Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Jim Jarmusch's Year of the Horse (1997)

Would it be blasphemous to suggest that Year of the Horse is better than Rust Never Sleeps? Neil Young may have been in his prime during the seventies, but Crazy Horse was just getting warmed up. It's true that they were a great band in the nineties. I was listening to Broken Arrow again, and it's interesting - it doesn't have the hooks that Ragged Glory has, but the instrumentation is top-notch.

Well, Jim Jarmusch (I love that he's a fan of Crazy Horse) has accomplished what he set out to do with Year of the Horse - that is, provide a snapshot of the band at that period in time. As bizarre as Rust Never Sleeps was, it was really just a concert video, but Year of the Horse takes a look behind the scenes, and examines the musicians as people, to show where that amazing music comes from. And it gives you newfound appreciation for Crazy Horse as a band, and not just Neil's backing (I love that Neil prefers it "Crazy Horse" rather than "Neil Young with Crazy Horse").

The pacing of the film is really good. Even with the most amazing bands playing the most amazing music, a straight concert film can start to drag on after awhile, as you sit listening to song after song after song. Year of the Horse alternates between showing songs, and delving into the background of the band, with interviews and archival footage. And the songs in this film sound fantastic - plus, they're even more effective because you get to see the band as they play them, and they're really into it. I love that they all huddle together in the middle of the stage instead of being spread out like other bands.

That actually comes up in the bonus interviews included with the film, which are both very enlightening. It's really neat to hear Neil talk about his longevity, and the formula he's used to keep from burning out. He's actively avoided superstar status, because he knows that reaching it is the cause for implosion. And that's why every time he starts to get big, he switches tracks and heads off in a different direction. So every time Neil puts out an incomprehensible record, and people complain about how he's not living up to his potential, and they want another Harvest, and all of that, Neil knows that he's just ensuring his lasting impact by preventing himself from getting too big.

Another thing they talk about in one of those interviews is how they achieved this one shot in the film, during the performance of Like A Hurricane. It opens with the 1996 performance, which was current, and filmed specifically for Year of the Horse, and then a little while after the verse starts, it switches over to a recording from 1976, completely seamlessly. While watching it, I thought to myself, my god that's amazing, it synchs up perfectly! The intro was clearly the later performance that you saw on screen, but the earlier footage was perfectly matched to the sound. I was just blown away, that the performance could be that consistent. But in the interview they reveal that they had switched the audio right before the verse starts, but they leave the visual on the later performance for awhile, before moving back to the earlier footage without changing the sound, and it makes for a remarkably seamless transition. I was really impressed.

Watching this film definitely gets me in the mood to see Crazy Horse live (again). We haven't had a good Crazy Horse record since Greendale (which is going on eight years now). I hope Neil doesn't think he's getting too old for the horse. It sure is an energetic gig, but if the Stones can keep on rocking at their age, it's got to be possible. Depending on Neil's health, of course. The band did say in the interviews that they would keep on rocking as long as they could, but I wonder if they still feel that way some fifteen or so years later.

1 comment:

  1. I have a good feeling about Crazy Horse touring this year. It's been about as long as Neil's EVER gone without the Horse. And serendipity has been ridiculously good to me lately, so... I'm thinkin' either me & MiranCoz will hook up or Crazy Horse will tour. ;)

    I think the 1997 tours are the best tours Neil's ever done. Although there are certainly contenders (TtN, Bluenotes, etc). But '97 is Crazy Horse in full Crazy Horse form, no pussyfooting around it. Weld may work as a better live record than YotH but YotH presents something that is, in my mind, more unique.

    Rust Never Sleeps really doesn't need to exist at all -- why do we need 3 versions of the same shit when we could have been given live stuff from the Zuma era?