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Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Going Back to Greendale #5: The Controversy Over Neil Young's Greendale

"Who cares what you believe,
Said the captain amazed,
If you stood in my shoes
Your eyes would be glazed"

~~ "Devil's Sidewalk" - Neil Young & Crazy Horse's "Greendale Tour"

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

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.

Here is a look back the controversy over Neil Young's Greendale in 2003 & 2004 from the TW Archives. enjoy!

A somewhat common criticism of Neil Young's Greendale back in 2003 and 2004 was that some concert goers felt ripped off by the Greendale experience and were not expecting to hear new songs and were just yearning for the encore hits of Crazy Horse.

From Thrasher's Wheat Greendale Commentary page, Coyote wrote back in 2003:
    I saw Neil in Toronto in June and was greatly disappointed by the show.

    Neil played well, but for him to play 100 minutes of unreleased material before playing any of his older material was a total ripoff for more than a hundred bucks. As well, the t-shirts were $40. Last week at Lucinda Williams' show, they sold for $25.

    Although Neil is a great artist, it seems to me its all about self-indulgence and big bucks now.
Wow. As one Rustie said at the time: "Man, talk about harshing my mellow." Well, standby, because this was mild compared to some of the reaction that was still to come.

support war
"Support Our War"
Neil Young & Crazy Horse
Greendale at Radio City Music Hall, New York City - March 18, 2004

photo by thrasher

BBC Greendale Review touches off a firestorm of comments

Reviewer Chris Jones wrote on BBC Greendale Review, touching off a firestorm of comments:

    "This opus comes with a wealth of supporting ephemera (DVD; unfeasibly large CD booklet with drawings by hokey Zuma-era artist James Mazzeo; labyrinthine website with maps, lyrics, narration and even falsified photos for goodness' sake).

    Unfortunately it's a smokescreen.

    When you strip away all the merchandising you're faced with a series of desultory, lengthy two-chord strums with nary a tune between them. Crazy Horse, shorn of rhythm guitarist Frank Sampedro, do what they always do: Solidly plod through the material. Yet, where once this served as a bedrock for Neil's stellar guitar wrangling and impassioned voice, it now merely highlights his inability to set fire to the fuse.

    Despite the bullhorns and grungy harp it's barroom rock that should have stayed in the bar."

Feedback on the BBC review was voluminous and passionate. Here is just a small sample of comments on the reaction to BBC's Greendale Review by Chris Jones:

'Greendale' looks set to join the pantheon of great Neil Young records

Neil Young and "Sun Green"
Greendale at Radio City Music Hall, New York City - March 18, 2004
photo by thrasher

    "Greendale has already split critics and fans,' suggests reviewer Chris Jones.

    Well, that isn't quite right ' it's split fans from poor, baffled critics, more like. Neil doesn't make records for critics, or even his fans, he makes records for himself. And therein lies the core of the man's greatness. He is willing and artistically gifted enough to take huge experimental leaps. Sometimes they don't come off, but when they do, he makes music for the ages. It is early days yet, but 'Greendale' looks set to join the pantheon of great Neil Young records ' right up there with 'Everybody knows this is nowhere', 'Ragged Glory', 'Sleeps with Angels' and, yes, critically-maligned fan-favourite 'Trans'.

    Mr Jones comes for quite a bit of stick here. That's a bit unfair. After all he works for the BBC ' how many times is 'Fake Academy' on this week? Lay off the guy, he's only following the corporate model unlike, say, Neil Young. Which brings me to the issue of 'half-baked truisms'. Umm, well, some of them certainly are half-baked ' but whose truisms are they? Neil's? Well, not really. Take the naive anti-corporate ranting of 'Be the Rain' ' that's not Neil ranting ' that's Son Green, a character in a Neil Young song. A pretty fundamental distinction that seems lost on many reviewers. Actually, Neil mentions Son Green's youthful strength of purpose in the supporting ephemera, and reflects sadly on how we lose that passion once we enter adulthood.

    Finally a word on Mr Jones 'supporting ephemera', in which he includes the terrific live DVD ' some ephemera! Would that every album came with a bit of fluff so compelling! "

Nigel Atkinson, Middlesbrough, UK

Song story telling in the Homeric tradition

Neil Young's Greendale at Radio City Music Hall, New York City - March 18, 2004
photo by thrasher

    "Ultimately this is song story telling in the Homeric tradition and therefore the emphasis is on the lyrics rather than the music.

