The photo on the back sleeve cover of Harvest is full of symbolism. Four musicians playing in a barn. Four musicians sitting with their instruments – drums, pedal steel, piano and bass – looking fearfully and expectantly at a 25-year-old man, the only band member who is standing, side-on, facing his colleagues, in a flannel shirt with long, dark hair obscuring his face: Neil Young. He is suffering from severe back pain, accentuated by the weight of a huge, white Gretsch electric guitar. The scene was set on the $500,000 (€440,000) ranch Young had bought with the money he had made after founding the band Buffalo Springfield, taking part in the super-group Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young and releasing three solo releases. He is an idealist coming to terms with his failure to be a bone fide hippy, adapting to his new status as a rich musician. The song being recorded in the barn was to be included on Harvest, Young’s most famous and biggest-selling record, an album that took a year to cut due to a pause so he could undergo surgery, a wonderfully disjointed record that was recorded in four different parts of the world, a masterpiece that 50 years later still sounds vigorous and exciting.
In 1972, Neil Young was in love with the Californian actress Carrie Snodgress. He had seen her in a movie, Diary of a Mad Housewife (1970), which earned Snodgress a Best Actress Oscar nomination and two Golden Globes. Using his status as a rising rock star, Young arranged for a note to be left in Snodgress’ dressing room while she was performing in a play in Los Angeles. It simply read: “Call Neil Young,” with a number. The actress, more in tune with Hollywood than the rock scene, had no idea who Young was. But she called anyway. They formed a powerful partnership: the rocker and the Hollywood star, lanky, scruffy, hippies with a healthy bank balance.
She moved to the ranch recently acquired by Young. In September 1972, they had a son, Zeke, who suffered from cerebral palsy. Snodgress dedicated her heart and soul to him and shelved her career. Young’s love for Snodgress and Zeke inspired two songs, Heart of Gold, his only US number one, and A Man Needs a Maid. But Harvest proved to be a torturous recording, taking almost a year from January to October, 1971. The main reason was Young’s surgery, after he had injured his back moving planks of wood on the ranch. He tried to correct the problem with a corset he wore for several months, but eventually opted to go under the knife.
Harvest’s sense of stylistic chaos is due to it being recorded in four different places: Nashville, London, Young’s California ranch and during a live concert in Los Angeles. Young had headed to Nashville to appear on The Johnny Cash Show. Always impulsive, he told music producer Elliot Mazer that he had some new songs and only needed a band to record them. Mazer found drummer Kenny Buttrey, bassist Tim Drummond and steel-guitarist Ben Keith, who would go on to form Young’s backing group, The Stray Gators. Pianist and composer Jack Nitzsche also came aboard and Keith would go on to play with Young for 37 years, until his death in 2010. The Nashville sessions reaped the gentle rock-country songs Out On The Weekend, Harvest and Heart of Gold.
“The bad time he was having of it because of the back pain and the mood swings, mainly because of the medication, meant that everyone kept their distance,” Mazer recalled in Shakey, Jimmy McDonough’s exhaustive biography of Young. Enigmatic and ruthless when dishing out emotions, Young sowed chaos with his tactics. “Neil showed the band the songs at the last minute. There was no time to rehearse. The band didn’t know the songs until the moment came to record them,” wrote McDonough. While filming The Johnny Cash Show, Young asked fellow guests singers James Taylor and Linda Ronstadt for some backing vocals. Taylor picked up Young’s banjo guitar, an instrument he had never before played in his life, and picked out a few harmonies for Old Man. That was how improvised everything was.
The songs Alabama and Words were recorded at Young’s ranch, with vocals from Crosby, Stills and Nash. They are songs that would have gone down well with Crazy Horse, the band that had worked with Young on the albums Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere (1969) and After The Gold Rush (1970), and who Young was still friendly with, although he preferred The Stray Gators.
The two songs recorded in London, A Man Needs a Maid and There’s a World, were embellished by Nitzsche’s production and the London Symphony Orchestra and sound as though they were designed for a movie soundtrack. The fourth location, Royce Hall, an auditorium on the campus of the University of California, witnessed the recording of one of Young’s most charismatic creations, The Needle and the Damage Done, one of the first songs to ever address heroin addiction so explicitly and which foreshadowed the death of Crazy Horse guitarist Danny Whitten, who overdosed in November 1972 at the age of 29.
