Thursday, April 16, 2009

GMVW # 67: "Can Guitars Sweat? Check!"

Gem Music Video of the Week # 67:  Can Guitars Sweat?  Check!
Song:  Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black) by Neil Young
(Songwriter: Neil Young)
April 16, 2009

Following on the themes for Gem’s 15 (bass guitar) and 39 (lead vocal), this week’s Gem is a tribute to the lead guitar.  The first images that come to mind are Hendrix playing ‘The Star Spangled Banner’ at Woodstock; an old Rolling Stone magazine cover photo of Pete Townshend holding the neck of a guitar over his head with the caption “This guitar has seconds to live”;  Chuck Berry’s duck walk.

Anyone who has enjoyed Rock, Blues, or Jazz music likely has at least a few favorite guitar licks.  Here are several of my mine:  Mick Taylor’s lead guitar playing on the instrumental portion of the Rolling Stones ‘Can’t You Hear Me Knocking’; Dicky Bett’s work on the Allman Brothers ‘Ramblin Man’; Mark Knopfler on the Dire Straits live ‘Alchemy’ version of ‘Sultan’s of Swing’; Townshend’s licks on ‘Slip Kid’, ‘Guitar and Pen’ and the live Woodstock version of ‘See Me, Feel Me’; Mick Ronson on Dylan’s live ‘Hard Rain’ album (particularly ‘Maggie’s Farm’); Dave Gilmour on ‘Shine on You Crazy Diamond’; Peter Buck on the entire ‘Monster’ album; Johnny Winter’s rendition of ‘Highway 61’. I’m sure I’ve missed a few hundred.

Lead guitar is best when it is played live, and as concert events that I have had the opportunity to witness go, no guitar playing hit me quite as hard as Neil Young’s, especially with Crazy Horse.   It was an intense experience to attend these shows, because Young took many of his songs to the edge of exhaustion.  Just when you thought he was ready to wind down and regroup for another song, he would kick into a gear that you would not think possible.  Then, he would shift into yet another gear beyond that.  Crazy Horse backed him up dutifully, always ready to follow him to wherever it was he was heading. 

Neil Young has had quite a unique career.  When Crosby, Stills and Nash took him into the fold as a fourth member, Neil refused to give up on his other musical ambitions.  This is a bit different from the likes of Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck, who would cut ties entirely with one band when they joined another.  I recently read that Crosby was upset about Young’s stance.  He wanted Neil Young to focus his creative energies on CSNY, and was not all that enamored by Young’s principle alternative, Crazy Horse.  But Neil Young knew that CSNY was restrictive to his guitar playing ambitions.  He needed Crazy Horse to broaden that aspect of his skills.  His decision to always leave his options open has played out brilliantly over the course of his career. 

Neil Young has continually balanced his on-the-edge approach to live performance with a respect for the rock music that he knows he represents on stage.   The guitar playing and lyrics in this week’s Gem Video ‘Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)’ showcase this balance.  In this particular video performance, Young is not playing with Crazy Horse, but the band that backs him (yet another one of his incarnations) is just as ready to follow his lead.  I could have chosen the Crazy Horse version of this song on YouTube (‘Live Rust’), but I think this is even better. 

For whatever reason, when compiling this week’s email and viewing the Gem, I was reminded of old friend Jeff Dangelo.  Jeff was always the daredevil in the neighborhood growing up, always willing to push the envelope. He set up bike ramps for death-defying jumps that no one else would dare, took on different personas (‘Joe Cool’ in his younger days, ‘Pizarro’ later), and smoked cigarettes in second grade. Jeff also loved Rock music (particularly Led Zeppelin), played drums, and opened doors for me beyond the Beatles. Yet Jeff also had a respect for others that betrayed his rebel image.  He was genuinely polite with parental figures and was strong in his faith (for a teenager, which is when I knew him).  I chalk him up as an inspirational figure in my life. He moved to Alaska at the end of high school and we eventually lost touch.  Wherever he is now (likely Miami), I wish him well. 

Of the many songs that Neil Young took to the edge and back, several that stood out (aside from this week’s Gem) were ‘Powderfinger’ and ‘Cortez the Killer’.  I was reminded of Conquistador Cortez this past week when Boston University won the NCAA Hockey Championship.  Their motto all year was “Burn the Boats!” in reference to Cortez’s order to his men to burn their own boats, forcing them to the realization that they could only return to the main ship in the boats of their enemies, whom they were about to confront.  They then sacked Montezuma’s relatively peaceful Aztec Nation for their gold.  Not to take away from BU’s championship, but I found the reference a bit off color.   I believe Neil Young would agree.  I’m not sure about Jeff, as Conquistador Pizarro has an equally brutal reputation in his treatment of Central/South American Native Americans.  Then again, I’m sure it was the name more than the reputation that intrigued Jeff to adopt the nickname in his early teen years.  ** A music history reference: ‘Cortez the Killer’ was banned in Spain throughout Francisco Franco’s regime (who, by all accounts, is still dead!).  **

Hopefully, you get a little air guitar out of this one.

- Pete

Gem Music Video: Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black) (This link has been temporarily lost)


About the Video:  Part of this video aired at the end of the “Rolling Stone (magazine) XX: 20 Years of Rock and Roll” video. 

Video Rating: 1

Best Feedback: Fred


Another true Gem!.

Humpy says there is a Neil Young imitation band (Crazy Horse?) playing at
Patriots Place in May.  I would love to see them.

And Steve:

Hi Pete;

Neil Young is playing in Edmonton next Thursday. Never seen him live. Maybe I should go eh?

Great write up as usual.


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