(Hell freezes over, dog bites man, etc.--I have a review of Neil Young's new box set in this week's Eye. I only had 600 words to work with, so I submitted three versions-- short, medium, long--in the hopes that they'd go with the long version. No luck--the full version is below, the published version here.) If you’re about to shell out for Neil Young’s it’s-actually-here-for-real Archives, Vol. 1: 1963-1972--and forget slapdash affairs like Apocalypse Now (five years’ wait) or Chinese Democracy (15 years); the completion of Neil’s box falls somewhere between Truman Capote’s Answered Prayers (21 years) and Brian Wilson’s Smile (38 years)--here are a few numbers that may give you pause. Based on the nine discs com- mon to all three formats (the DVD/Blu-Ray versions take their first two discs to cover what the CD version covers in one), 89 of 116 songs (more or less--I counted fast) appear on either regular-issue Buffalo Springfield, CSNY, or Neil albums, or on readily available compilations like Decade or the Springfield box set. Many are technically new, it’s true--alternate takes, unreleased mixes, live versions, etc.--so this may be even more troubling: by my count, 33 of 116 appear exactly as they did on the original studio albums. Indeed, Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere and After the Gold Rush are disseminated virtually intact across the middle discs (“The Losing End” from Nowhere is all that’s missing), while about half of Harvest is here in its original form. A number of songs appear three times: not just masterpieces like “Sugar Mountain,” “Tell Me Why,” and “Cowgirl in the Sand,” but even the pleas- antly minor “Dance Dance Dance.” And, of course, two of Archive’s three live discs (Live at the Fillmore East and Live at Massey Hall) have already been released com- mercially. To be fair, ample warning was given at the time that they would eventually be part of the upcoming box set--here’s hoping that most Neil fans had the patience to hold off. So superfluity is one problem; for anyone considering the DVD package, there’s also the small matter of the visuals. Remember the old Replacements video for “Bas- tards of Young,” the one where the guy plunked himself in front of a TV for a single static shot that lasted the duration of the song? An inspired statement in 1985, one that was also very short and very free. Neil has taken the same idea and run with it for seven of Archive’s 10 discs (you get a photo collage of live stills on the Fill- more East disc): record players spinning around, reel-to-reel machines, even an 8- track player. Sometimes there’ll be a photo of Neil propped against the hardware. As with the Replacements, there’s a kind of perverse nobility on display, and, speaking purely as a grade 6 teacher, not feeling compelled to watch allowed me to listen from a different room and keep up with all my marking. If I had just handed over $250 for the experience, though, I suspect the unexpected convenience wouldn’t have seemed so swell. I really thought there’d be more in the way of archival footage. With so much anticipation, and such a prohibitive price tag attached, it’s impor- tant to state caveats up front. No surprise, though, that there’s enough here to jus- tify making the plunge anyway. First of all, almost half of Archives is drawn from the years 1969 and 1970; for me, Neil’s output during those 24 months (Everybody Knows, Gold Rush, “Helpless,” “Country Girl,” and “Ohio”) is matched only by what the Beatles and Dylan put out in ‘65/66. So a lot of what’s here is sacred text, and the Massey Hall and Fillmore discs take you to the very epicenter of that singular moment of genius and mystery and vision. (Massey Hall also consists of actual concert footage, although everything’s so spectral and murky, I’m not yet convinced it all wasn’t con- cocted in the lab.) The first two Early Years discs contain important work that has either only circulated on bootleg or has never appeared anywhere: Link Wray-ish in- strumentals from ’63 with the Squires, a couple of great pre-Springfield folk duets with Connie Smith (“There Goes My Babe” and “Runaround Babe”), and a beautiful Spring- field instrumental called “Slowly Burning.” An impressive booklet is included, last year’s Canterbury House CD/DVD is thrown in, there’s a download card that will access mp3s of the entire box, and hidden tracks abound throughout. Some are so well hidden I haven’t yet found them, but to make up for it, I’m stumbling over hidden hidden tracks that aren’t even listed: clips of CSNY doing “Down by the River” on a Shindig!-type show in 1969 (hosted by David Steinberg!), Neil running through a “Loner”/“Cinnamon Girl” medley inside a small club in 1970 (segueing to a Madison Square Garden clip, segueing to Neil in Washington Square teaching some guy how to play “Cinnamon Girl”-- “just stay modal...”), Neil and Ben Keith in 1972 goofing through “Gator Stomp.” There are two versions of “Bad Fog of Loneliness,” a Harvest-era classic, and some amazing bridges across time are revealed: 1964’s “I Wonder” is clearly the blueprint for Zu- ma’s “Don’t Cry No Tears,” and I was surprised how much I liked 1971’s “War Song,” a collaboration with Graham Nash, until I realized it was basically “Ocean Girl” (my favourite unknown Neil song) with different words. Best of all, you get the first DVD appearance of Neil’s directorial debut, Jour- ney Through the Past, an infamous 1974 vanity project that precedes Dylan’s Renaldo & Clara by four years. I loved it. It’s a mix of awesome live footage (“Rock and Roll Woman” from the Springfield--wow); Carrie Snodgrass looking on lovingly while Neil rolls a joint the size of Manitoba (actually, coming so close on the heels of Snod- grass’s affecting performance in Diary of a Mad Housewife, I found that clip kind of sad); an absolutely impenetrable Last Movie/El Topo storyline in which a bearded guy...well...he walks around a lot, until some hooded horsemen and a matronly old lady arrive at the end; and, at last, the answer to why C, S & Y needed the chirpy Englishman around--absent him, the other three’s heads would have exploded from hav- ing no one to listen to except each other. I wish I had room enough* to convey how meaningful Neil Young has been to my own life, an attachment that goes back to high school in the mid ’70s. Part of it, I think, is a shared obsession with the past: starting as early as “On the Way Home” and “Sugar Mountain,” Neil has been looking over his shoulder since almost day one. Much as Decade was 30 years ago, Archives is the culmination of that side of him (the latest installment, anyway; more boxes are scheduled), and, faults and all, it chronicles an obsession well worth excavating. *(Obviously I have all the room in the world in this setting, but I've written a lot about Neil's importance to me elsewhere--in the record inventory and the piece on cover versions, especially--so I won't repeat all of that here.)

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