Friday, June 12, 2009

Neil Young: Never Denied

I watched the new Neil Young BBC Video/American Masters documentary, Don’t Be Denied, on PBS the other night. I was quite impressed. It’s a concise (55 min.), accurate and informative overview of Neil’s lengthy and prolific career. Revelatory reminiscences and explanations from Neil himself are nicely interspersed with archival footage and compelling commentary from collaborators such as Crosby, Stills and Nash, Nils Lofgren and James Taylor among others.

The film does not cover every one of Neil’s 52 albums, but it touches upon most of the key releases and transition points (of which there have been many) in his four-plus decades as an artist. I do think it could’ve gone into a bit more detail on Neil’s repeated dabblings in country music throughout his career (and the related two-decade long involvement with Farm Aid) as well as his emergence as the influential “godfather of grunge” in the early 1990s. But that certainly would have necessitated more air time.

I have all of Neil’s official albums and videos, plus lots of live recordings. I’ve seen him in concert a few times and have read a lot of articles and a few books about his career and work. So, suffice to say, I know a fair amount about him – his personal quirks and his artistic qualities. Yet, there were still new things revealed to me in this documentary. Standout examples being Lofgren’s comments about the dark and controversial Tonight’s the Night album (1975) and the revelation that the song “Revolution Blues” on Neil’s On the Beach album (1974) was about Charles Manson – and that Neil actually knew Manson.

I assume the airing of this documentary was timed to coincide with the recent release of Neil’s long-awaited mega-anthology, Archives Vol. 1 (1963-1972) – which perhaps I’ll write about at some other time – but since PBS tends to repeat its broadcasts several times throughout the month (and again during peak fundraising season), there will probably be further chances to catch this American Masters episode. If you like Neil’s music, or are just kind of curious, check it out. It’s worthwhile.

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