The subject matter of Harvest is painful even though Young was in love. The singer assumes that nothing lasts forever and sentimental injuries will appear along the way. On Heart of Gold, he says he is “searching… for a heart of gold” and that he is “getting old,” a sort of lyrical self-flagellation because he believes he will never be able to offer all the love another person requires. On Old Man, he confronts his own paradox in a song dedicated to the foreman on his ranch: unlike his employee, the singer is twenty-something and rich, but always in search of comfort: “Old man, take a look at my life, I’m a lot like you. I need someone to love me the whole day through.”
In 1975, Young and Snodgress separated. She had left her acting career behind to care for Zeke but Young continued to achieve success in an industry he is still active in. But he has never again reaped a triumph to match Harvest.
U2 concert uses stunning visuals to open massive Sphere venue in Las Vegas | Culture
It looked like a typical U2 outdoor concert: Two helicopters zoomed through the starlit sky before producing spotlights over a Las Vegas desert and frontman Bono, who kneeled to ground while singing the band’s 2004 hit “Vertigo.”
This scene may seem customary, but the visuals were created by floor-to-ceiling graphics inside the immersive Sphere. It was one of the several impressive moments during U2′s “UV Achtung Baby” residency launch show at the high-tech, globe-shaped venue, which opened for the first time Friday night.
The legendary rock band, which has won 22 Grammys, performed for two hours inside the massive, state-of-the-art spherical venue with crystal-clear audio. Throughout the night, there were a plethora of attractive visuals — including kaleidoscope images, a burning flag and Las Vegas’ skyline, taking the more than 18,000 attendees on U2′s epic musical journey.
“What a fancy pad,” said Bono, who was accompanied onstage with guitarists The Edge and Adam Clayton along with drummer Bram van den Berg. He then stared at the high-resolution LED screen that projected a larger version of himself along with a few praying hands and bells.
Bono then paid homage to the late Elvis Presley, who was a Las Vegas entertainment staple. The band has rocked in the city as far back as 1987 when they filmed the music video for “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” on the Strip during a tour in 1987.
“Look at all this stuff. … Elvis has definitely not left this building,” he continued. “It’s an Elvis chapel. It’s an Elvis cathedral. Tonight, the entry into this cathedral is a password: flirtation.”
U2 made their presence felt at the $2.3 billion Sphere, which stands 366-feet (111 meters) high and 516-feet (157 meters) wide. With the superb visual effects, the band’s 25-show residency opened with a splash performing a slew of hits including “Mysterious Ways,” “Zoo Station,” “All I Want is You,” “Desire” and new single “Atomic City.”
On many occasions, the U2 band members were so large on screen that it felt like Bono intimately sang to audience on one side while The Edge strummed his guitar to others.
The crowd included many entertainers and athletes: Oprah, LeBron James, Matt Damon, Andre Agassi, Ava DuVernay, Josh Duhamel, Jason Bateman, Jon Hamm, Bryan Crankston, Aaron Paul, Oscar de la Hoya, Henrik Lundqvist, Flava Flav, Diplo, Dakota Fanning, Orlando Bloom and Mario Lopez.
After wrapping up The Beatles’ jam “Love Me Do,” Bono recognized Paul McCartney, who was in attendance, saying “Macca is in the house tonight.” He acknowledged Sphere owner James Dolan’s efforts for spearheading a venue that’s pushing forward the live concert audio landscape with 160,000 thousands of high-quality speakers and 260 million video pixels.
The Sphere is the brainchild of Dolan, the executive chair of Madison Square Garden and owner of the New York Knicks and Rangers. He sketched the first drawing of venue on a notebook paper.
“I’m thinking the that the Sphere may have come into existence because of Jim Dolan trying to solve the problem that The Beatles started when they played Shea Stadium,” he said. “Nobody could hear you. You couldn’t hear yourselves. Well, the Sphere’s here. … Can you hear us?”
Bono pointed into crowd and shouted out Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg and Jimmy Iovine – who took in the band’s spectacular show. At one point, Bono became emotional when he dedicated a song to the late Jimmy Buffett’s family who attended the concert too.
Afterwards, Bono spoke about performing on stage for the first time without drummer Larry Mullen Jr., who is recovering from back surgery. He acknowledged Dutch drummer Bram van den Berg’s birthday and and filling in for Mullen.
“I would like to introduce you to the only man who could stand, well, sit in his shoes,” said Bono, who walked toward Berg as some in the crowd began to sing “Happy Birthday.” He handed the microphone to Berg, who offered a few words.
“Let there be no mistake, there is only one Larry Mullen Jr,” Berg said.
