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Q&A: Jonathan Demme on the making of ‘Neil Young Journeys’

By Steve Appleford, Rolling Stone
Jonathan Demme can’t get enough of Neil Young.

The Academy Award-winning director recently completed ” Neil Young Journeys ,” his third feature-length documentary on the iconic folk-rocker, which mingles footage of Young alone onstage at Toronto’s Massey hall with moving scenes of him driving through his childhood home of Omeeme, Ontario. It opens on Friday, June 29, in New York and Los Angeles, then rolls out across the country all summer.

Demme is the acclaimed director of a long list of dramatic films, including 1991’s horrific “Silence of the Lambs” and 2008’s “Rachel Getting Married” — but music is never far from his mind. He collaborated with David Byrne on the classic Talking Heads concert film, “Stop Making Sense,” in 1984, and music is a crucial part of his dramatic movies, including 1993’s “Philadelphia,” which features deeply emotional original songs from Young and Bruce Springsteen.

In 1995, Demme and Young followed their “Philadelphia” collaboration with “The Complex Sessions,” a five-song short film with Crazy Horse . Between 2006’s “Heart of Gold,” 2009’s “Neil Young Trunk Show” and now, “Journeys,” they’ve completed a trilogy of feature-length films that capture different phases of Young’s work.

Demme, who just finished shooting an adaptation of Henrick Ibsen’s “The Master Builder” with Wallace Shawn and Andre Gregory (“My Dinner With Andre”), spoke to Rolling Stone about his love of music, Young’s film director alter-ego Bernard Shakey and his long journey through the past with Young.

Rolling Stone: When did you first become aware of Neil Young and his music?

Jonathan Demme: In the Sixties, when Buffalo Springfield came out. Like most young people, I was very engaged with contemporary music, especially because of the Beatles, which made everybody listen that much closer to everything. It was such a thrilling moment in popular music.  And now, here’s Buffalo Springfield, and they’re great. And there’s one particular individual in there — he wasn’t singing too many of the songs, but he was writing these amazing songs,   singing a little bit. I remember the Neil Young brand hitting me very hard immediately. He wasn’t an acquired taste. I loved him immediately.

Rolling Stone: Buffalo Springfield broke up pretty fast .

Demme: They only put out three albums. I kind of despaired a little bit: “Oh, what, no more Springfield?” Then, bam, here comes the solo album, which was so amazing. I was a rock critic at that point. I lived in London and was a writer for a Boston-based alternative newspaper called Fusion. I reviewed Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young at the Albert Hall in
’69. I read that [review] fairly recently, and I was very turned off by David Crosby talking too much, but then I was very turned on by Neil Young.

Rolling Stone: It seems like the last 20 years of his career are the most documented ones. Journeys is your third feature-length film with him.

Demme: The first one we did, “Heart of Gold,” really turned out well, and we got to know each other aesthetically and personally quite well. “Trunk Show” was not conceived as a movie. He had a great tour going, great lighting, great set, great song list, great band. That’s a concert film. I don’t think “Journeys” is a concert film — it’s a performance film with a strong documentary component to it.

A couple of years later, he’s touring with the [“Le Noise”] show. I was struck immediately by the magnitude of the sound in the context of one man, this grizzled maestro with electric guitars and other things, filling up these halls with this amazing music. And I thought, “There’s never been a performance film like that before.” So it became an opportunity to do something completely different from what we’d done before. And maybe we can add this other travel dimension to it. He’s a great artist, a great entertainer, and endlessly desirable to see and hear.

Rolling Stone: Are you a fan of Bernard Shakey’s work as a filmmaker?

Demme: I have a lot of respect for Bernard Shakey. I love Greendale. It’s a wonderful American independent movie. It’s fantastic. When David Byrne and I were getting ready to do “Stop Making Sense,” we were looking at concert films and trying to figure out how we could do a film that was different from all the rest, and also would be really good. For
David, “Rust Never Sleeps” was the one he wanted to be as good as.

Rolling Stone: You do a lot of driving with Young in “Journeys.” How is he behind the wheel?

Demme: He’s good. I don’t know if you’ve driven a pre-power steering car lately, but those things are hard, man. They’re physically demanding, and they don’t respond really well. We started in little towns with serene back roads. We wound up on the freeway, and what was cute and charming in a Crown Victoria back in Omeeme, now becomes this bizarre relic amidst a stream of modern speeding cars. It wound up kind of poignant. I never thought I’d say to myself, “Oh, poor Neil.” By the time he’s in downtown Toronto in his charming old car, he looked really vulnerable.

Rolling Stone: For anyone who has listened to Neil Young’s music, to actually see the “town in North Ontario” that he sings about in “Helpless” was fascinating.

Demme: I know! Whenever you heard that line, didn’t you always picture something? It was very beautiful, whatever it was. And it was kind of amazing to get to that town in North Ontario and see, what do you know, it is gorgeous. It is dreamlike. And, amazingly, it’s still here.

Rolling Stone: There is also a scene where you go to a childhood home of his, and all that’s left is the lawn.

