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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Neil Young: Heart of Gold

Neil Young lets it out onstage
Neil Young lets it out onstage

Heart of Gold is a memorable performance that seduces the viewer into Neil Young’s world. It was directed by Jonathon Demmes, who directed the classic Talking Heads concert video, Stop Making Sense, and the major motion picture Silence of the Lambs. The film is similar to viewing a real concert and the sound is incredible. Everybody on stage is focused on collaborating with one another. The line up ranges from Ben Keith on the pedal steel guitar to singers Emmylou Harris and Neil’s wife Peggy Young. Also on some songs Neil arranged a string section and choir. All the performers contribute their unique talents, but what stands out is Ben Keith’s performance on the pedal steel guitar, which adds to the western sound.

What is also striking about this film is that before he sings, Neil gives back-stories to the songs. Before “This Old Guitar” Neil mentions the story of how he got Hank Williams’ guitar and brought it back to the same place it had been played many years ago. Before “Don’t Let it Bring You Down,” Neil recollects a time when he was a rich hippie and bought a ranch from an old man. These stories are intriguing because they don’t leave you guessing about the lyrics.

Most of the concert is from Neil’s new album Prairie Wind, but he plays classics too, such as “Harvest Moon” and of course “Heart of Gold.” On the film’s website Neil says that Prarie Wind reflects a feeling of, “Families. History. A state of the soul.” In one song he shows a strong bond with his father; he mentions his dad getting dementia and how hard it was for him. Neil sings, “Bury me out on the prairie, Where the buffalo used to roam, You won’t have to shed a tear for me, ’cause then I won’t be far from home.” This shows a strong sense of unity with both his dad and his country. Other lyrics are reminiscent of old times and seem to carry meaning both on the surface and philosophically.

Prior to the filming of this movie Neil discovered he had a brain aneurysm. A band member said that this concert was what Neil wanted to say when his life flashed before his eyes. This film is not a summary of Young’s life, but rather a film expressing something that has been a theme throughout his music. The music is nostalgic while at the same time producing something new. It is filled with heart and brings you to a place you don’t want to come back from.

There are no camera tricks, and no spinning lights, which makes the viewer more in touch with the music. The shot is very straight forward and the audience never appears in the film making the experience more real. Neil moves from playing the guitar to the piano, and banjo. In the last few songs everybody is included with about ten people on guitar and even more singers. The last performances are as memorable as the first ones. The film ends with a great sequence of Neil playing, and then packing up his guitar methodically. It leaves you in awe. This man and this guitar have just spoken a message.