    Thats not to say that the tunes and motifs aren't quickly memorable. After a couple of listenings the characters and storey seemed to take over and CD becomes a swirl of characters, events and ideas. Who doesn't love Grandpa, cheer on Sun Green or ache with the pathos in Bringing Down Dinner? As others have pointed out, Be The Rain is sung by a young girl transformed via grief and anger into idealism. The reviewer hasn't seperated Neil Young songwriter, Neil Young singer and Sun Green character in his mind hence the cheap shots at Neil's expense. These songs are about narration/acting and shouldn't be judged in the usual way where the singer means his song (But as Neil wrote them he probably does). Its all on an extra level to the norm.

    In my view this is one of only a very few successful attempts at a concept album and, because of its strong cohesive story line possibly the most convincing. It would make a great stage show - but perhaps those in America who've seen the full thing know more about whether Neil has explored this. A modern opera for our times? Finally, its worth considering the impact of Simon Cowell (Pop Stars etc.) and the vogue for unduly agressive reviewing and comment. This is guaranteed to engender anger and controversy with the public(and maybe we're all Chris Jones's dupes in this regard)and is an obvious way for otherwise obscure people to get noticed and climb the fame ladder.

    Maybe we should have just ignored the t*ss*r and got on with enjoying the album!"

Mike Brown

Greendale is boring, the Mountainettes are ruinous

    "I think the reviewer is right on.

    I'm a long-time fan and Greendale is boring, the Mountainettes are ruinous, the ideas are half-baked and the lyrics are atrocious. I don't agree in the least with people saying this is his freshest thing in a decade. I think he has had a superb decade up to now. The more recent albums are dripping with passion, though you may have to possess an appreciation of,shall we say, subtlety, to realize it. Very good review. I appreciate a reviewer with backbone.

    The good thing is that Neil still has potential."


LAST unique musician on earth!

Neil Young's Greendale at Radio City Music Hall, New York City - March 18, 2004
photo by thrasher

    "I'm all for hippie values and Greendale is the best thing NY has ever done.

    I saw Neil live in July in California and he created an astounding amount of energy at his show. I admit, I gave up on him in the 80s with that crapass lovefest for Ronald Regan and I still secretly hope it was just a strange joke by Neil. But, in the past few years, he's found his way back to something sane...environmental preservation, civil rights and railing at the King and Queen like the Stones used to do. These aren't tired issues. They are our f*#%ing life! I love the raw, demo-style sound of Greendale and the content is something that really needs to be said more than it is. At the show, 'Be The Rain' was filled with energy and created what rock at its best always creates -- Community.

    Long live Neil Young, the only and the LAST unique musician on earth!"

Kurt, San Francisco, CA, USA

Imagine Bob Dylan's most annoying song

"You got too many secrets.
Bob Dylan said that.
Somethin' like that."
~Neil Young's "Bandit"

via frame from "RETURN TO GREENDALE" | NYA
(More on "Bandit" - RETURN TO GREENDALE by Neil Young & Crazy Horse | NYA

    "Don't listen to people who know nothing about music.

    I have studied music for many years and this is a terrible album. The songs consist of three chords played repeatedly no changes or bridges...nothing. Most of the songs are the same chord progressions too, just in different keys. Very simple progressions, I might add. Most are the tonic, third and fifth...bush league. I am a Neil Young fan, and I enjoy his Harvest and Harvest Moon albums very much. But this is a load of crap, and should come with a warning label. I just spent over 80 bucks taking my girl to see him and he came out with this bull sh*t, I don't know how he could do this to his fans! I feel if a performer wants to make a rock opera or musical, that's fine. But he should make it clear, and let us know what he would be doing. I feel tricked and as if Neil doesn't care to tell the public what he is going to do. People go to concerts expecting to hear a couple new songs and mostly hits. This tour is nothing but crappy songs, if you have never heard them imagine Bob Dylan's most annoying song.

    That should paint a clear picture for you."

Austin, California

What other artist would take such a risk?

"Carmichael was a good cop. Everybody missed him."
Neil Young & Crazy Horse

via frame from "Greendale" | NYA
(More on "Carmichael" - RETURN TO GREENDALE by Neil Young & Crazy Horse | NYA )

    "As a former musician and songwriter, I must say the guitar work and songwriting of Neil Young are both superb on Greendale.

    I saw the stage and crazy horse live show and bought the album/DVD a month later. I mainly could not get the guitar melodies out of my mind from the show. It is true that it takes several listens to allow the songs to really sink in - but like many a reviewer noted - you must give several listens and then you will find yourself having a hard time getting the melodies out of your head.