Demme: Yeah, and the symbolism of actually seeing the earthmovers right at work even as he’s driving away. It’s almost like, “You better get out of there, Neil, before they gobble you up like that old house.”

Rolling Stone: How do you explain the powerful connection between film and music?

Demme: We’re raised on these two incredible treats. We hear music coming over the radio first; we fall in love with music. We see television, and we fall in love with the moving image. A music film is what takes these two separate, wonderful experiences and marries them. I felt from time to time that shooting live music is the most purely cinematic thing you can do. Ideally, the cinema is becoming one with the music. There is little artifice involved. There’s no acting. I love it.

Rolling Stone: It’s also a big part in your dramatic films, like your use of the song “Goodbye Horses” in “Silence of the Lambs,” when the serial killer Buffalo Bill is primping in the mirror.

Demme: That song wasn’t in the script. The first time I heard that song, I was doing the final mix on a “Sun City” video with Little Steven and [producer] Arthur Baker. We finished it up, and there was a blizzard going on in New York. Arthur and I got in a cab, and after we drop him off, the driver says to me, “Are you in the music business?” “Uh, not
really.” So she puts on “Goodbye Horses” going through a blizzard, and, “Oh my God, what is this and who are you?” She was an unsigned singer Q Lazzarus, and that song ended up in Silence of the Lambs. And I asked her to sing David Byrne’s song “Heaven” at a party scene in Philadelphia.

Rolling Stone: It added so much depth to the moment.

Demme: Music has that potential. It can be like something that saves you in a scene that isn’t working that great — the right music can make a weak scene acceptable. It can also add a whole other dimension to a scene. It can send it right into the ozone.

See the full story at .

Neil Young to Patti Smith: Don’t Chase the Rabbit

June 11th, 2012
By Philip Turner in: Books & Writing, Canada, Music & Bands, Publishing & Bookselling
Neil Young to Patti Smith: Don’t Chase the Rabbit

The BEA conversation between Patti Smith and Neil Young was one of the most anticipated events of this year’s convention, and I had previewed it with this blog post a few weeks ago, with a recollection of hearing Neil live when I was only fourteen years old. It turned out that last Wednesday’s program was not only a highlight of the convention, but a life highlight. The two artists shared a comfortable rapport and their dialogue reached a serious level about how songs are written, art is created, and artists and audiences connect in a reciprocal space where creative work flows.

Patti’s first remark, at seeing dozens of photographers below the stage snapping pictures of them was lighthearted: “I feel like Sophia Loren at the Milan airport.” Referring to Neil’s new album “Americana” and his forthcoming book–and her new album “Banga,” which David Shanks of Putnam, Neil’s publisher, had cited in his introduction–Patti said “all the things that one creates comes from the same soul, the same heart, the same hopes.” She asked Neil about a song he’d retitled for the new album, a cover of “She’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Mountain,” which he’s retitled “Jesus’ Chariot.” He chuckled and attributed this to “the folk process” and new understanding of the song he gained through working with it, in which he now sees an unknown composer’s long-submerged intimations of “the Second Coming and the end of time.” Patti marveled at how a song we’ve sung “since we were little kids by rote, with no emotion” is totally reimagined by Neil and Crazy Horse

After about fifteen minutes, the event organizers finally remedied a low-volume mic that Neil had been equipped with, or that his serape was perhaps masking, which until then had left the more than one thousand bookpeople in attendance uneasy and dissatisfied, leading one person to call out “May we have more volume on Neil’s mic.”

Much of the rest of the talk has already been reported well and comprehensively, by John Mutter in Shelf Awareness  , Claire Kirch in Publishers Weekly , and Bob Minzesheimer in USA TODAY , and yet even with bad audio at the outset these two consummate and uncompromising artists engaged in such a full and wide-ranging converation that there are a few aspects of it I want to emphasize in this space.
* The first concerns Neil’s father, Scott Young. Judging by Patti’s first question on Waging Heavy Peace–about how his dad happened to call young Neil by the nickname “Windy”–Scott is an important figure in the book, and well he should be. It is too little known in this country that long before Neil became a musician and creative force, Scott was a prominent sportswriter and author in Canada, publishing bestselling books of fiction, nonfiction, and YA titles, and a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame (tantamount to a baseball writer in the States being inducted into Cooperstown). The book of his that I’ve read and treasure the most is Neil and Me, a heartfelt, double portrait that offers a mea culpa for the divorce and family break-up his constant travel as a working journalist caused, at least in part. Listening to Neil’s “Helpless” I hear echoes of that family pain. It’s a beautifully written book, as revealing as anything written about Neil, with the exception of Jimmy McDonough’s comprehensive Shakey. I recommend it highly.

