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Thursday, April 15, 2021

Revisiting "Americana" by Neil Young w/ Crazy Horse + Comment of the Moment


Americana by Neil Young & Crazy Horse
"AMERICANA is collection of classic, American folk songs. 
In their day, some of these may have been referred to as "protest songs", "murder ballads", or campfire-type songs passed down with universal, relatable tales for everyman.


An interesting reaction to our recent post on the music video for "God Save The Queen" by Neil Young w/  Crazy Horse from album Americana (2012) which featured the late Prince Philip and Queen Elizabeth. 

First, our Comment of the Moment on "God Save The Queen" by Neil Young & Crazy Horse | Americana by Abner:

Before this post or thread goes away, I wanted to clarify and explain my points. 

By not approaching the songs with reverence, Neil Young and Crazy Horse do at least two things (and this depends on their electric sludge and mayhem). First of all, "coming Round the Mountain" or whatever that song is called, basically gets what it deserves: a sound thrashing. In short they beat the crap out of the song (imagine a nice studio reverent version- which would be the opposite). 

The song, with its portals and red roosters, is utterly revolting and moronic. No doubt, Neil senses this in his bones and so the video with all the dancing racists. The song got exactly what it deserved (thank God). 

Clementine, on the other hand, is revealed rather than thrashed. What comes forth in the grimly, slithering noise is the nihilism of the narrator and the overall horror of the song. This song is more grotesque than moronic. Basically, no respect leads to the revelation of the song in all its wretched darkness. 

The other songs are, in their essence, quite dumb and lead nowhere. I see nothing of real value in "God Save the Queen" except perhaps historical significance. Perhaps an analogy might be a bad novel that gathered some nationalistic, jingoistic, appeal over time. 

No mercy is an interesting and novel approach to a "cover" and so instead of wanting to really find some place for himself in the canon or in the songbook, Neil seems to be going in the opposite direction. This is why I love the guy and the band. 

One has to admire the recognition of the songs as wretched. I don't think he brought them back to life, we can only hope that he put a few nails in a few coffins.

(Please, no one take this as an attack on their country or culture- I find many US anthems as repulsive and bad. Although, we might all be better off without any kings and queens, as Locke argued a long time ago.) 

Abner, thank you very much for sharing this retrospective on "Americana" -- nearly 10 years after.  Guess that didn't age too well for you ... or many others for that matter.

Actually, Prince Philip's demise and your comment do to provide us with an opportunity to revisit 2012's "Americana" by Neil Young w/ Crazy Horse.  And we're kinda glad we did.

God Save the Queen, 2012
Mixed media (stencil, silkscreen, and collage) on canvas
43 1/2 x 30 inches
Image courtesy of the artist and Perry Rubenstein Gallery, Los Angeles.
© Shepard Fairey/OBEY GIANT ART
(See Shepard Fairey and Neil Young: The 'Americana' Collaboration )


When we heard of Prince Philip's death at age 99 on April 9, we immediately went to this video "God Save The Queen". (Watch @ "God Save The Queen" by Neil Young & Crazy Horse | American) 

And what struck us most was the near virulent hatred for the 1st Crazy Horse studio album since 1996's "Broken Arrow". Regardless of whatever one's opinion may be --  if nothing else -- "Americana" opened the barn door for Neil  with The Horse to the subsequent album "Psychedelic Pill".

But possibly even more significant was how the massive blowback reaction to  "Americana" merely foreshadowed the full blown culture wars of today's cancel culture /woke mob mentality which is hellbent on on eradication of any and everything that they find to be of the slightest offense.


"Oh Susannah" by Neil Young w/ Crazy Horse

For example, the legacy and history of "Oh Susannah" from a comment on The Judgement Not To Pre-Judge "Americana" by Matt & Jes Wedding:

Song meanings change over time.

The original intent and malice that the song ["Oh Susannah"] was written with and for is no longer present in the current incarnation of the song in our collective "Americana." Is it interesting to see where the song originally came from and how it has changed over time? Yes.

But if this song has become "illegal" to reproduce in your mind because an old version of the song (which is not what Neil is playing) was racist, then there are a whole lot of other things that should be "illegal" as well.

"Oh Susannah" was written by Stephen Foster in 1847 and was a product of its times.  As a folk song, "Oh Susannah" transcended its minstrel history with Neil Young's version excising the original racist lyrics with demeaning caricatures of black people. So Neil has reinvented "Oh Susannah", removing the egregious racist lyrics and setting forth a version to help move forward beyond a painful era. 

