Rust Never Sleeps

Neil Young & Crazy Horse

Always one step ahead, Neil Young was one of the few musicians from the 60s who wholeheartedly embraced the spirit of punk and new wave of the late 70s. He had already begun dabbling in forms of recklessness on Zuma. By 1979, after a series of country-oriented collaborations, Young was ready to recharge his batteries with Crazy Horse in his corner. But a funny thing happened on the way to the studio. Young crossed paths with Devo, the robotic and industrial strength band leading the new wave brigade. It was from them that the Canadian folkster heard the phrase, "rust never sleeps." A light bulb flashed on, and Young started to conceptualize an idea, something that would embody the state of rock past and rock present -- a farce on the extravagances and absurdities of the entire game. It would become more than a song. Rust Never Sleeps followed as a stage show, morphed into an album, and ultimately became a film its maker called a "concert fantasy."

Directed by Bernard Shakey aka Neil Young, Rust Never Sleeps is a wonderful mess of a film that somehow lathers up its odd moments with surefire charm, comical interludes and mouthwatering music. The live performances, filmed on October 22, 1978 at the Cow Palace in San Francisco, are nothing short of miraculous — whether it's the stiff intimacy of Young and his acoustic guitar, or his turns at bat with Crazy Horse. In the midst of the actual show is all this other activity taking place. The "Road Eyes," as they are called, are members of Young's regular road crew with a twist — they operate with muted melodrama and "fervor and purpose" as they frantically scramble the stage dressed like hooded wookies. During the film's opening sequence, the "Road Eyes" struggle to raise a giant microphone as a cacophony of footsteps, Jimi Hendrix's "Star Spangled Banner" and the Beatles' "A Day In The Life" blares over the P.A. Once the stage is empty and overflowing with enlarged road cases, Young appears, kneeling on top of a gigantic amplifier and singing "Sugar Mountain." After he runs through endearing readings of "I Am Child," "Comes A Time" and "After The Goldrush," Young intones with dry and adolescent abandon: "When I get big I'm gonna get an electric guitar." It only gets weirder from there.

The newer songs are instant classics. "Hey Hey My My" (or "My My Hey Hey"), in its acoustic as well as its electrified guise, covers the range of rock from Elvis to Johnny Rotten, punctuated with the immortal lines: "It's better to burn out/Than to fade away..." Taking his cues from the punks of the day, Young brings out Crazy Horse for the debilitating "Welfare Mothers," a tribute to passionate divorcees. Following a Rust-O-Vision experiment gone wrong (it involved those flimsy 3D glasses you could get at 7-11), the band kick into another scathing rocker called "Sedan Delivery." The sea parts once they settle into the unequivocal "Powderfinger," a broad sweep of the Wild West that finds Young's darting guitar lines leaping over the rhythm with eccentric agility and grace. Once the band blast through "Cortez The Killer," "Cinnamon Girl" and "Like A Hurricane" (watching Frank "Poncho" Sampedro play a hanging keyboard resembling a feathered apparitiont while the "Road Eyes" clear the stage of a mysterious intruder is worth the price of admission), there's no doubt that Neil Young and Crazy Horse were (and remain) a crunching unit built to give any punker a run for his money. The DVD is bolstered by a host of extras including a photo gallery from the period and the original theatrical trailer. The sound has also been remastered without much fuss, but offered in both DTS Surround and Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround. Either way, Rust Never Sleeps is a must-see for anyone who is willing to discover how utterly ridiculous the whole rock and roll game can truly be.

~ Shawn Perry

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