'Neil Young FAQ' Diaries: A journey through the past with Neil Young's videos

After a two-year journey of blood, sweat, tears, and more all-nighters writing furiously until the sun came up than I care to remember, my first full-length book as a music journalist was finally released this week.

Neil Young FAQ is part of Backbeat Books’ “FAQ Series” artist guides, designed to enlighten the reader on “everything left to know” about the featured subject. In addition to my just released Neil Young book, the series also features FAQ books on everyone from the Beatles and the Beach Boys, to Lucille Ball and the Three Stooges — an eclectic mix of talent to be sure.

In the case of Neil Young FAQ, the book promises to reveal “Everything Left to Know About the Iconic and Mercurial Rocker,” including obscure facts about such mythical, unreleased recordings as Homegrown, Chrome Dreams, Toast and Oceanside, Countryside, as well as the most intimate details on the recording sessions behind such legendary albums as Harvest, Tonight’s The Night and Rust Never Sleeps.

But one of the most interesting chapters in the book deals with Neil Young’s concert videos over the years. While such critically acclaimed concert films as Rust Never Sleeps and Heart Of Gold are well known to Neil Young fans, there are also an equal number of lesser-known, out-of-print Neil Young concert performances that deserve to find an audience.

For my own first book-signing event in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood on June 1, 2012, I have decided to include some of these rare videos in my presentation. All proceeds from book sales at this event will go to benefit the The Bridge School.

But for those who can’t be there, here is a quick preview of what we will be showing that night …

“DOWN BY THE RIVER” (from ABC-TV’s MUSIC SCENE WITH DAVID STEINBERG, 1969): The never-before-seen cover shot of Neil Young FAQ by Jeff Allen, is taken from this performance at the taping of the very first episode for this short-lived 1969 concert series for ABC-TV. It is a rare performance of Young’s “Down By The River” by Crosby Stills Nash & Young, with the original rhythm section of bassist Greg Reeves and drummer Dallas Taylor. The guitar exchanges between Stills and Young here — though shorter than usual — more than live up to the legend of the musical fireworks these two were so noted for at the time. Neil is particularly intense here.

“SAMPLE AND HOLD” (from NEIL YOUNG IN BERLIN 1983): This now rare video from the 1983 Trans tour of Europe is revealing for a number of reasons. First, it shows one of the first uses of the multi-ramped staging which later became the norm for stadium shows by the likes of U2. But perhaps most interestingly, it also shows an audience stunned by what they were seeing. While a few diehards in the audience can be seen clapping their hands, most of those in the first few rows seem to sit in a flabbergasted sort of silence at the sight of Neil Young and Nils Lofgren — who look particularly hilarious in their 1980s’ shades and teased, Jefferson Starship hair — performing “Sample And Hold” through a vocoder.

The guitar bits are still pretty fierce, though.

“LIKE A HURRICANE” (from NEIL YOUNG IN BERLIN 1983): From the same show, this one is mostly noteworthy for the hilarity which ensues when Neil’s 1980s’ new-wave tie gets tangled up in his guitar during the solo (which is still as incendiary as ever). Ever the pro, Neil simply slings said tie over his shoulder.

“HEY, HEY, MY, MY” (from NEIL YOUNG AND CRAZY HORSE’S WELD): The biggest reason I like this video so much is because of the audience shots. In between Neil’s blistering guitar solos here, see if you can pick out such characters as “Buck-tooth girl,” “Chinese hippie headband guy,” and “Microsoft guy” grooving to Neil and Crazy Horse.

I’m just bummed I couldn’t find a YouTube video of “Fuckin’ Up”
from the same show, which features the equally unforgettable “air-drummer guy” and the frat boys in ties sitting with the guy in army fatigues. That stuff is absolutely priceless.

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‘Neil Young FAQ’ is available for purchase both through the publisher Backbeat, and at internet booksellers like Amazon.com. It will also available in retail stores May 22. You can follow ‘Neil Young FAQ’ on Twitter and friend us on Facebook.

Glen Boyd

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