Oh Susannah, by Shepard Fairey - 2012
Mixed media (stencil, silkscreen, and collage) on canvas
(Click photo to enlarge)


In reaction at the time of release, Neil Young  issued the following statement:

"What ties these songs together is the fact that while they may represent an America that may no longer exist.

The emotions and scenarios behind these songs still resonate with what’s going on in the country today with equal, if not greater impact nearly 200 years later. The lyrics reflect the same concerns and are still remarkably meaningful to a society going through economic and cultural upheaval, especially during an election year.

They are just as poignant and powerful today as the day they were written."

Poster by Shepard Fairey

After what seems to have been a long couple of days here at TW, it would seem that we more fully appreciate the "Americana-ness" of Neil Young & Crazy Horse's Americana album.

So what the heck does that mean you might ask?

Well, if you've been following our comment threads lately, you might understand. If not, well, you may have saved yourself some time -- or depending on your point of view -- missed quite a bit of entertainment. Maybe it's just the summer heat that's getting to folks?

Music Video for "Oh Susannah" by Neil Young & Crazy Horse
(See Some Thoughts on New Video "Oh Susannah" by Neil Young & Crazy Horse)

To summarize if just tuning in, last week we decontructed a rather harsh review of Americana on The Herald-Review by Tim Cain. The reviewer found Americana to be a "self parody because it is too rich, too perfect, too comical to be anything but a parody."

Some agreed with our take on the review and others did not. Fine. This was followed by our posting of an equal opportunity dissenting opinion (which we do indeed welcome), of a thoughtful, well considered rebuttal by Babbo.

So we included a poll asking if folks really thought that Americana "Drifts into Self Parody" of a Neil Young & Crazy Horse album?

And what did we find?

Interestingly, it seems that the majority think that no, Americana is not a "Self Parody" because it captures Neil Young & Crazy Horse in all of their raw, ragged glory. Between those who say Americana is not a "Self Parody" and those indifferent, it seems about 95% of folks are OK or neutral with Americana. Only 5% of voters thought Americana is a "Self Parody" because it is "too rich, too perfect, too comical to be anything but a parody." (Could this contingent be the dreaded "4% Club" that emerged after Fork in the Road? Let's hope not since they seem to be growing.)
Songs like 'High Flying Bird' are about a man that works so hard in a mine that when he comes out into the light of day he can't enjoy the world because he's blinded by the light—in essence, the fruits of his labor.

Many parallels between the aspirations and failings of the American Dream, whether it was 1880 or today.

Art by Gary Burden and Jenice Heo

In other words, the poll results and positive comments seem to be fairly representative of the mythical "Americana" itself, i.e., passions on the extreme fringes of the Neil-love and Neil-hate camps are unrepresentative while it is the great middle ground of Neil-moderates who are the true silent majority. In other words, the Neil Young fan base is reflective of "Americana" itself where the discourse is dominated by the hype/wind/noise machines on the fringes which is unrepresentative of the true mainstream "Americana". And those mainstream or "ordinary Neil fans" have stood and been counted and they think Neil & The Horse's Americana is perfectly OK.

So where do we go from here? Between a very analytical comment by Greg "A Friend Of Yours" and several other supportive comments like Sandy H's giving us a sanity check along with the poll results, we think we're good for another 15 years of "Separating the wheat from the chaff".

Shepard Fairey and Neil Young
(See Shepard Fairey and Neil Young: The 'Americana' Collaboration )
Neil Young: "All I can say is, everyone has a different idea, but this truly represents a lot of those things and touches on a lot of the core beliefs in the American Dream and questions them and makes you think about them.

And questions whether it's that different from what everybody else's dreams are everywhere else.

It turns out we may not be so perfect."
Shepard Fairey: "Latitude for interpretation is something that Neil utilizes and seems to value as an important way for the listener/viewer to personalize their interaction with art and music. "

Neil Young & Crazy Horse - "Americana"
(Zoom Album Cover)

From Americana review in TONEAudio MAGAZINE by Bob Gendron:

Never shy about making bold political or civil statements, Young brilliantly borrows songs from the U.S.’ historical fabric and tosses them as live grenades that explode on impact, broaching the staple concepts—freedom, liberty, justice, equality, rights, conflicts, privacy, the common good—on which America prides itself. He and Crazy Horse invoke these broad subjects without advocating one party or another; Americana owes some of its political and cultural potency to its impartiality.


