"I too was disapointed [sic] in Neil's concert... I wished I had stayed home and watched one of his old DVD's.. I personally thought he had lost his mind!! Really a song that carries on for 15 minutes with the only lyrics "You're a F*&&up?" I put my coat on and left.."
— Commentator Mrsopinionated on a message board at the Ottawa Sun.
Trawling the web after seeing Neil Young and Crazy Horse on the last Saturday in November, I came across quite a few complaints similar to Mrsopinionated's, from people who clearly expected to encounter the folkie troubadour famous for songs like "Helpless" and "Harvest Moon".
Instead of the sensitive folk-singer, they got four old men bent over their instruments like a coven of witches torturing cats to produce an orgy of distortion and feedback, steel strings twisted to breaking in jams pushing half an hour of sonic indulgence.
"I put my coat on and left.." I can empathize, I really can.
I once was Mrsopinionated, or someone a lot like her ...
Some of you may know this story; I've dined out on it at my own expense for years. So, feel free to skip it and go straight to my review. But for those of you still reading ...
Portrait of the artist as a young critic, fall 1980, courtesy of an indulgent TTC photographer.
The year was 1981. I was 16 years old and a musical naif, off with some friends to a showing of the recent concert movie Rust Never Sleeps at Toronto's Bloor Cinema. The film featured Neil Young and Crazy Horse. But — and this is important — the latter name meant absolutely nothing to me.
The opening scene, in which roadies dressed to look like Jawas from the original Star Wars scurried about the stage perplexed me, but I was patient. And for a while, I was rewarded.
Neil Young appeared at last, alone and carrying only an acoustic guitar. The wall of speakers seemed a strange affectation, but what did I know of concerts? In any case, I had what I had come to see.
30 minutes later everything went to hell.
As I said, I empathize with Mrsopinionated, who "put on [her] coat and left" the show on the 24th of last month. When Neil Young wrapped himself in a sleeping-bag on the stage, and the Jawas re-appeared, and recorded announcements from Woodstock blared forth about not eating the brown acid, I didn't know what to make of things.
Serious lad that I was, I probably thought, again, that it was kinda dumb. But no amount of dumbness prepared me for what was to come.
When the music started again it didn't take me long at all to know exactly what I had to do.
I found my coat, I grabbed my hat, made the lobby in seconds flat!
I half-expected my friends to follow my lead, but they were having none of it. And so it was that I was alone when I presented myself at the ticket booth.
"I want my money back," I said. "I came here to see music, not this kind of crap!"
The ticket-taker looked at me as if she thought I was from another world. Or maybe, like I was a goofy, over-privileged 15 year-old boy who just didn't know any better.
"The movie's been playing for 40 minutes, kid. I can't give you a refund now."
"But, but, but, but ..."
"Take a hike, kid."
"Take a HIKE!"
What else could I do? I took a hike.
A couple of decades later, I got my hands on a copy of Weld and — can we say "road to Damascus!" gentle readers? — I realized what a fool I had been.
There was artistry in those harsh sounds, and great beauty too, every bit as much as there was when Neil Young played the ivories of a piano or strummed an acoustic guitar.
And so, five or six months ago, when I saw that Neil and the Horse were coming to Ottawa — with no less than Patti Smith as an opening act! — I found myself spending money I could ill afford for something I had long ago vowed I would never do again: attend a rock show at a big venue.
Was it worth it 120 bucks? Oh my, yes. Yes, it was.
The music was every bit as powerful as I had hoped. But the experience was so much more than just music. There was story-telling and multi-sensory special effects and even a dirty joke. Two weeks later, I am still gloriously happy I went. The details are at my site: Young and Crazy: The alchemy of defiance.
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