With a fresh crop of new Neil Young releases arriving in stores this month — including the MusiCares Tribute To Neil Young DVD collection and the 1985 concert recording A Treasure with the International Harvesters — this knockoff, straight-to-DVD style documentary is likely to get lost in the shuffle.
Even so, Here We Are In The Years: Neil Young’s Music Box is not without its merits.
Like most similarly unauthorized rock documentaries, Here We Are In The Years was made without the participation or endorsement of its subject, and features a round table of music writers and other geeky types offering up their critical assessments of the artists work. If you’ve ever come across any of those cheesy classic rock DVDs with titles like “A Critical Review” in the bargain section of your local music store — or worse yet, ever watched one — this will give you a pretty good idea of what to expect.
What sets Here We Are In The Years: Neil Young’s Music Box apart from the pack however, is its unique focus on a central theme — in this case, Neil Young’s musical influences, from surf and folk to punk and grunge. But what really saves this from being another 120 dull minutes on the couch with a bunch of annoying critics is the soundtrack.
The film makes generous use of Young’s music, including some fairly choice video performance clips. Drawn mainly from common sources like the Rust Never Sleeps film, many of these will of course already be familiar to Neil Young fans. But if you watch close enough, you’ll see that some are of a much rarer vintage.
In discussing Neil Young’s musical influences, the film often uses his own songs to punctuate the comparisons. When discussing folk guitarist Bert Jansch for example, the soundtrack features the great On The Beach track, “Ambulance Blues” (Young once claimed to have stolen the acoustic guitar melody from Jansch).
In another scene dealing with the Rolling Stones influence, Young’s “Borrowed Tune” (the title refers to his own borrowed use of the Stones’ “Lady Jane”), is given equally clever use. Scenes devoted to the impact of Kraftwerk on Young’s underrated 1983 Trans album, split footage from the now rare Live In Berlin concert video, with the original Kraut-rockers themselves. It’s a lot of fun to watch, and certainly more engaging than the canned music accompanying most of the other roc-doc knockoffs out there.
The geek squad of rock intelligentsia assembled for the project — including Rolling Stone’s Anthony DeCurtis — offer up the usual insightful analysis, along with the prerequisite spoonful of self-importance. These are, after all, rock critics. Fortunately, a healthy dose of Neil Young music makes that medicine go down much easier.