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Video Review: NY Times blog on Journeys

June 11, 2012, 3:01 pm
For Neil Young, a Journey Through Rock and Rust

In the new documentary “Neil Young Journeys,” the musician, activist and car tinkerer of the film’s title recounts how he acquired a taste for the road.

Assured by a local bully that it would taste just like chocolate, the young Mr. Young ate tar right off of a street in his boyhood home, Omemee, Ontario.

“I guess that’s where my interest in cars began,” he says.

The documentary, scheduled to open in New York and Los Angeles on June 29, intercuts concert video with scenes of Mr. Young reminiscing about his upbringing as he drives a 1956 Ford Crown Victoria from Omemee to Massey Hall, in Toronto. The concert hall was the final stop of his 2011 solo tour in support of the 2010 release “Le Noise.”

“Journeys” is the third film about Mr. Young directed by his friend Jonathan Demme, known for directing “The Silence of the Lambs” and “Philadelphia,” as well as the Talking Heads concert film “Stop Making Sense.”

“This whole world of cars and music, that’s a big chunk of Neil’s DNA,” Mr. Demme said at the film’s premiere at the 2011 Toronto Film Festival. “He’s all about cars and driving and music in motion.”

Mr. Demme and Mr. Young were in New York last week on a publicity tour for the film. In an interview in Midtown, Mr. Demme described “Journeys” as a road film, equating it in spirit to his films “Melvin and Howard” and “Something Wild.”

Mr. Young says he believes that listening to music in the car is the best way to judge its quality.
“You can tell a great song if you listen in the car,” Mr. Young said. “Why? Because if you are listening in the car, you have a changing picture. You are also distracted by driving. You are doing two things at once, which is really good for music. The soundtrack to the landscape? There you go.”

Mr. Young said he did not, however, write music in a car, save one experiment, the rock opera “Greendale,” released over 2003 and 2004 with an accompanying film and graphic novel. “I wrote the songs while driving around on my ranch in a 1951 Plymouth. When I got an idea, I would just stop and write. When whatever I was thinking was gone, I would just drive on another three or four hundred yards. When I got another idea I would stop again.”

Mr. Young had nearly three dozen cars before he began to cull his collection. It now has a dozen. “I’ve got a few cars,” Mr. Young said. He is big on Buicks. “I’ve got the first 1953 Buick Skylark ever made. I’ve got a 1947 Roadmaster station wagon, a woody. A 1947 Roadmaster sedanette.” His first car? “A 1948 Buick Roadmaster hearse. That sucker was huge. It had wheels in the back, which were great for loading amps.”

As a collector, Mr. Young is preservationist and mad scientist. Several years ago, he said, he grafted the front of a 1949 Studebaker Starlight coupe onto the nose of his Eagle tour bus, with part of a 1951 Hudson Hornet on the back. The bus later burned, as did his LincVolt: a 1959 Lincoln Continental retrofitted as a hybrid plug-in electric with an ethanol-burning motor. In his keynote speech at the 2010 Specialty Equipment Market Association or SEMA Show, Mr. Young described the vehicle as a rolling statement about energy independence.

The LincVolt is being rebuilt, and the car’s Web site indicates a remarkable amount of engineering involved.

“It’s a sensational car,” Mr. Young said. “It has a bank of A123 batteries down the middle of the car where the driveshaft used to be. It has a Ford Atkinson 4-cylinder Escape hybrid motor customized to run on cellulosic ethanol.” He had recently visited a pilot plant making the fuel, in Sioux Falls, S.D.

Mr. Young plans a film about the LincVolt project. He framed his involvement in the film and car as an energizing break from music.

Asked why he would rather build his E.V. than buy a model from the major automakers, Mr. Young was diplomatic. “They are doing a good job, but they have to build a present car,” he said. “I can build a future car, push things.”

“We have all the energy we need here in the U.S. so we don’t have to fight wars for fuel,” he added.

This and other arguments are made in a coming book, “Waging Heavy Peace,” out in October. “Americana,” a new album recorded with Crazy Horse, radically recasts traditional songs like “Oh, Susanna!” and “She’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Mountain.” On its cover is the infamous so-called Geronimo Cadillac photograph from roughly 1905, depicting the Apache chief in captivity in Oklahoma at the wheel of a Locomobile.

As a musician who uses the phenomenon of rust as a leitmotif in his songwriting, Mr. Young explains his attraction to old cars, even ostensibly lifeless ones, in human terms.

“If you go for a walk in a junkyard, every car is talking to you,” he said. “There are voices. It’s like a cacophony of sound. Every car has got people in them. There are junkers, all piled up, but if you get close to them there’s history in every one of them: the families that grew up in those cars, the kids, the lovers. Everything that happened in those cars, it’s all right there. That’s why I love cars. They all have a soul and story to tell.”

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thanks to thrasher.

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