Journey Through the Past Review


Neil Young, rock-and-roll groundhog

By Janet Maslin, New York Times, ~1973

Neil Young News

UPDATE April 10, 2004 on Carrie's passing. See more on Carrie Snodgress 's life with Neil Young, his songs about her, and their film appearance together in "Journey Through the Past".

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Wed, 6 Nov 1996 18:17:14 -0800 (PST)
From: Stephen Golledge <>
Subject: Neil Young, rock-and-roll groundhog: Part I (LONG)

What a great day. I finally found a copy of TFA, in my favorite used vinyl shop. The previous owner left the following article in the jacket, from "New Times" magazine (whatever that is/was) by Janet Maslin (no date). There is also a great picture of Neil alone and of Neil leaving the theater after the premiere with Carrie and a very Young Zeke in his arms. Hope you enjoy this as much as I did.  


Neil Young, rock-and-roll groundhog, only shows up in public on very special occasions. He agreed to headline the opening of the Roxy, a new rock bistro in Los Angeles, but that was special because his former manager is one of the club's co-owners. He showed up at Steve Stills' gig at San Francisco's Winterland several weeks ago, but that was special because Crosby and Nash also made an unadvertised appearance with him (the four are now sufficiently reunited to be contemplating a January concert tour). And earlier this month he made two expeditions to Cambridge, Mass., on behalf of Journey Through the Past, the project which--according to Young's own scheme of things--is especially worth a little of his time and the loss of much-guarded privacy.  

Up until recently, Journey Through the Past was most familiar as the title of a Neil Young album, one which he now describes as "a mistake." Put together as the soundtrack for a film of the same name that was still in the works, the Journey Through the Past album was somehow released a year too early. The album does not include the song, 'Journey Through the Past,' and the film does not include the song either, because, says Young, "I wrote it as the title tune for the picture, but then I found out that they had nothing to do with each other."  

Now, both the song and the film are finally available, the former on Neil's new live LP, Time Fades Away, and the latter at the Orson Welles Complex, an art theater cum organic restaurant located just south of Harvard Yard, smack in the middle of Cambridge's main drag. Several nights before the movie was shown to the press there, a musician, who had apparently seen the picture at an earlier, private screening, said, "He's really gonna show it, huh? I guess that takes courage." It also has taken persistence. "All along the way," says Young, "I've heard every possible trip on why we couldn't do it." Young already has spent two and a half years on his pet project working on a special high-powered sound system, shooting and editing 72 hours of mostly 16mm film (the finished opus runs 96 minutes and has been blown up to 35mm), and finally canvassing the country in search of the right place to stage the official premiere. He chose Cambridge because, according to David Crosby (a co-star of both the film and its pre-opening festivities), that was "the hippest place in the country." He chose the Orson Welles because "we thought we'd have a better chance showing it to the people it was made for, rather than trying to follow Cabaret into a downtown Boston theater."  

He decided to come open it personally because he thought that might help the picture's chances, and because "I haven't had any feedback on anything I've done in the last two years."  

As far as feedback on Journey goes, Young may wind up being sorry he asked. The film starts off as a loose subjective juxtaposition on Neil Young in real life and on stage; by cross-cutting between his rough personal perceptions and footage of his performances, Young manages to create a sense of how he transforms scattered input into finished product. But after half an hour, he begins to shy away from anything so personal, and the film has progressively less to do with him from that point on. By the end, Young is barely in it at all, having been replaced by a lot of useless-looking objects. There's a Mercedes limo, odd bits of statuary, a truck that talks back to its owner. There are mysterious black-robed horsemen who materialize on a beach somewhere, in what Young calls "sort of a Lawrence of Arabia parody." There's a man who does card tricks (listed in the closing credits as "the grey-faced dude"), and a dazed-looking guy who starts off in cap and gown and collects bruises all through the film. Wearing an official Woodstock T-shirt and what looks like Young's own plaid flannel overshirt, the graduate finally opens a fake Bible, takes out a cross-shaped syringe and shoots up by the sea.


