‘Neil Young’s Greendale’ as Graphic Novel
Music legend’s masterpiece continues to morph
Is it the live concert series? The DVD? The theater movie? The novel?
The first and second CD editions? The website? With the totality of Greendale, we
have the mass destruction of the album, but also its re-integration into other
mediums. While there certainly is an album (or two), there is also an artistic
process that both deconstructs and reconstructs the concept of a body of songs
that make sense together.
It’s all the same story, with or without the music, or the visuals, but
now we have Young guiding three artists (Joshua Dysart, Cliff Chiang, Dave
Stewart) into an illustrated comic book or graphic novel. It is the latter more
than the former because of its length, perfect binding and hard cover. This is
all about an exploration of form. In fact, the content is not at all
complicated; however, the back story, a mysterious and hard-to-pin-down
presence of the devil in a small town, is a page out of Nathaniel Hawthorne.
Were it not for such a brooding and malevolent presence, the division of
into so many different mediums would not be possible. And it is here that Young
joins an elite group of artists whose transformational art objects leap from
one shape to another with ease. Embedded in matters that torture the American
soul, the back story relates to William Carlos Williams’ “In the American
Grain,” where for there to be change there must first be destruction, literally
In his introduction to the new book, Young writes: “Greendale
is a nice town, but it has its quirks… There’s a lot going on in Greendale that I don’t know about either. Can you
imagine? I mean, I made it up and I don’t know what the hell is goin’ on. So
don’t feel bad if you feel a little out of it with this. No one really knows…”
The work is not open to just any interpretation, but encompasses variant forms
that serve as more of the same back story of a devil in our town who messes up
the environment and takes away the quietude of home and family. Something’s up,
but we never consciously know what’s going down.
Greendale seems almost without end,
yet, do we have the uncanny finality of the album as immanent work of art or
the beginning of its deconstruction into other idioms? The former certainly is
the case within popular music, no doubt. The latter, though, and more than
likely the case, is a brilliant chameleon enterprise by which Young keeps an
album-as-art motive but destroys it by virtue of his own artistic vision,
withholding the dissolution from the music industry marketers, the passionate
fans who just want an anthem.
In this way, one more entry on the Greendale ledger puts Young decidedly in control of the loss of a rock album as an entity, and at once this meaning gains propitious strength. Greendale is the absence and presence of album as art, and this is no devilish detail. Behaving like an industry unto himself, Young never gives rust a chance to sleep. Greendaleis an astute, further awakening that the album is not dead—it is merely a changeling.