As U2 wrapped up their show, a bright light shined from the ceiling and the massive screen began to fill with images of birds, insects and reptiles above a lake. The band closed its first Sphere concert with “Beautiful Day,” which one three Grammys in 2001.
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Star Wars: Whiny fans, nostalgia and streaming saturation: ‘Ahsoka’ and the most complicated moment of the ‘Star Wars’ universe | Culture
Satisfying the unrepentant, noisy, veteran fan, has become an insurmountable obstacle for the oldest money-making machine in cinema. Star Wars lives in constant fear of offending them. Their requests are long and obsessive. Don’t change the actors (better to rejuvenate them with artificial intelligence, instead – where will it end?), don’t alter the legacy of what they understand by “Jedi” and, above all, take note, don’t include too many women or racialized people. As everyone knows, there are only white men in this galaxy far, far away. This is ours and nobody else’s, those “true fans” seem to say.
That impossible balance between satisfying children (for whom Star Wars was always intended) as well as the most conservative followers has become a curse for Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy and the entire Disney factory. But there is a guy who has known how to ride the wave and make everyone happy. His name is Dave Filoni. In his hands, even the concept of once again passing the force to the proletariat that those followers criticized in Rian Johnson’s magnificent and vilified The Last Jedi is applauded. He does it again in Ahsoka, the epic Disney+ series in which Filoni resorts to the characters of his animated series to delve into a space odyssey that is more fantasy than science fiction. The series appeals to the nostalgia of those prequels with which George Lucas returned to the saga in 1999, but at the same time it rewrites the mythology and its rules.
A quick refresher: Ahsoka Tano is Anakin Skywalker’s padawan (Jedi apprentice) before the ill-fated hero became Darth Vader. This brave, wild teenager was created by Filoni and George Lucas in 2008 as an entry point for kids (especially girls) to the film and animated series The Clone Wars, an anthology of the conflict that overthrew the republic to give way to the empire. Lucas, thinking about his own daughters, wanted to appeal to the female audience whose interest Star Wars had not always caught. In the process, they gave depth and responsibility to Anakin (a Hayden Christensen today redeemed by nostalgia) in his passage to the dark side.
The critics first said that she was nothing but a half-naked girl designed to be adorable without much more depth, but, little by little, Ahsoka became the company’s newest toy (literally), a character that motivated women to join the club. Lucas was always clear that the secret was to convince the children, not so much the veterans. Girls around the world began to replicate her orange hue and alien pigtails, and her rebellious nature won over the fans – new and old – with a stroke of modernity. In the series, she even turned her back on the Jedi religion by throwing away her lightsaber and confronting them directly: you are a bunch of squares, you don’t understand the new times. Ahsoka was those new times, and her message was that the sect of monks was not as good as they thought they were. Thanks to her evolution, the young woman was already a Star Wars classic. Her story kept growing in books and comics.
But how come we knew nothing about her before that moment? Did she die in battle? That was out of the question due to her growing popularity, so Filoni created a strategy for her to join the rebellion, but always in the shadows. Her journey continued in the animated series Star Wars: Rebels as a veteran, less impulsive force, and the plots and relationships that became established there continue in the current live-action series (with the hero embodied by Rosario Dawson) after her encounters with the Mandalorian and Boba Fett. She is a modern-day Princess Mononoke, an unaffiliated Jedi Master. She is the perfect meeting point for the ocean of Disney+ content.
After paying homage to the western genre in The Mandalorian – also created by Filoni with Jon Favreau – Ahsoka’s own series explores the most magical side of the universe: flying whales that teleport, witches, prophecies, dreams of the afterlife and hero’s journeys. Doors that the franchise sometimes has had trouble opening, even if magic was one of the many pulp subgenre elements that Lucas put in the mix of his original idea.
That layer of fantasy is one of the breaking points within the canons. The other is the concept of the force. What are the Jedi? Are they born or made? That is one of the debates that the repudiated Rian Johnson film put on the table: not only a family can inherit the force, it can also arise in peasants and commoners, in people who learn it. Filoni has always had this in mind with Ahsoka, the most rebellious among those decimated samurai monks, who, as in the classic film Harakiri, hide questionable rules and commands under a veil of honorability. In her new mission, she takes her legacy one step further: we can all learn from the force, giving more power to the people and to learning than to consanguinity, she tells her apprentice, the true protagonist of the series.
This mentoring work will be key in an adventure triggered by something as simple as the search for the missing protagonist of Rebels. A small but crucial discursive break that preserves the spirit of what Lucas started in 1977. And, yes, all the protagonists are women again, just like the president of Lucasfilm. In that sense, it is not far from some of the deepest messages of Andor, the most revolutionary Star Wars series and the best work to come out of this universe in decades, one that was truly groundbreaking and that could not reach all the fans it deserved.
