Out of the blue - Page 3

And into the black -- renaissance via Neil Young's Archives
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Tillman.

I also saw my Alabama-bred friend Patterson Hood at the Bowery Ballroom, bringing an element of Stills and Young's guitar duels and Young's volume to the stage, backed by the Screwtopians. Brother Hood's chief band, Drive-By Truckers, came to most folks' attention with 2001's Sept. 12 Soul Dump release Southern Rock Opera, a sprawling masterwork in two acts that dealt with — among other Southern myths — the complex relationship between Young and Lynyrd Skynyrd icon Ronnie Van Zant (see "Ronnie and Neil"). When we discussed the Archives before the gig, Patterson professed to be waiting on tenterhooks for the next volume, due to the Ditch releases: TTN, Time Fades Away (Reprise, 1973), and my favorite, On the Beach (Reprise, 1974).

Tillman — Pacific Northwest-dwelling solo artist and multi-instrumentalist member of Fleet Foxes — was illuminating on the subject of Young as artistic forebear. This year, the Foxes were summoned by Young to tour with him and perform at his annual Bridge School benefit, even as Tillman promoted Vacilando Territory Blues (Bella Union) and began to develop his next solo recording Year In the Kingdom. Kindly, he paused amid all this flurry to speak on Young's influence when we crossed paths earlier this year:

"Neil is a figure to follow and not follow. Following him is kind of antithetical to the spirit of his music, but it's hard to resist the mythology ...

"Neil's understanding of the technical side of the recording process, and his obsession with gear and tone, stands in total contrast to his completely intuitive approach to making records." he continued. "Each of his records has an environment that is as big a part of the record as the songs. Recording in a barn, an SIR storage space, doing honey-slides with Rusty Kershaw — he always positions himself for moments of magic."

Despite Young's great capacity for harnessing magic, what Archives demonstrates beyond the master's curatorial intent is the vast gulf between the violent-but-halcyon time that begat his earliest works and now, when ever more plastic reigns in our common culture. When I cited surprise at a sudden small surge in younger folk and country-rockin' artists who profess overt adoration of and respect for Buffalo Springfield and Stills' Manassas, Tillman voiced skepticism:

"Our generation has been told that we can buy authenticity. Advertising is so enmeshed in our thought life we've developed Stockholm syndrome. People buy the idea of the '60s and '70s like a product, like it's something you can own by buying things, or conversely, by becoming a product fashioned in the style of the '70s. There are plenty of people dying to make a buck off that. It's sad how commodified music has become, how people just do it to be it, instead of doing it because they are it. Neil refused to be bought or sold or owned in his own time, like any of the greats."

As for Young followers on the blackhand side, they may not be legion but today — more than four decades after he was meant to produce Love's masterpiece Forever Changes (Elektra, 1967) and long after his road dawgin' with former Malibu neighbor Booker T. Jones — there are more than you might think. Richie Havens still cut what might rate as the best-ever Young cover: his desperate, electric, heavy metal "The Loner" on Mixed Bag II (Stormy Forest, 1974). The other week I attended a taping of Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, and after the show, when Roots' guitarist Kirk Douglas spotted the behemoth Archives box I was toting, he ripped a few blazing riffs from "Cinnamon Girl."

Outlaws don't always go out in a blaze of glory. Some, like Young, abide, too ornery for entropy to overtake them.

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