    The only weak point I found was as follows: the megaphone is effective in the DVD acoustic concert, but not as effective or needed at all on the last two (CD version) songs with Crazy Horse - other than that - this is a fine piece of work. You will never hear this record on any radio station I know of - perhaps that is why the reviewer above (Chris) finds this material so foreign - I humbly submit if for no other reason than the excellent guitar work and unique concept - buy this album. What other artist would take such a risk and make such an investment in such an involved effort?????

    That alone should tell you something!"

Tim, Ohio-USA

Even the mighty Horse sounds like it's had it's knackers removed

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

    "As someone who's sat through Human Highway, I'm no stranger to Young's inability to deal in proper narrative, but this is taking things too far.

    It's simplistic, dull and musically unadventurous.

    Even the mighty Horse sounds like it's had it's knackers removed. I'm also surprised that no-one noticed Postman Pat's hometown is also Greendale. Now, if Neil had turned his attention to telling the tale of a disgruntled local postman harbouring a secret passion for his little black cat, that would have been worth hearing.

    He could have even written a song about Pat's red van to add to all those other great car tunes he's done over the years..."

Mick, Glasgow

He gives the finger to all of the people who just want to hear his hits again

    "My exposure to Greendale began at Neil the night before I went to the concert. I was intrigued to say the least. I think Neil is at his best when he gives the finger to all of the people who just want to hear his hits again and again. I went to the show with high expectation. When I saw the set I have to admit that I was afraid this show was going to come off like a bad highschool play. All doubts were set aside about 15 seconds in the first song. The crowd (at Merriwether outside of DC) loved it. We knew we were witnessing Neil taking a huge creative chance. And he soared.

    After the show, I wanted to get the CD but hand to wait one agonizing month. I got it this weekend and have been listening to it non-stop. I have played it for all of my friends we are unanimous (normally we can;t agree on anything!) that this is a Neil classic which may only be appreciated once people stop expecting him to redo Harvest for the umpteeth time. This is deep music without being preachy and great storytelling. I think Neil should charge $100 for this CD just to scare away all of the kids who are too shallow to get it."


Ralph Molina sounds like he's bashing away on upturned biscuit tins

The Devil Breaks Out of Jail @ 666 Main St, Greendale
(More on Going Back to Greendale #4: "Devil's Sidewalk" from Neil Young's RETURN TO GREENDALE | NYA )

    "Sorry but I think Greendale is a very weak album.

    Is this really the Neil Young that gave us 'Thrasher' and 'Look Out For My Love'. The lyrics and concept of these songs just aren't in the same league. Not to mention the awful production, Ralph Molina sounds like he's bashing away on upturned biscuit tins. Neils guitar is just plain dull. I saw two of the accoustic shows in the spring and felt the same about them. I've lived and breathed NY since 1969 and seen him each time he's come to the UK with the highlight being Hammersmith in 1976. I hang on to those moments.

    Give Greendale a few plays then stick it at the back of the collection and get out 'Rust Never Sleeps' and remember the good times."

quiet slipstream, Wolverhampton

Three cheers for the only one left from the 60's still doing it right

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

    "I've seen Neil over 20 times and have all his material.

    I have such a passion for his 'classic rock' sound, but enjoy Greendale as much as anyhting I've heard from him. That to me speaks volumes for an artist. To be able to have material stand up to the classics says something about his abilty to create. As Neil as said about the 80's material 'they are paintings on the wall' this is another. three cheers for the only one left from the 60's still doing it right.

    Although Dylan has been good again recently too. I can't imagine you knocking Silver and Gold either Chris??? The man still matters! Neil is number one in my book and will always be. But, I can be judgmental. Broken Arrow was lackluster to me, but this blows it away.

    Keep'em coming Neil!"

Jim, Michigan

Cliched and drippy

Greendale Poster - Japan 2003 Leg via Sugar Mountain

    "Maybe the lyrics strike a chord in America, but to this British ear, they DO sound cliched and drippy, and this from an artist I've always applauded for avoiding both."

Leigh, Birmingham UK

Greendale inspires truth seeking

"Are Protesters Terrorists?" - 2003
[Then: "War on Terror" - Now: "War on Germs"]
"Leave The Driving" - RETURN TO GREENDALE by Neil Young & Crazy Horse

via "Return To Greendale" World Premiere | NYA
(More on "Leave The Driving" - RETURN TO GREENDALE by Neil Young & Crazy Horse | NYA )

    "Neil is a very poignant social critic and Greendale hits the mark on many of the frustrations the people of the US face today.

