I’ve watched a lot of music films – concert films, docos – those unauthorised bios. If it’s music-related I tend to get to it. But I love seeing a great music doco at the cinema and early one Saturday morning many years ago I trotted on down to that glorious big screen of The Embassy to see Year of the Horse. I was already a Neil Young fan. Of course. I was already a Crazy Horse fan – in fact, I pretty much got to being a Neil Young fan through his work with Crazy Horse first and foremost. I mean I knew Heart of Gold and Harvest and knew what he was about and I saw him nailing out the acoustic version of Keep On Rockin’ In The Free World at some Free Mandela show. But that only made me want to go out and get the latest thing by Neil Young and Crazy Horse. A review in Guitar World tipped me to Ragged Glory. And if I have to pick a favourite Neil/Horse album then it’s that. And it’s always what I go to when I want to get back on the horse, so to speak. Time away from listening to Neil Young is always remedied with a shot of ol’ Ragged Glory.
But I was such a Neil Young fan by the time this movie – Year of the Horse – was released that I was all over that Broken Arrow album. A lot of people forget about that, or just didn’t bother, and yes it’s not strictly essential but the best bits on that album – the opening brace and a couple of others – quality shit man. Perfect. And so you get that with this concert-film – well, it’s part concert-film and part doco. It’s never quite a full concert-film and it isn’t quite a documentary. It exists in its own space somewhere in the middle. And that’s great because that’s where Crazy Horse likes to hang. That drummer with his trainer wheels, that bass player with his raspy voice howlin’ and screamin’ BVs and prodding down hard and lumbering-like at that bass. A guitarist named “Poncho”. Looks like a B-movie guy’s stunt-double. And Neil with that slow-motion bounce as he violates that black guitar. Looks like he’s surfing some wave as he plays, riding on that electricity.
Jim Jarmusch had made Dead Man in 1995 and a big part of that film’s appeal was Neil Young’s score. Then Jarmusch headed out on the road with Crazy Horse and captured bits and pieces, tying it all together – loosely, natch – into this film. He uses black and white and presents footage in a collage of 8mm, 16mm and hand-held black and white. The effect is of a fan-compiled bootleg, which, in essence, is precisely what it is. All four members of Crazy Horse (a band that Young insists he is part of as opposed to being the front man) talk of the energy that is achieved and realised when they make music together. Jarmusch wisely assesses that he should then let the music do the talking. As he is also an avid fan of the band that is exactly what he does. Interpolating archival footage from 1976 and 1986 with the major year of study, 1996, Jarmusch lets the band pose in a stylish self-portrait, with his delicate brush strokes highlighting intensity and adding emphasis only when needed.
Young’s fans are treated to full versions of old and new songs concluding with the monolithic Like a Hurricane. In between songs the audience is treated to backstage fights, astute comments from Young’s dad, Scott, a writer, and there’s a particularly amusing tour bus ride featuring the filmmaker reading biblical passages for Young’s ad-libs and chuckling dissection.
I was there in that cinema watching this around 10am one Saturday morning. Just me and my hangover. It was perfect.
I stepped out into the lunchtime busyness straight afters and I couldn’t give a fuck about the world. I’d just seen Neil Young chopping down on chords and nailing up solos that were shrieking, hanging them out to dry. It was a beautiful thing.
The DVD was watched so many times after. In student flats, on weekends too. Stoned or waking up from some fever-dream. Time to kill? You killed that time with Neil and his gang.
You’re probably supposed to say that Rust Never Sleeps is the one – but not for me. For me it’s Year of the Horse. Probably because it was a soundtrack to my life at that time. I walked places with a discman listening to Ragged Glory or Broken Arrow or the Dead Man soundtrack. I drove around with my tape of the double-live Weld tour and that Decade comp. I played Neil Young and Crazy Horse constantly. Zuma. Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere. Fuck, even that pretty awful Life album. I found Crazy Horse’s album they cut without Neil. Well, he’s there, but you know – he’s not on the banner. That sleepy, lovely original version of I Don’t Want To Talk About It. Ry Cooder lending a hand.
The other day I was writing about something on my blog and talking about Neil Young – and some idiot said they were disappointed with last year’s Neil Young concert, because he played only his “grunge-era” stuff. Fucking hell. I had to bite. Had to say that it was NOT a Neil Young concert. It was a Neil Young & Crazy Horse concert. A different thing altogether.
I kinda got wound up by that.
Year of the Horse is such a sloppy mess. A beautiful mess. To me it’s the perfect document of celebration for this band. It’s like Neil Young escapes being Neil Young by going off and being Neil Young & Crazy Horse. It’s like when he’s Neil Young & Crazy Horse that’s pretty much the damned essence of him being Neil Young.
Fucking love this film.
Click here to watch ‘Slip Away’ from the movie