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In the opening song on Neil Young’s Greendale album, a tune called “Falling from Above”, Grandpa says to Cousin Jed, “Seems like that guy singin’ this song ‘been doin’ it a long time. Is there anything he knows that he ain’t said?”
Indeed, Neil Young’s been doing his thing for around forty-five years now, and in a world of disposable pop stars, that sort of career is almost unheard of. What keeps Neil Young vital and, more importantly, what keeps him relevant is something that I think we could all learn from. The guy does what he wants to do how he wants to do it, not giving a good God damn about what anybody else thinks. And, okay, it helps that he’s damn good at just about every thing he does. But rather than following a trend or trying to earn the maximum payout, Neil Young just keeps doing his thing (sponsored by no one), going where his mind takes him. And people keep following along.
I bought the Greendale album the day it was released in 2003, not knowing exactly what to expect. I had read that it was a “concept” album, which gave me flashbacks to Trans, the oddity in his catalog that involved using a vocoder on his vocals so his son, who has cerebral palsy, could hear him better. But no, Greendale, as it turned out, was an album telling a story of a multigenerational family called the Greens, who lived in the small town of Greendale, CA. At the center of the story is the young daughter Sun Green and her cousin, Jed Green, two kids who are around the same age and whose lives are going in very different directions. Grandpa figures prominently, as does the side story of Officer Carmichael. While there’s a fairly clear narrative present in the music alone, the accompanying DVD and booklet (complete with notes from Young himself), really flesh out the goings on.
But Greendale isn’t just a simple tale of an American family whose lives are overturned. The story is also infused with what more cynical folks might refer to as “idealistic, hippy, tree-hugging propaganda”; a sentiment that I do not share, but can easily see. And remember, the album was made at the outset of the Iraq war (of which we’re celebrating the seventh anniversary. Go America!), so there’s a strong anti-War message in there as well. But really, would you expect anything else from the guy who wrote Ohio? So if you have strong feelings on the “other” side of the issues, you may want to pick up this album instead.
Okay, so now you’re up to speed and you know what the album’s all about. What about the graphic novel? As you’d guess, this book includes all sorts of details and fills in the story much more than did the album, which is a scary proposition is you’re a big fan of Young’s original work. Fortunately, he collaborated with the folks at Vertigo/DC, giving his approval and insights along the way. And thanks to the medium, you’re able to more clearly discover out what drove Jed to his pivotal moment and the learn the mystery behind Sun’s “gift”. In addition, you get the complete Green family tree and the history of nearly all the family members. Cliff Chiang (the guy behind Human Target, Green Arrow & Black Canary, and various Batman titles) draws the world of Greendale wonderfully (and almost exactly as I pictured it), and Joshua Dysart takes Young’s story and fills in the blanks in a tasteful way, including many lines straight out of the album.
Young already turned Greendale in to a feature film, and Hilden and I saw the live Greendale show when Young brought it to town. But, to me, this book is almost an essential companion piece to the album and is definitely worth owning. Again, the artwork is beautiful, the storytelling is mysterious, and the book itself is a nicely-crafted hardcover, which sells for $19.99, though Amazon’s got it for around $14.