- The Road Goes On Forever-50 Years of Inspiration by Neil Young
While Neil Young has never quite cracked the ceiling of Rock and Roll celebrity to become a superstar, he has achieved nearly universal respect among his peers and audiences for his artistic integrity and general consistency. That said, this documentary makes it clear that he has never been one to value consistency at the expense of development and setting personal challenges for himself.
Born in Toronto in 1945, Young spent the early part of his life in rural Canada and turned chiefly to music as a personal outlet following the breakup of his parents’ marriage during his teen years. He was initially attracted to early Rock and Rhythm and Blues, but showed an early predilection towards eclecticism, listening to folk, country and pop music of the 1950’s. This variety of musical influences was a vital component of his emerging musical style and is well represented by this documentary, which includes a number of interviews with friends from those early Canadian years. While barnstorming during this period Young met a number of later associates including Joni Mitchell, Rick James and Stephen Stills. In 1965 Young relocated to Los Angeles and teamed up with Stills in the influential country rock band Buffalo Springfield which lasted for less than two years and produced a few albums that began to showcase Young as both a singer and songwriter.
While the eclecticism of his early listening habits clearly informed his songwriting, its influence on his vocal style was one of the most compelling parts of this documentary. Interspersing talking head experts with concert footage of Roy Orbison, Bob Dylan and some lesser known folk artists, the DVD presents a remarkably clear picture of where Young’s distinctive vocal style came from. I found the case that Orbison was a vital early influence to be surprising yet convincing and extremely important to an understanding of Young’s work even to the present day. The development of his guitar style from an even more complex set of influences is explored in detail as well.
Following the breakup of Buffalo Springfield, Young toured with Crazy Horse—a [End Page 605] much more elemental rock band with an informal style and approach. While Young commented that this was a very happy period artistically, it was clearly not a long term solution for him and he soon joined Stephen Stills again with an existing group that added his name, becoming Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. While performing with them, Young also began to do solo tours featuring mainly original acoustic music straddling the folk/country/rock line and producing many songs that became popular. Later experiments in the 1980’s and 90’s combined his playing and songwriting with styles as diverse as electronica, funk and grunge—all of which are detailed in this documentary. Discussion of the electronic period alone, a relatively short one in Young’s career, is given much greater status than it probably deserves; it almost works as a mini-documentary of the whole movement.
This pattern of alternating between solo tours and membership in other groups of varying duration continues to the present day and is in part responsible for his inability (or possibly unwillingness) to achieve that level of super-stardom that might have come with a long term association with a particular genre or group. While this variety may have worked against his ultimate popularity, it was obviously an element of his artistic growth that he considers essential. In one of the interviews on the second disc, Young refers to himself as a “sponge”: an apt metaphor for the constantly shifting influences he has prized throughout his career.
I found this DVD to be both informative and entertaining on many levels but unfortunately afflicted with the same handicap that I pointed out in a review of an earlier Pride documentary about Bruce Springsteen: evidently copyright restrictions prevent this company from including much (if any) of the artist’s own performances. In fact, throughout...