In the film, too, there is Neil, who first appears at a radio station, grinning cryptically at a disk jockey who mistakenly plays a Steve Stills Buffalo Springfield song instead of one of Neil's. There's Neil giving out his autograph to an incredible 14-year-old loudmouth ("I already got Ringo's and everybody else's--thanks, Neil, I 'preciate it"). Neil lighting up with his cronies and talking about his early drug experiences in Toronto ("If you got high, you were Gene Krupa"). Neil going for a ride with his full-time companion, Carrie Snodgrass , and stopping the car for a wordless picnic punctuated by loud woodsy background noises, then getting up and ("You wan' keep goin'?") moving along. There is Neil on the old Hollywood Palace show. Neil in Alabama. Neil in Nashville, wearing a hard hat and sitting in a junkyard full of old cars, where he sips a Budweiser and rattles off anything that comes to mind ("I think this really represents America--y'know, stuff that could still be used piled on top of other stuff just 'cause it doesn't look nice. We should stop makin' new cars and rebuild old ones.")  

When the movie ends, out lopes Neil in the flesh--tall, gaunt, bloodshot and a trifle shaky, with a grand piano printed on the patch attached to the left knee of his jeans. Neil us trying to conquer his nerves, ready and willing to rub elbows with his public, eager to chat with all comers, with Carrie watching from the audience and Crosby by his side.  

"Well, the music was nice..." someone begins, triggering a long stretch of silence while a hundred baffled Cambridge media types try to come up with questions about the picture. "Who were those dudes on horseback?" asks one film student, and Young observes that "you never get to know those things, you never do." "I thought they were crusaders, man, looking for the True Cross," the questioner persists. "It mighta been someone that foolish," quips Crosby, drawing an only partially friendly laugh.  

Someone asks about retakes, and Young explains that there hadn't been any: "We figured if we didn't get it the first time, then we weren't supposed to." Someone else asks whether Young has seen Godard's One Plus One, which revolves around the Rolling Stones' cutting 'Sympathy for the Devil.'  

"I loved that film," says Young. "I hated it," says Crosby. "I thought it was great," Young insists. "I don't have any taste," jokes Crosby, and he gets another laugh, although no one seems to disagree with him.  

Eventually, Young relaxes enough to begin talking about his past history as a recluse and his future possibilities in filmmaking. "A couple of years ago I wouldn't have been able to stand around in the street, let alone put big pictures of myself on the screen--but I'm not as defensive as I used to be. When I worked on editing the film, I'd look at a shot of myself and I'd figure if it made me uncomfortable, then it must be interesting." And: "Without my name and without the music, I suppose this thing might be an outright bomb right away; this way, it's a tool to get into the filmmaking community."  

Young goes on to explain that he believes in recycling money earned from art back into art; the $350,000 for Journey was his own private investment. Crosby adds that he [DC] recycles money into dope. Young is asked one final question: What would he want people to know before seeing Journey. "Jeez, I dunno," says Neil. "Just how to get to the theater, I guess."  

His film has a certain amount in common with his new live album, Time Fades Away. The album, like the film, has a very raw feel to it, as though Neil were deliberately trying to shake off the perfectionism of his past efforts. The album, like the film, is more expressive than it is articulate, but the real stylistic departure is one of mood--the vocals are wild, agonized, deliberately jarring. The backing musicians play less than perfectly because they're playing live, but their gut intensity is an ideal match for Young's new strained sound. Also Time Fades Away contains one of his all-time great songs, 'Don't Be Denied'; the song mixes autobiographical verses with a chorus that chants the title warning, all adding up to a wail of epic frustration. It's Young's most emotional, most personal song to date, probably his most moving--and the song, even more than his new interest in filmmaking, seems to mark a crucial turning point in his career. Neil Young, rock-and-roll groundhog, may finally be ready to emerge.

  *** END ***

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