    He focuses on the runaway, conservative, bullying media. Greendale inspires truth seeking. Get your news from someone other than CNN or FOX and you might see things as they really are.

    It is about the story and the truth, always has been with Neil, and I hope it always will be."

SRM, San Francisco

A call to arms

    "The album IS a bit plodding but the live acoustic version on the DVD is much better.

    Neil Young is making some very serious points about Bush's America, not just about the environment.The album is a call to arms, and despite the easy dismissal of Neil Young as a 'hippy' by sneering cynics the fact that he still has ideals should be applauded."

Simon, London

Trippy, goofy

    "I think this is Young's strangest (and strongest) album in quite some time.

    For me, it plays better if one forgets the narrative and simply allows the music and images to flow in their surreal stream of consciousness manner. Heard this way, Greendale sounds like an album length version of the songs Last Trip to Tulsa or Ambulance Blues.

    Trippy, goofy, and (I think) quite powerful in the end."

Jerome Langguth- Newport, KY USA "

Last of a dying breed

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

    "I think the album is is great.

    Nice to see Neil Young get his head out of butt and put the passion back in his music. On the album he quotes Lennon and Dylan who are the only 2 above him when it comes to song writting.

    Neil Young is the last of a dying breed."


An artist at the top of his creativity

Neil Young & Crazy Horse + Cast & Crew
Greendale at Radio City Music Hall, New York City - March 18, 2004

photo by thrasher

    "Exhilarating, Stunning, Confusing,Courageous, Disturbing, in short an artist at the top of his creativity with a unique perspective on the state of America and human problems. To say that 'He seems to revolve around ecological issues' is arrogantly dismissive! Young does not allways hit the spot but please ignore this review as this is(live at least)pretty close to his finest hour! If like this reviewer musically your tastes extend to more instant gratification then I recommend ABBA's Greatest Hits wholeheartedly."

Neal Atherton BLACKBURN

Greendale Sign

POP. 25,810

"Everything You're Looking For" - Bandit

Read more on an artist who challenges his audience, Greendale commentary and reviews.

"You can make a difference if you really try." - Be The Rain

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , ,


At 5/27/2020 12:39:00 PM, Blogger Dan Swan said...

Every artist who is driven by creativity must be willing to take risks. The artist’s who have inspired us beyond their own lifetimes are always the ones who have challenged their audience. They are the ones who defied the expectations of their contemporaries and pushed their craft beyond its limits. Unaffected by the judgment from critics or fans of their work. These are the ones who create the work that others aspire to.

Art reflects the times in which it was created, all the while pushing the boundaries and expectations of that time. Great art will always demand a response. Positive or negative is irrelevant, as long as it creates a response. That response is almost always based on expectations and personal taste, which unfortunately is irrelevant to its creation.

Being a fan of a particular artist isn’t a guarantee that you are going to like everything that artist creates, and your personal taste doesn’t reflect the quality of the product created by that artist. Take it or leave it, but your judgment is irrelevant. You certainly have a right to your opinion but the artist owes you nothing.

I find that if I struggle with a new record on first listen, it’s a good indication that my preconceptions are being challenged. Therefore, I need to give it another listen or two in order to allow the artist’s intention to guide my ears to where they need to go. If the artist is successful in their intentions, then I will be able to navigate it more easily. This requires a listener with an open mind and a desire to fully understand and appreciate the intent behind the creation. Not everyone is willing to explore music at this level and that’s okay, but unless you are willing to dig deeper, then you’ll never know what you’re missing.

Peace 🙏

At 5/27/2020 01:53:00 PM, Blogger thrasher said...

Thanks Dan.

Good observations on artists challenging their audience.

It's kind of interesting about the song Bandit being based on Mazeo as a misunderstood artist.

Maybe that why Mazz and Neil are such buddies ... artists challenging their audiences.

Glad they found each other.

At 5/27/2020 02:47:00 PM, Blogger thrasher said...

From Brisbane Herald-Sun "Neil, Young at heart" by NUI TE KOHA on 22 November 2003 Brisbane concert:

"I don't feel a responsibility to anything or anyone in terms of what I do," Young says. "If you are baffled or infuriated by Greendale, you shouldn't read anything other than People magazine."

"You should stay in the comic book section a lot longer than usual," Young laughs.

At 5/27/2020 05:04:00 PM, Blogger Dan Swan said...

Last week I wrote Neil a letter regarding his response to a recent letter stating... “Blu Ray is largely dead”.

