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William C. Altreuter
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Thursday, February 23, 2006

Even though a lot of the time you can cut the pretentiousness with a knife, my homie Ron Rosenbaum is nearly always worth reading, especially when he turns his attention to rock'n'roll. This week he has something to say about Neil Young. "I always feel that when an artist is obsessed with returning to one of his early works, it's worth our while to take the proper time to understand why," he says, then goes on to lay out some of the things that make Young important to him. "[F]or me, it'’s ...about the songwriting, the lyrics: Neil Young as master of epigrammatic Compressed Elliptical Wisdom. It'’s what'’s most distinctive about his songwriting. Dylan has it but tosses it off casually, almost too profusely--—there'’s so much to pay attention to that you don'’t give any one element its due. Neil makes you focus on an elliptical phrase by repeating it over and over until all (or most) of its resonances rise and emerge. When Neil gets hold of a phrase, he doesn'’t try to explain it, but rather exalts it through an almost trance-like incantation."

I find myself in a Neil Young place less often these days than I once did, but when the itch is on me, there's only one way to scratch it. Rosenbaum mentions a side I was unfamiliar with: "Road Rock Vol. 1", featuring, inter alia, an 18 minute "Cowgirl In The Sand". Christgau says it "rocks different than Crazy Horse". My interest is piqued. Young is indisputably part of the pantheon, and may be too often overlooked because for a long time it seemed like every time he was on to something he'd release something that was a complete departure. Dylan is the guy that has this reputation, of course, (and Miles Davis, and others) but you have to admit that Neil owns the title: "Trans"? "Everybody's Rockin'"? "Arc"? You can't name anybody (except maybe Miles) who would ever put out a side representing that sort of departure. Certainly there is nobody else in rock. Even Young's hippie-dippy mellow stuff is pretty great. Off the top of my head I can only think of two Neil Young songs I'd be pleased to never hear again ("Southern Man" and "Ohio". Please, no more.)

Rosenbaum focuses most of his essay on why he thinks the new Neil Young concert movie misrepresents the artist, or doesn't capture what makes Young great, but I'm still interested in seeing it, folkie "Harvest" material or no.

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