Living with War

Image from CorporalTunnel on Flickr

Image from Corporal Tunnel on Flickr

One of the few panels that I attended during SXSW Music was the Neil Young / Jonathan Demme Keynote Interview on Thursday, March 16th. I’ve obviously missed the boat on having a timely recap on this, but I saw a bit of news today that made it a little more relevant again.

I arrived at the Convention Center only a few minutes late and a little hungover as my band’s showcase was the night before and this interview was relatively early (10:30). I was herded into the “overflow room”, a room adjacent to the actual interview room with a large screen video feed. Turns out that I should’ve paid attention to the item on the schedule preceding the interview, “Prelude Music: Palm School Choir”, which started at 10am in the same room. The SXSW organizers decided that in order to sit in the same room as the interview, you’d have to endure 30 minutes of elementary school kids singing, a particularly sadistic torture for a group of people who generally rise late with some sort of hangover and who don’t, as a rule, voluntarily sit through children’s choirs. The overflow room quickly filled to capacity though, impressive considering that the room housing the interview was quite large itself.

Young and Demme were introduced by Louis Black and Roland Swenson, SXSW organizers. Swenson incorporated references to Kent State and Young’s song, “Ohio”, and ended his intro saying, “We need a new song.” As Harp magazine, home publication of the Young/Demme interviewer, Jaan Uhelszki, pointed out yesterday, he’s gotten his wish. Young has apparently completed an entire album in three days, entitled Living with War.

Seems like a quick turnaround, but during the interview, Young described his current writing process. He said (and I may be parphrasing a bit here), “I used to write all the time, but now it comes like a dam bursting.” He described songwriting as stream of consciousness thing for him, something that you can’t try too hard to elicit. He talked about simply trying to create a space where he can let his inspiration come on its own time. My favorite quote from him on this topic was “commitments are one of the worst things for music making”. I’ll have to remember to use that one the next time I’m asked to mow the lawn or reminded that I need to make a dentist appointment.

Young spent part of the interview talking about what a mistake it is to try and revisit the past. He’s always tried to move forward. Young said, “You can’t be who you were. You can’t be who you’re gonna be.” “Going back, doing it again, don’t do it. It’s death.” He mentioned that he knew he was on to something when USA Today wrote an article accusing him of ripping off his fans by not playing some of his older songs. He also talked about the balance between what he writes for Crazy Horse and the acoustic stuff such as the songs featured in Heart of Gold.

I’ll be interested to see what’s included on Living With War. I’m guessing it’ll be acoustic. In keeping with the theme of the interview a month ago, it’s a fine line between letting something flow organically and come together on its own and trying to make it appear. I’m sure Young’s been thinking about of a lot of the issues that are facing us now and what we were facing 36 years ago when he wrote “Ohio”. Here’s hoping he got it right again.

Update: More info appearing saying that the album’ll be out in 6-8 weeks and that it was recorded as a three piece, so my solo acoustic guess was apparently wrong.

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