I was in Hollywood, California, last February to see Beck. Cindi was supposed to go with me, be we had a big argument and she changed her mind. I was glad she did.
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Beck's latest album, "Guero" (2005), was about to be released and he was doing one of his "secret shows" at the rickety old Henry Fonda Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard (the opening act was a very pretty and very untalented girl singer/songwriter called Cat Power). I arrived with time to spare, so I had a chance to walk around the devastation that is currently known as Hollywood. I bought a coffee at a pizza-joint at Hollywood & Vine, and took a look around.
Downtown Hollywood is truly a shocking site - and right in the middle of it all stands the Henry Fonda Theatre. This tiny little bombed out shell of a theatre was built in the 20's or 30's and features a broken-down balcony with uncomfortable wooden seats upstairs and a wide-open floor downstairs. Security was tight that night - cameras were not allowed (I wish I'd had the nerve to bring my little digital sound recorder - I could have sneaked it in as it turned out). Eventually I found my way inside and snagged a spot downstairs directly in front of the crowded elevated stage. The I made myself at home.
While the sellout crowd slowly drifted in they played Neil Young's album, "Harvest" (1972), in the background. And then they played it again and again. They played "Harvest" until the show began and then they played it as soon as the show was over. Beck is a fan-friend of Young's, and a couple of years ago be was invited to play at one of Neil's annual Bridge School benefits.
"Harvest" is Neil Young's biggest selling album, and it includes his bigggest top-40 single, "Heart of Gold." I suppose that if I had to select a favorite record it would be "Heart of Gold." I have some "sign-post-songs" in my life - songs that remind me of different things - and "Heart of Gold" is one of those songs. It reminds me me of a time when the color of the sun was more mellow. It's a great song.
Shortly after the success of "Heart of Gold," Neil wrote the famous quote: "This song put me in the middle of the road. Traveling there soon became a bore so I headed for the ditch. A rougher ride, but I saw more interesting people there."
And now Neil's got a brand new album out - "Prairie Wind" (2005). 10 new songs recorded with a bunch of the same fellows that he recorded "Harvest" with back in 1971. But on "Prairie Wind," Neil tends to sound a little tired, and the songs all sound...well, the same (however, repeated listening has softened my view about that somewhat). But let's give the man his due - Neil turns 60 on November 12 and earlier this year he survived a brain aneurysm.
Just as recording was getting underway in Nashville, Young experienced a "visual event" - he awoke one morning and was unable to focus his eyes. His condition was diagnosed as a brain aneurysm and it was surgically removed. Young eventually recovered and finished work on the album.
His last release was the much ballyhooed movie-play-CD-DVD, "Greendale" (2003).
A special edition of "Prairie Wind" features a DVD which documents the song-by-song making of the record. For many fans the DVD alone will be worth the price of the album (it's excellent). My favorite songs are "No Wonder," "It's a Dream," and "This Old Guitar" (with special guest Emmylou Harris).
"Prairie Wind" receives 7 out of 10.
a review of Beck's "Guero" also appears in this forum. j.jd.