Today in the Times Contrarian under the Technical section is a short article saying that Blu Ray is still better than streaming.

My letter encouraged him not to turn his back on Blu Ray, as the picture and sound quality is far superior to DVD.

In response, I got the obligatory form letter saying he couldn’t respond to my letter, but thanking me for my support. And now a article about how Blu Ray is better than streaming.

I know Neil is hands on with his newspaper so my question is... how many of you Neil fans still prefer Blu Ray over DVD?

Peace 🙏

At 5/27/2020 05:26:00 PM, Blogger thrasher said...

Hey Dan. cool on the TC article on BR.

Good question. Definitely Blu Ray. A Greendale Blu Ray boxset would be ideal.

Maybe you saw some recent comments where some say seeing the audience detracts from performance. For others, seeing audience, the screen clips, other angles is ideal.

We recall that a feature of Blu Ray is being able to select cameras (assuming those are programmed on Blu Ray disc).

So imagine the Greendale production and being able to switch between a wide shot, medium and closeup of Neil. Take Bandit. Some just want closeups of Neil's guitar to learn how to play a song. Others like the wide shot to see the actors and film clips.

This is similar to being able to switch a film from a Directors Cut version back to theatrical release.

so ... hey hey my my, out of Black and into the Blu!

At 5/27/2020 06:02:00 PM, Blogger Dan Swan said...

In my letter I suggested having a poll for subscribers only, limited to one vote per subscriber.... Blu Ray or DVD.

I can’t possibly be the only person who would prefer Blu Ray, and Neil being so adamantly in favor of getting the highest quality sound possible, one would assume he would prefer Blu Ray as well. Unfortunately he has been sending out the opposite message of late.

As his fan base, we should all be sending him our preference. After all, if he hadn’t released Archives Volume One on Blu Ray we wouldn’t be having this conversation. Thanks to Neil we now have a substantial Blu Ray collection and couldn’t be happier as the picture and sound quality are exceptional.

Peace 🙏

At 5/27/2020 09:52:00 PM, Blogger onthebeach said...

Do you all remember the stripped down/instrumental version of Be the Rain that once played on Neil's website when you went to look at the Greendale map? I always liked that and I was a little disappointed when that version didn't show up on the would be cool if he'd put that out with Return to Greendale or put it out on Archives Vol 4 or 5.

At 5/28/2020 04:22:00 PM, Blogger Abner Snopes said...

I think social and political protest can quickly ruin art. Protest requires a kind of consensus within the protest and this quickly disintegrates into cliche and self-righteousness. But Neil Young is such an odd ball, so completely cracked down the middle, that he consistently eludes cliches and so ruin. So it goes with Greendale. I should add that the oddness is 50% authentic artistic/musical talent that runs very deep. Even his failures are almost always interesting (for instance Old Ways, with the incredible "Misfits"). In short, this level of talent is just so rare and deep that it always speaks. I have a hearing problem from an accident so I have only gone to a few Neil Young concerts. I went to this one and all of us were totally transfixed by the live Greendale songs and the whole performance. The deep talent somehow merges with an inconceivable integrity and a fearlessness in the face of any audience. Just amazing.

At 5/29/2020 02:20:00 PM, Blogger thrasher said...

@ onthebeach - yes, we do remember the Greendale map!

It was rather cool and semi revolutionary at the time.

But we seem to recall when NYA was re-designed, a question came up about where all of the old web page content went? And the answer seems to be that it's either lost or is not in state where it can be re-stored w/o a lot of effort.

So it's sad that the little digital village of Gdale has gone dark. :(

@ Abner - thanks for sharing. yeah, how about Misfits? And so appropriate.

you're right about the "inconceivable integrity and a fearlessness".

we have really seen a few of those ourselves, particularly shutting the hecklers.

man, talk about artist/audience tension.

never really could understood how "fans" could be so belligerent right to his face.


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“Emancipate yourself from mental slavery.”
~~ Bob Marley

The Essence of "The Doubters"

Yes, There's Definitely A Hole in The Sky

Even Though The Music Died 50+ Years Ago
Open Up the "Tired Eyes" & Wake up!
"consciousness is near"
What's So Funny About
Peace, Love, & Understanding & Music?


Show Me A Sign

"Who is John Galt?"
To ask the question is to know the answer

"Whosoever shall give up his liberty for a temporary security
deserves neither liberty nor safety."

~~ Benjamin Franklin


(Between the lines of age)

And in the end, the love you take
Is equal to the love you make

~~ John & Paul

the zen of neil
the power of rust
the karma of the wheat