Neil Young is one of those musicians who have truly been there and done that and, unlike some of his contemporaries from the Sixties and Seventies, has lived to tell the tale. He has stuck to his guns, and that comes through loud and clear on a new DVD: Neil Young, Heart of Gold.
Nothing much has changed in his music since the Canadian troubadour started out alongside Stephen Stills in the Buffalo Springfield band 40 years ago. Amazingly, his trademark slightly nasal high-pitched and definitively emotive voice remains free of the pockmarks of time. That is even more remarkable considering the health problems and family tragedies Young experienced shortly before Heart of Gold was made.
The DVD, which comes replete with all sorts of tasty add-on interviews with people who have worked with Young for over 30 years, is quite simply a delight. The documentary is based on a concert Young gave in Nashville - a place with which the Canadian feels a particularly strong affinity - in 2004. There is an overriding sense of intimacy about the film, and Young and some of the other interviewees talk openly about their relationships with each other. Some also talk about the surgery Young had for a brain aneurysm just a few months earlier.
Heart of Gold is evidently a labor of love for director Jonathan Demme, who went from indie gems such as Citizen's Band and Melvin and Howard to mainstream hits Silence of the Lambs and Philadelphia. Considering his credentials, Demme's reverence for Young is all the more impressive; he even goes so far as to call him "a magician."
At times Young seems a little fragile, and sometimes surly and defensive. This, naturally, meant that Demme and his crew had to feel their way through their work with consummate caution.
However, Young warms to the project and the presence of the cameras as the film, and the concert, progress. His expression gradually transmutes from a sort of "hands off" inscrutability to the warmest and most welcoming of smiles.
At the end of the day, of course, what we really want to hear is the music, and that is both plentiful and a joy to be heard. The over-45s who still dig Young's early solo albums, such as Harvest and After the Gold Rush, will revel in the numbers he and an excellent supporting cast - including the likes of country singer Emmylou Harris - perform.
While Neil Young: Heart of Gold is obviously a tribute to Young rather than an exhaustive critique of the man and his work, there is nothing sycophantic about the end product. Young, it seems, has a heart of gold.
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