|Photo by Debra Di Paolo|
Neil Youngs Greendale is the veteran rock mans third ramble into the realm of film as director Bernard Shakey, following 1979s fictionalized tour documentary Rust Never Sleeps and 1995s surreal comedy Human Highway, written and co-directed by Dean Stockwell and featuring the guys from Devo. The low-budget Greendale, shot and scored entirely by Young himself, tells the tale of the tight-knit but unraveling Green family, who live in a small town somewhere in rural America. (It was shot in and around Half Moon Bay, just south of San Francisco.) The Greendale project has been presented in several forms: as a live theatrical event; an audio disc recorded with his band, Crazy Horse, and released with a DVD of Young performing the piece solo in Dublin; a book; a DVD that includes a Green family tree and much background information on the storys central characters; and now a film, opening in theaters this week. Each facet of the mosaic, as Young calls it, contains elements not found in the others, so if you really want to know whats going on in Greendale, youll need to experience it in more ways than one. But even then you might not get the whole picture. Thats because Young himself doesnt know what Greendale represents hes making the thing up as he goes along, and hes as curious as you are about how its going to end.
Young grew up in a Toronto. His father was a writer. One day Young asked his father what he was going to write, and his father said that he wouldnt know until hed finished writing it. Youngs similar, intuitive approach to developing the Greendale story isnt all that different from the way hes always developed his ideas, which is by feeling his way into things; he uses his emotional reactions as his guide. Thats the way I like to do it, he says. It doesnt always work that way, but most of the time.
L.A. WEEKLY: Greendale is, in part, about corruption, a corruption thats both micro and macro, back and forth, between small-town life, family life, and the world at large big business and government, environmental disasters, religious wars. You seem to say that corruption begins at home, but that the fish rots from the head down.
NEIL YOUNG: I think a lot of people feel that way. Its pretty obvious that somethings happening. The fact is that things happen that seem to be covered up, but you can see right through it. People dont trust the information theyre getting because it looks like it came out of Madison Avenue, or something selling the war, selling this and that. Everything looks like a commercial they get up there and talk about how theyre saving trees by taking some of the trees out so that the other ones can be safe from fire, and when Joe Blow on the street reads it, he thinks, Oh great, theyre saving the forests or whatever. And then you go, But I know whats going on, I think I know whats going on, I think its a payoff to the lumber industry. Youre being told that theyre going to revitalize the economy by selling out the wilderness. You know, whatever youre going to do has a business-corporate kind of an angle to it, and its being sold as something else to Joe Blow on the street. On the other hand, theres all these other people who are going, Yeah, what a great idea, were going to save the forest and were gonna make money at the same time, were gonna fix the economy, this is great.
Was there a specific incident that triggered the impulse to make this film? Did the war in Iraq enter into it, or something of that nature?
No, were talking mostly about human things, about things that are more personal. My father-in-law passed away a couple of years ago, and my son was married on the same day, and you know, I really loved my father-in-law and, obviously, love my son, so there was something happening there that just got some kind of thing going. And then shortly after that, in August of 2002, I started recording Greendale. But I didnt know it was Greendale at the time. We had decided we were going to get together and write some songs and record them, just like we always do. So I wrote one song and recorded it, and then I finished another one and we recorded that, and after the third one it was obvious that there was a story and there were characters, which was different Id had songs with stories and characters in them before, but Id never had a series of songs where they continue like chapters. And I could see that developing.