A Comment of the Moment back in 2012 concerns preconceptions on Americana by Neil Young & Crazy Horse by Matt L.:

"Is it really Neil's, or any artist's "responsibility" to either the song, history or the music fan, to adhere to or at least reference or explain the original purpose of a piece of music, and the political, social or spiritual climate of its time, in some way, so that the authenticity and history of something isn't lost or disrespected?

Does he owe it to the song, the song's author or the music fan to prostrate himself before the energy that created that piece of music and deliver it into the 21st century in a way that retains, and even helps to convey or preserve a clear idea of the song and its history? Or, more importantly, to not undermine reality or contribute to confusing, or even rewriting, history?

This is definitely a very important topic, and I feel strongly about retaining the purity of historical accounting, but I would argue "no" to the question of Neil's responsibility as an artist toward either some kind of historical or social accuracy, or toward supporting a certain political identification, or simply toward NOT doing something that could be perceived as insulting to those of us with touchy emotional triggers about American Indians, the dark history of Colonial America, or the authenticity of music history.


Neil Young & Crazy Horse - "Americana"
(Zoom Album Cover)

 For more reaction to "Americana" by Neil Young w/ Crazy Horse, also, see:

Labels: , , , , ,


At 4/15/2021 11:52:00 AM, Blogger Abner Snopes said...

Thrasher, I am honored to be the author of comment of the moment. One last clarification, Americana is one of my favorite Neil Young albums just because of what I articulated. This seems odd perhaps, but I am odd. Ha ha ha.

At 4/15/2021 12:40:00 PM, Blogger Dan Swan said...

I think Shepard Fairey is correct. Neil wants the individual listeners to do the interpreting so they can relate to a song on their terms. I remember an interview with Dylan when he was asked to explain ‘ A Hard Rain’s Is A Gonna Fall’, and he responded with “well, it was raining...... hard “. I think we owe it to ourselves to interpret music for ourselves, as we all have different perspectives about almost everything. The artist does what artists do, and the listener does what they do, and that’s when the conversations begins. We all have an opportunity to share our thoughts right here on Thrashers and we get the opportunity to hear from others. It’s not about changing someone else’s mind, but to provide an alternate perspective. To listen and to be heard. That’s the power of music and it’s ability for us to connect.


At 4/15/2021 01:38:00 PM, Blogger Jonathan said...

Americana is a very mixed bag to my ears...I LOVE Wayfarin' Stranger & Clementine especially (the best track on the album imo)...but I rarely listen to any of the record at all...wasn't it initially just a collection of songs to get the Horse back in the saddle?

Travel On is also pretty cool

At 4/15/2021 02:12:00 PM, Blogger thrasher said...

@ Abner - no, really, thank you for your Americana thoughts.

It gave us the opp to revisit what we thought was another strange chapter in NY music and his "odd" relationship w/ fans.

Much like LWW, lots of folks were reacting to something that hadn't even been released and forming all sorts of hard line positions.

The whole outrage that Neil used a chilren's choir really appalled some. Like, Neil was using children to sell albums? very strange.

@ Dan - good point on Shepard Fairey quote.

we realize Americana isn't everyone's cup of tea. but we're revisiting Americana b/c we find this yet another album maybe a head of its time.

last night we watch every video for each of the tracks. and we'll say that without watching these vids for Americana, folks will likely miss how NY is not necessarily endorsing some of folk music's messages.

for everyone who has written off Americana, we urge you to view the music videos on NYA.


@ Jonathan - you're right about how Americana started. they were just warm up songs to prep for Psych Pill recording. But something happened along the way and it became a full blown album project w/ music vids, the Shepard Fairey art and ultimately a tour.

The aborted Americana concert tour is another tale for another day ...

At 4/15/2021 02:25:00 PM, Blogger Dionys said...

I propose another affordable De Luxe Edition for Americana: The Recording (the otherwise unavailable Vinyl and CD), add a never heard before outtake of a really obscure song, the book with lyrics and Shepard Fairey's art in a larger format, the Gallery video and all these public domain film collages on DVD and maybe assorted comment on the songs. For good measure throw in a larger reprint of one Fairey poster. Call this product NYA Box Set Series #23.5. I'll buy it.

