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Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2012

Frequently Asked Questions About Neil Young

New book covers 'Everything Left to Know'

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With his new “folk music” album Americana, a documentary film going into theaters this summer titled Journeys and his memoirs forthcoming this fall, it is impossible to dispute the prodigious artistry of Neil Young. Separating Young from other canonical rock artists who remain productive, such as Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen, is a body of work impossible to linearly calculate.

Despite the cute subtitle of Neil Young FAQ: Everything Left to Know About the Iconic and Mercurial Rocker (Backbeat), author Glen Boyd delivers 370 pages of detail that might otherwise have fallen between the cracked attempts at presenting Young with definitive finality. Thankfully, we do not receive useless tidbits about his life and times, but rather a well-developed scholastic approach to his varied output from Canadian folkie beginnings through almost the present. Boyd marvels over Young's 2010 masterpiece Le Noise. “Even at this late stage of his career, his ability to create yet another game-changing record never ceases to astonish,” he writes, adding, “He stands mostly alone amongst his musical peers of the '60s generation. Dylan and Springsteen are really the only other guys who even come close.”

Although Boyd's writing occasionally reads rather like comic book bubble talk, we have here a reliable and remarkably vetted text that is invaluable for scholars. Dipping into the mire of fandom but never drowning in it, Boyd captures a distinctly cohesive account of Young's chameleon artistic sensibility and bold stylistic ventures that sweep aside any attempt to categorize. A final reference to Dylan and Springsteen is required to underline how they have not confounded listeners with as many challenges to expectations as has Young. His recordings are forever unpredictable and quite capable of twisting disappointment into furthered artistic sophistication. Only the fan becomes disappointed, not the serious listener, because being a fan means adoration only and not critical listening.

For example, at one of the early Greendale concerts in Milwaukee, fans booed the extensive presentation of this new work, which deconstructed exactly what an album can still deliver into the 21st century, wanting the hits instead. It was not unlike 1975's Tonight's the Night, which perplexed audiences during pre-release performances. There is no comparison between the two albums, but there is a comparable artist behind each—one who is not merely experimental, but who also has absolutely no concern for anything but the direction his art shall take him and those who have the ability to come along.

Neil Young FAQ
obsessively and with tremendously focused detail builds the case for Neil Young “as one of the most influential musical artists of the 20th century.” We are dealing with an artist whose career trajectory is never going to reveal the core of his work, for even that is a matter of comprehensive change and is incapable of being predicted. Fans beware.