunday, May 03, 2020

Going Back to Greendale #4: "Devil's Sidewalk" from Neil Young's RETURN TO GREENDALE | NYA

"Devil's Sidewalk"
Neil Young's Greendale (2003)

In anticipation of the premiering of Neil Young's "RETURN TO GREENDALE" film on Hearse Theater | Neil Young Archives, we are going back 17 years to 2003 when the Greendale album and concerts first emerged.

As you will see in our series "Going Back to Greendale", the reaction back in 2003 was literally bewildering for both hard core and casual Neil Young fans.

But history has vindicated the highly experimental Greendale production much to our delight. enjoy!

The song "Devil's Sidewalk" from "RETURN TO GREENDALE" film is scheduled to premiere today in Hearse Theater Screen #2 | Neil Young Archives.

Directed by L.A. Johnson and Bernard Shakey, Chapter III of RETURN TO GREENDALE is performed live in Toronto with full cast. Each Monday will feature a chapter from Greendale.

In an interview with Neil Young in June 2003, he said that the first Greendale song to emerge was "Devil's Sidewalk," a two-chord rumination on the state of humanity: "There's a garden growing and a million weeds/There's no way of knowing who has done which deeds,".
"I didn't even know what it was," Mr. Young said. "I said, what the hell is this? What is that? What am I talking about?" Then came another song, "Falling From Above." And another, "Double E." For the first time in Mr. Young's career, they both mentioned the same characters: Grandpa, his son Earl and Earl's wife, Edith, and a granddaughter.

Neil Young in Greendale - Massachusetts 2003
Photo by Brian Babineau
Broken Arrow Issue Number 91, August, 2003
Published by Neil Young Appreciation Society

Neil Young's Greendale has been critically compared to the American literature works of Raymond Carver and Sherwood Anderson. To summarize the song "Devil's Sidewalk", "Earl Green", a Vietnam vet who makes a deal with the Panama-hatted "Devil" to sell his psychedelic paintings. The song "Devil's Sidewalk" personifies Greendale's sound as a whole with its crunchy, marching, attitude.

Greendale Poster - Japan 2003 Leg via Sugar Mountain

Neil Young writes on Neil Young Archives:
Eric Johnson plays the devil in RETURN TO GREENDALE and Satan sure made a mess of things. The little town was never the same. Sun Green emerged from Greendale to save the world from itself and the devil sure gave her a lot of trouble. The battle continues to this day.
From Neil Young Concert Review in Milwaukee, WI, 06/19/2003 by Brian Sleeman:
The devil character did a great job, particularly, but all of them were quite good. Neil preceded "The Devil's Sidewalk" by describing the devil himself, as the kind of guy who likes to appear in the mirror when old ladies look at their reflection, then disappears across the street to laugh his ass off when they turn around to find him.

"That's just the kind of guy he is," Neil said. "The Devil's Sidewalk" has a definite sea-faring feel to its lead riff, and it features a lot of great acting. Captain Green is lecturing his crew, and as they turn around to walk into town, the giant screen projects an approaching road and background to give the appearance that the crew are actually moving into town.

From "Greendale" Neil Young Lyrics Interpretation, the song "Devil's Sidewalk" may reference terrorists and terrorism in the context of "The War on Terror" began to ramp up in 2003. Suggesting the difficulty of fighting "The War on Terror" when it's difficult to distinguish protesting citizens from "terrorists", Young sings in "Devil's Sidewalk":

"There's a garden growing
And a million weeds
With no way of knowing
Who's done which deed"

So are those "weeds" really "terrorists"? Or protesting citizens expressing their freedoms?

The Devil Breaks Out of Jail @ 666 Main St, Greendale

Critics generally were not particularly kind to Neil Young's Greendale back in 2003.

"underdeveloped" ... "self-indulgent and silly" ... "hopelessly flawed"
Greendale Review via Sugar Mountain

Adam Webb writes in Dot Music:
    On paper this sounds more eccentric and interesting than it really is. Unfortunately the attacks on the ills of modern society become increasingly directionless and scattered and eventually come over like an old man shaking his fist against the sky. That Young hides behind his characters means we are never sure of his true beliefs. Certainly, this is not the revealing insight into getting old that Dylan's 'Time Out Of Mind' was. Ultimately it feels like having a long-winded lecture from your elderly uncle.

    We should laud Young for taking such risks at this stage of his career but 'Greendale' sounds like the sort of small town you spend your whole life running from. Or the place you go to retire.

Neil Young in Greendale - Massachusetts 2003
Photo by Brian Babineau
Broken Arrow Issue Number 91, August, 2003

Also, see Chapter I: "Falling From Above" from "Greendale" | Neil Young Archives and Chapter II: "Double E" from "Return To Greendale" | Neil Young Archives .

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