* The next was the discussion between Patti and Neil over the writing of “Ohio,” and how the song came forth from Neil unbidden as a spontaneous response to the cataclysmic events at Kent State. He explained how CSN&Y got into the studio within days to record it, and how they rushed acetate copies of it out to radio statios so disk jockeys could respond to the shock and outrage provoked among their listeners by the campus killings. Neil described this as “the social networking of the time” and added “you could only get seven or eight plays off” the acetates, which degraded quickly. The ephemeral quality of the recording materials prompted an unlikely association in my mind, but an apt one, I think.
I was reminded me of the samizdat editions that writers in the Soviet bloc produced of their work during the Cold War. Without access to printing presses, they would roll multiple sheets of carbon paper into their typewriters, and with each key struck they hammered another ringing blow for creative expression. The medium had limitations, however. A Czech writer and publisher I met in Prague in 1991–post-Cold War–Vladmir Pistorius of Mlada Fronta Publishers, showed me his samizdat editions and explained that a rebel author could only put about five sheets of carbon paper in their typewriter, inter-leaved with as many sheets of typing paper, because each succeeding copy became more faint and less readable. It was humbling then to see what writers had done to create and share their work.

The writing, production, and perforce distribution of “Ohio” also reminded me of the genre of the “instant paperback,” like the Watergate Hearings books published by mass-market publishers back in the day, Norton’s edition of the 9/11 Commission in more recent years, or The United States v. I. Lewis Libby, which I pulled together with reporter Murray Waas at Union Square Press in 2007, after Scooter Libby’s trial in the leaking of Valerie Plame’s CIA identity. Neil and his bandmates were responding authentically and spontaneously to events around them, and meeting their audience in the public square, much as publishers have long tried to do for their readers.

* The last point is Neil’s discussion of how he never forces the writing of a song. Patti observed that Neil’s songs, “even ones produced from pain . . . seem so effortless, like they just came out of the wind, maybe that’s why your dad called you ‘Windy.’”

Neil answered, “Well, they do come that way. I don’t try to think of them. I wait till they come. A metaphor may be that if you’re trying to catch a rabbit, you don’t wait right by the hole. . . And then the rabbit comes out of the hole, he looks around. You start talking to the rabbit, but you’re not looking at it. Ultimately, the rabbit is friendly and the song is born. The idea is, he’s free to come, free to go. Who would want to intimidate or disrespect the source of the rabbit? And in that way if the song happens, it happens. If it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen. It doesn’t matter. That’s why I’ll write a lot of material and why I’ll suddenly not write any material. There’s no reason to write, it has to come to me, if it doesn’t come to me, I don’t want to have anything to do with it, I don’t want to see it, I don’t want to look for it. I really hate things that people work on. There’s nothing about music that should be working on it. There’s no reason to be something you’re not. Or trying to be somebody that you think is good.”

I am more eager than ever to read Neil’s book when Blue Rider Press publishes it in October. Patti and Neil seemed like old friends, to each other, and to us in the audience, a. It was a treat to hear them in conversation, a BEA moment I’ll treasure forever. If you couldn’t be there I hope this report and the photos will make it come alive for you, and if you were in the hall, I hope I’ve lent some useful perspective on such a special occasion.
A badge from Blue Rider Press was left on many chairs in the Special Events Hall at the Javits Center
This photo is also on the book jacket of ‘Waging Heavy Peace.’

Front Row on BBC Radio – Neil takes the dark side of Americana

Neil Young: Depth, darkness and despair in new album

For over four decades Neil Young has been one of the great stalwarts of modern music.

He’s an artist who is as likely to confound as delight his fans, switching regularly between delicate acoustic ballads and noisy electric rock.

For his latest album Americana – on which he reunites with his old band Crazy Horse – he has tackled old American folk songs.

In a rare interview with Front Row presenter John Wilson, Neil Young discussed the dark and violent themes behind his latest work.

The full interview can be heard in a special edition of Front Row on BBC Radio 4 at 7.15pm on Friday 8 June.

Go to for a 4:31 minute audio of the interview on BBC.

Interview: Neil Young in the German mag “Zeit”

German’s are always interested in cars, so the Linkvolt…

“Young: I’m talking about, that I would rather be a part of the solution as part of the problem This is the fight that our generation is fighting to this day. But it’s true. So many things on this planet revolves around energy brings energy. things in motion. Every second is moved slightly back and forth. And wars over energy are performed. ”

I’m burning sustainable… – “Ich brenne nachhaltig”

Wie grün kann Rock’n’Roll eigentlich sein? Ein Gespräch mit Neil Young über erneuerbare Energien, alle Arten von Fortbewegung und die Autos seines Lebens.

in der

…about Greenness, sustainable enegergy, his movements, his cars, and
something more…

:: Lincvolt
:: Living With War
.. Americana

Interview on NPR, fresh air

angry Neil
on NPR, about Americana. God save the queen she had a lot of important things to her. Yer, I was also waiting for the sex psistols.

* Interview.
* God Save The Queen.

Random Quote

“You wake up in the mornin\'
And the sun\'s comin\' up. ”

by -- Neil Young

Neil Young on Tour

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Sugar Mountain setlists

Tom Hambleton provides BNB with setlists, thankfully. His website is the most comprehensive searchable archives on the Internets about anything Neil Young related setlists. Goto Sugar Mountain.

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