Neil Young's Challenging Greendale
An Artist Challenges His Audience
When asked about challenging his audience at the Toronto premeire of Greendale in September 2003, Neil Young responded :
Reviewer Aaron Wherry writes in the National Post that the concert reviews indicate audiences prefer the encores of well known hits to the new Greendale material.
It is this sentiment of Young's of not catering to his fans that many find so attractive about his music.
While the June 2003 Atlanta concert was a disaster for a number of reasons, including the lack of the Greendale staging itself as a framework for new songs, Creative Loafing's Scott Henry awarded Neil Young his Weekly Scalawag:
This all raises the questions about whether an artist "owes" his audience anything at all.
In a St. Petersburg Times article "Should uncompromising artists bow to fans?" by GINA VIVINETTO, June 12, 2003:
"Bands who tour with no new material are just milking their old work for all it's worth and not earning their keep," writes Scott Crown of St. Petersburg, who attended Monday's concert. "How often does the chance come along to see an artist debut their newest album (not yet released!) to his fans with so much conviction and vulnerability? Neil has my utmost respect."
Crown's point is excellent: Young was clearly ecstatic Monday, talking to fans between songs - Young fans will tell you, that's rare - excited to be sharing Greendale's material.
"I don't think there is ever a guarantee of what you'll hear at any show," writes Eric Baxter, who caught Monday's show and the West Palm Beach concert, "just a promise of entertainment." Baxter says that if folks are going to a Neil Young concert to catch an oldies act, they're going to see the wrong guy.
Many other letters supported Young. Still, lots of fans who attended the concert were ticked off:
"Do you have any suggestions who we can e-mail or write about our total dissatisfaction with last night's concert (or whatever it was?)" writes Paul Richter of Tampa. Richter and his wife, Julie, spent $150 on two tickets, plus $15 to park for a night of "pure torture." How did Richter and his wife feel the following morning? "Cheated."
"I was totally hoodwinked at last night's show," writes Michael Slosberg of St. Petersburg. "For what I paid for a ticket, it was not fair." A longtime fan, Slosberg saw Young in the early 1990s when he toured with alternative rockers Sonic Youth. Slosberg loved that tour because it "turned off the old hippies," but, he writes, "I knew what I was getting into before I walked into the building." Not so this year. "This show was billed as Neil Young and Crazy Horse. Anyone going to this show has a right to be angry," he says.
So, are rock stars allowed to be artists? What do we expect when we walk into an arena? What are the rules? Should we praise Neil Young for following his muse? Or chastise him for "cheating" us? It's an interesting discussion. And think about it: We wouldn't be having it if guys like him didn't exist."
From the Vancouver Sun interview with Neil Young after Greendale premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival:
"Just think of me as somebody you've never heard of before. That you paid way too much money to see someone ... you don't know. If they're paying to see me because they think I'm going to do something I've already done, then they don't know who they're going to see. People have become complacent. They forget that artists have the right to do whatever they want to do. We don't work for anybody. A real artist is creating and that's what I like to do. It's my right. If people get upset because they don't understand what I'm doing, that reveals more about them than it does about me."
From Australia's The Age when asked by interviewer Patrick Donovan (November 21, 2003) on how does Young handles his legacy and his fans' expectations of him?, he responded:
'It's not that I don't appreciate them; it's just that I don't feel anything other than 'Thank you'.
I don't owe them changing what I do to accommodate them.'
A review in AMPLIFIER MAGAZINE by Sean Leary on the April 2004 concert at The Mark of the Quad Cities, Moline, IL:
In an interview in Relix magazine, Young comments on fans reaction to Greendale:
It has to do with the music. That's what it's all about. If people really know who I am, they like me because of the music. They don't like me because I'm a celebrity or because I have some political view or because I've been around for a long time and as part of something they related to years and years ago.
If they're looking at me like that then they may be disappointed by this, but if they're looking at me like a musician and as writer, then this is exactly what they'd hope would happen.'"
For many of Thrasher's Wheat readers, the point is all but moot. We want Neil to challenge us with new material. Commenting on Thrasher's Wheat Guest Book, Greg writes:
Each successive instance of incredulousness invariably causes me to shake my head and wonder: "Do these people know anything about Neil Young? There's still someone out there who is surprised at anything Neil Young does?" I love classic Neil Young as much as anyone, but what I really appreciate is NEW Neil Young. It 's reassuring to know that he's still out there producing. If you want a greatest hit's show, go buy a ticket to The Who or The Stones. Count to ten and reflect that contemporaries regarded van Gogh and Picasso with unadulterated scorn. In what regard are those contemporaries held now?
In terms of the merits of Greendale itself, even after countless listenings and seeing the show I'm not sure what I think completely, just as I don't know what I think completely about the album Rust Never Sleeps. Anyone with even a cursory knowledge of Neil Young knows that he intentionally renders his lyrics at least partially obscured, so as to instigate personal reflection, stimulating emotional and intellectual investigation that hopefully leads to new awarenesses, awarenesses that can only be understood on an individual basis.
Therefore, Greendale evokes a socio-political awareness in me that per se is different than what it evokes in anyone else, hence the pro and con reactions to the video image "Support Our War". God forbid there be a stimulus to critical thought in an overriding environment of mindless consumerism. In my mind, Greendale is directed at and a celebration of an emerging awareness on the part of thinking people that something is seriously wrong.
To paraphrase the comic Lenny Bruce: "You need that madman to stand up there, and tell you that you're blowing it." In interviews, which one would asume professional reviewers would have at least perused, Neil Young talks about the idea that today there exists an undercurrent and disposition to protest equal to or greater than any period since the 60's.
Many of the ideals and thoughts expressed by the various characters and events of Greendale must neccesarily be viewed through the eyes of youth and idealism, which by definition is immature, zealous and impracticable. This depiction is what is simultaneously maddening and inspiring. The grist is there for the mill, and no matter how irritating, somebody CARES. It needs to be embraced. The sparse landscape of musical structure and theatrical setting is not employed to set up an incendiary version of an established idea, rather it is rudimentary material from which the establishment of an ethos or idea can emerge, something rooted in constructive change.
That the idea is unformed and incomplete mirrors the nascent movement being spurred by the unacceptableness of the circumstances that inform Greendale. I'm sorry some people feel like they wasted their money, but I'm betting that time will reveal a perspective representing an accrued interest on an initial investment that was once thought to be a waste."
So here's a poll about whether an artist "owes" his audience anything. (Note: You may see an error message after voting but your vote is being tabulated properly. Weird code.)
For more on the reaction to Greendale, see reviews, analysis of lyrics, criticism, more comments, and controversy.
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Neil Young's Greendale
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