Neil Young’s Music Box: Here We Are In the Years (Sexy Intellectual Production)
By Brian Arsenault
The problem I have with this long titled DVD is that while it’s all Neil Young all the time, you hardly have any Neil Young music and performance. It’s all music critics (and you know how untrustworthy they are) talking about Neil’s musical influences along with an old-time band mate or two but not anyone you ever heard of. There are snippets of Neil performing but not one whole song. It gets frustrating.
I mean if you are going to say that the Rolling Stones or the Beatles or even DEVO had a great influence on Neil, at least play one song through that you think shows that influence. It’s like the old line “Don’t talk about the fat lady singing. Bring her on and let her sing.” And there’s hardly a moment of Neil talking about the influences himself except for maybe Ian & Sylvia, heaven help us. Sometimes it’s better not to know what influenced a musician you like. What’s behind Door Number 3? Long scream when you see.
The DVD is also kind of a history of rock from Neil’s childhood through the Grunge years. That’s not all bad but if you wanted to make a history of rock ‘n roll, make that. Neil may have been a self described “sponge” when it came to soaking up many musical influences, he didn’t just squeeze out the same stuff that went in. Otherwise he’d be the world’s oldest cover band, of himself, I guess. There’s a scary possibility that’s what happens given enough time, but I want to give him more credit than that.
One of Neil’s endearing qualities is his wide range of tastes — to see the meaning in Punk and New Wave while others of his generation heaped scorn upon it. To tour with Booker T and the MGs. To make albums which get labeled this that and the other thing while still being very essential Neil Young. One of the critics makes the great point that Neil’s followers have stayed with him over the years even when a particular album wasn’t to their tastes. Count me among them. Is anything better than “Cinnamon Girl”? Really, is there? Then again, is there a prettier song than “Harvest Moon”?
Of course, a wide range of tastes can also mean too easy acceptance. I mean Kraftwerk (Crapwork, I say). Oh God, Neil stop singing with a computer enhanced (distorted) voice. Can you say Steven Hawking? There is a rock ‘n roll heaven and one of the problems with this video is that it gives equal credence to the Beatles and surf instrumental bands like the Fireballs and Dick Dale. Come on, there is greater and lesser rock. This DVD sees it all as of equal value.
There’s some nice stuff early on about the value of Elvis and Little Richard and others who created the first rock generation in the ‘50s when Neil was a kid. There’s a lovely insight about Neil’s dark side lyrically being touched by the great Roy Orbison. There’s a charming note about Neil’s favorite Beatle being George (Guitar Nerds Unite). And near the end, Neil takes on a kind of elder statesman role as an admirer of Grunge, the doomed Kurt Cobain, and especially Pearl Jam which possesses maybe rock’s greatest vocalist in Eddie Vedder.
Still the documentary, if that’s what it is, comes up short on some key Youngworld moments. It makes great note of Neil’s role in CSNY but spends no time on the internal musical and personality challenges of that “supergroup.” There are very good reasons why it’s CSN with no Y now. Seen CSN lately? Ain’t been a new influence there since that magical night at Woodstock.
The DVD gets across, if somewhat repetitiously, the important point that Neil has listened all through the years, really listened and been willing to do different things while others just repeated. Again. And again. And again.
Lastly, there’s a chilling but telling comment near the end that rock, like jazz thirty years ago, may have explored all its boundaries. If there’s more to hear, it’s not clear where it will come from. Great musicianship, sure. But something really new. Maybe not.
Here We Are in the Years is not without insight and intelligence about how Neil and rock ‘n roll has come down the years. But boy I can’t help but be aggravated when they won’t let Neil play “When You Dance” all the way through. That’s the most important point, isn’t it?
To read more reviews by Brian Arsenault click HERE.