Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Neil Young: Heart of Gold

Was he planning only for believers
Or for those who just have faith?
Did he envision all the wars
That were fought in his name?
Did he say there was only one way
To be close to him?

When God made me
When God made me

Neil Young often appears haggard and pissed when we see him interviewed, or maybe he's just weary.   He's certainly been around.  He suffered a brain aneurysm, which thankfully was successfully managed with surgery.  This occurred around the time he recorded the Prairie Wind album in 2005.  It would be a return to acoustic guitar, to a sound beloved on earlier efforts like Harvest Moon and his classics of old.

In 2006's filmed record of two Nashville shows, NEIL YOUNG: HEART OF GOLD, the singer/songwriter appears grateful.  Content.  He's not on fire during this show, not in a politically or socially charged activist sort of way.  And this is no blistering electric set.  Young strums the Martin D-28 that Hank Williams once played in that very same hall, the Ryman Auditorium. He plays a banjo as he sings about a beloved dog, "Old King".  Emmylou Harris, looking more beautiful than ever,  is there to accompany him at times, as are The Memphis Horns and the Fisk University Jubilee Singers.

The selected tunes are mostly optimistic but often elegiac.  The first half of director Jonathan Demme's movie features songs from Prairie Wind - songs about Young's childhood, the ukulele his father gave him, God, and his college bound daughter in "Here For You" which he jokes belongs in the "empty nest genre" and that perhaps a new radio format can be created for such music. The second half of the film was recorded at a different show, with long time faves such as "Needle and the Damage Done" and "Old Man", which has an interesting story as to its inception.  Young dedicates the song  "Comes a Time" to his late friend and colleague Nicolette Larson, who scored a big hit in the late '70s with Young's "Lotta Love".

Demme, of course well known for the amazing Talking Heads concert film STOP MAKING SENSE, again frames musicians on a stage in unobtrusive yet always visually intriguing ways.  His camera people artfully capture everything without fuss, without spectacle.  And it all plays so fluidly, edited by Andy Keir with surety.  My being extremely familiar with every single shot of STOP MAKING SENSE had me (thinking I was?) seeing some similar shot compositions and cuts in HEART OF GOLD, but unlike the earlier movie it begins and ends with a whimper, pained observance.  Neil Young sits in a chair playing "The Old Laughing Lady" to an empty theater during the credits.  It's a perfect sendoff.

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