At 4/15/2021 03:40:00 PM, Blogger Dan Swan said...

@ Dionys : I’m in..... great idea.

Peace 🙏

At 4/15/2021 08:38:00 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

His take on Oh Susannah is great, and it's presentation at Bridge School with Dave Matthews is still one of the best performances I've ever heard of Neil. From left filed to center stage. The Americana album and videos again secure the artistry of the muse he has and the ever increasing number of directions he can take it! God Save Neil Young!! Neil and the Horse are definitely Crazy on this album!


At 4/16/2021 11:53:00 AM, Blogger downbutnotout said...

Last of the great record albums by old man Young. Faultless diverse and one of his essential releases from later years.

At 4/16/2021 12:08:00 PM, Blogger thrasher said...

@ Dionys - actually, we think that was part of the original plan w/ Shepard.

Apparently, everything was designed and produced and then whoosh, gone.

would have to guess that neil just moved on w/ psych pill.

Maybe Archive Vol #8 in 2040?!

@ SONY - exactly, God Save Neil & The Horse.

@ downbutnotout - nice to see these Americana believers able to see past the culture police.

we get that many couldn't get past some of the history. it is sort of amazing the rejection of folk tradition.

we've kind of learned to gravitate towards what modern society rejects. kind of how we got so into Willie Nelson later in life.

this inability to learn history"s true lessons in favor of the shiny new myths is baffling.

thanks for being here. we can relate to your handle.

old ways ... more than just an album title ...

At 4/16/2021 03:37:00 PM, Blogger Dionys said...

Infact, I recall the same item, which never materialized. In one of the (few) LTTEs I sent to NYA, I suggested a series or a portfolio of photo reproductions mainly of DH's shots, which I really liked. So far the lithograph that is offered with Young Shakespeare is the only printed visual item that has surfaced. But then: that's too expensive I think.
Now with Shepard Fairey's work that is a whole other story unfortunately. His business are art prints and they are a highly sought after collectibles. Anything being put out like I suggested above very likely would attract these collectors, the music just being collateral. Apart from the fact that certain musicians have their ego, the very certain musicians also have their standards ("Quality whether you want it...)So It's either another dylanesque "Drawn Blank" project, very few people can afford, or it's not going to happen I am afraid. Still I would like to see my original suggestion become a reality. There are some walls around here waiting.

At 4/16/2021 07:29:00 PM, Blogger Jonathan said...

"we've kind of learned to gravitate towards what modern society rejects."

Amen, Thrasher...amen

what a long list of things that would be to write down...

At 4/16/2021 10:54:00 PM, Blogger Fort Mac said...

Revisiting Americana .... Yankee folk songs except for one .

God Save the Queen is not a yankee folk song , unbeknownst to most of you yellow bellied bluecoats , it is a anthem for us redcoats that remain proud and forever loyal subjects of the Commonwealth and always loyal to the Crown !
Would be glad to share cherished letters of forefathers that burned the Whitehouse down .
You can pat each other on the back and revel in yer Americana tunes .
Neil Young may have a piece of paper that has him born in Canada , but he aint no Canadian ... cause he disrespected our Queen the same way I disrespected yer gun luvin Americana ... EH
Keep on Rockin yer machine guns in yer Free World !

At 4/17/2021 11:27:00 AM, Blogger Abner Snopes said...

Somehow I think we are aware that it is not a "yankee folk song." I'll take most of the rest as a joke, although not a funny one. Disrespecting the queen is exactly what we should be doing, at least in a principled way, because the very idea of royalty is inconsistent with the freedom of which you speak. Unfortunately, not much in the way of real liberty as citizens are consistently disregarded, left to shift for themselves in deep poverty (including children) and the depth of our racism is really becoming apparent. In the midst of this seriousness you joking insults are simply not funny.

You also keep reminding people of 1812? To what end? The obvious retort is that the United States could push Canada off the map and into the Hudson Bay and I would be glad to share my father's letters from his time in WWII chasing German subs in the north Atlantic and other places. But what exactly is the point of such belligerent and stupid discourse?

At 4/17/2021 05:36:00 PM, Blogger the rider said...

My 2 least favorite Neil records are the ones that are comprised of cover songs. However, I enjoyed reading this post and the comments. Very informative.


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