Monday, November 12, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—Neil Young Journeys (2012) ***

PG, 87 min.
Director: Jonathan Demme
Starring: Neil Young

This summer I was determined to get together with a couple of old friends that I hadn’t seen in a while. In trying to find a date, we discovered that Neil Young was going to be playing a concert with his long time collaborating band Crazy Horse at about the time we were planning to get together. Seeing Young is kind of a bucket list item for me, so we set the date. I never made it to the concert, however, due to a serious injury to one of my children.

I came late in life to Young. Classic rock was what I built my music tastes on, and I’d certainly enjoyed much of Young’s early work when I was younger, but it wasn’t until I was older that his entire discography really started speaking to me. He’s one of the most prolific musicians in the business, with pretty much one major release each year, sometimes two.

In 2011, he released a solo album entitled “Le Noise”. “Journeys” is a concert film that captures one of the more significant dates on that tour. Directed by Jonathan Demme, the movie is the third by the frequent music concert documentarian, who moonlights as the Oscar-winning director of “The Silence of the Lambs”. OK, maybe it’s his concert films that are his moonlighting work.

Anyway, Demme is very familiar with Young and he uses this concert at a historical venue near the Ontario town where Young grew up to tell some tales of that youth. He intercuts the concert, consisting mostly of new songs from the Daniel Lanois produced “Le Noise” album, with footage of Young driving around the town in his classic Bel Air. It’s an interesting contrast to learn of the youth of this rather well worn man. I’m not sure whether his place on my bucket list means I need to see him before I die or before he does.

I was not a huge fan of the “Le Noise” album. It’s one of those “concept” projects. The album consists solely of tracks featuring Young with a guitar and an effects pedal and his voice. No backup. No band.  Just Young and his guitar. The songs are good. I’d like to hear them with a more traditional rock band treatment.

However, Demme’s treatment of the concert in this film brings a little enlightenment to Young’s thinking behind the songs. I think I understand his minimalist approach to them after seeing this movie. The film presents Young as a man contemplating the entirety of his life. This is not something that can be done with a backup band. The concert also includes a few of his classic hits done in the same style as the “Le Noise” songs. This binds his whole music career together and gives the audience a different take on those songs they’ve heard so many times before. This is a man who doesn’t take his life or his music lightly. He’s happy with both, and when he’s left to just play, he’s a true artist.

I’d still like to hear some of these songs with a band, a band like Crazy Horse. Hopefully, I’ll get another chance. For the time being, I’ll just have to satisfy myself by placing his new album, “Psychedelic Pill”, on repeat.

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