A franchise that lost its way
Meanwhile, Star Wars continues to put filmmakers through the meat grinder. Many creators have recently abandoned their projects, frustrated by the lack of development of their ideas: Guillermo del Toro, Taika Waititi, Damon Lindelof, Rian Johnson, Patty Jenkins, the Game of Thrones showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss… they are the creative corpses of a lost franchise that is not sure what its followers want in the theater and is saturated by the excessive costs of the series (it is estimated that Obi-Wan Kenobi cost about $90 million and Ahsoka more than $100), created to fill a streaming offer that does not yield the anticipated benefits. A product that does not convince neither children nor veterans.
Considering that excessiveness, Ahsoka is at least an entertaining, satisfying product (it never stops being a product, one that does not reach the levels of Andor or The Mandalorian). That is more than can be said for contents as emotionally and narratively empty as Obi-Wan Kenobi and Boba Fett, which rely on nostalgia, are structurally rotten and have no soul or entertainment value whatsoever. Unfortunately, the context will not make it easy for Ahsoka to capture anyone outside the die-hard fans. Perhaps the Hollywood strikes will be good for the empire. A much-needed pause to become culturally relevant again.
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Revitalizing Fall Cinema As New York Film Festival Takes Center Stage
By Cindy Porter
Hollywood’s luminaries have been notably absent from red carpets, leaving an air of dormancy since the heady days of Barbenheimer.
However, as the 61st New York Film Festival kicks off, there’s a palpable sense of awakening.
Labor disputes are inching toward resolution, hinting at a resurgence in the industry. Considering this, the festival promises to deliver an exceptional array of films, showcasing some of the year’s finest cinematic offerings.
The Festival Lineup
Dennis Lim, the festival’s artistic director, expresses optimism despite industry uncertainties, affirming that cinema’s vitality endures.
The opening night feature, Todd Haynes’ “May December” introduces a playful yet poignant narrative led by Natalie Portman, Julianne Moore, and Charles Melton. It sets the stage for a festival packed with noteworthy films.
Highlights at the Festival
Yorgos Lanthimos’ Venice sensation “Poor Things” starring Emma Stone, offers a compelling blend of wit and intrigue.
Sofia Coppola’s “Priscilla” with Cailee Spaeny portraying Priscilla Presley, promises to be a captivating exploration of a legendary figure’s life.
Bradley Cooper’s “Maestro” brings Leonard Bernstein’s story to life, adding another layer of significance to its North American premiere.
The festival’s closing feature, Michael Mann’s “Ferrari,” emerges as a masterpiece.
Starring Adam Driver as Enzo Ferrari, the film delves into a pivotal period in the auto maker’s life, culminating in the high-stakes Mille Miglia race.
Mann’s signature intensity permeates every frame, depicting the relentless pursuit of victory against the backdrop of impending peril.
Exploring Depth in Documentaries
The festival also showcases immersive documentaries, including Wang Bing’s “Youth (Spring)” Steve McQueen’s “Occupied City,” and Frederic Wiseman’s “Menus-Plaisirs Les Troisgros”.
These monumental works, clocking over 200 minutes each, delve into diverse realms, offering profound insights into the human experience.
Wang Bing’s “Youth (Spring)” unveils the lives of young migrant workers, toiling tirelessly in textile factories near Shanghai.
Their hands move with frenetic speed, a testament to the demands of their low-paying occupations.
Considering this, Wang delicately unravels their personal stories of love, heartbreak, and aspirations, painting a poignant portrait of resilience.
“All of Us Strangers”
Andrew Haigh’s “All of Us Strangers” unfolds within the confines of a near-empty apartment building. Andrew Scott’s portrayal of a screenwriter, Adam, embarks on a journey of self-discovery, triggered by an unexpected encounter with Harry (Paul Mescal). Through intimate dialogues, the film navigates the complexities of memory, companionship, and the power of storytelling.
The New York Film Festival shines a spotlight on films that transcend the boundaries of time and space.
Its dedication to authentic cinematic experiences, unburdened by distractions, reaffirms the enduring power of storytelling.
Films like “Janet Planet” by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Annie Baker transport audiences to specific moments in history, immersing them in a world where silence and nostalgia take center stage.
As the festival unfolds, it offers a resounding testament to the indomitable spirit of cinema.
We Can’t Thank You Enough For Your Support!
— By Cindy Porter
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