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‘Neil Young’s Greendale’ as Graphic Novel

Music legend’s masterpiece continues to morph

Aug. 31, 2010
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The graphic novel based on Neil Young’s Greendale(published by Vertigo) is the illustrated version, replete with variant narrative, of the original. But what exactly is the “original” when it comes to this work?

Is it the live concert series? The DVD? The theater movie? The novel? The first and second CD editions? The website? With the totality of Greendale, we have the mass destruction of the album, but also its re-integration into other mediums. While there certainly is an album (or two), there is also an artistic process that both deconstructs and reconstructs the concept of a body of songs that make sense together.

It’s all the same story, with or without the music, or the visuals, but now we have Young guiding three artists (Joshua Dysart, Cliff Chiang, Dave Stewart) into an illustrated comic book or graphic novel. It is the latter more than the former because of its length, perfect binding and hard cover. This is all about an exploration of form. In fact, the content is not at all complicated; however, the back story, a mysterious and hard-to-pin-down presence of the devil in a small town, is a page out of Nathaniel Hawthorne.

Were it not for such a brooding and malevolent presence, the division of Greendale into so many different mediums would not be possible. And it is here that Young joins an elite group of artists whose transformational art objects leap from one shape to another with ease. Embedded in matters that torture the American soul, the back story relates to William Carlos Williams’ “In the American Grain,” where for there to be change there must first be destruction, literally and figuratively.

In his introduction to the new book, Young writes: “Greendale is a nice town, but it has its quirks… There’s a lot going on in Greendale that I don’t know about either. Can you imagine? I mean, I made it up and I don’t know what the hell is goin’ on. So don’t feel bad if you feel a little out of it with this. No one really knows…” The work is not open to just any interpretation, but encompasses variant forms that serve as more of the same back story of a devil in our town who messes up the environment and takes away the quietude of home and family. Something’s up, but we never consciously know what’s going down.

Greendale seems almost without end, yet, do we have the uncanny finality of the album as immanent work of art or the beginning of its deconstruction into other idioms? The former certainly is the case within popular music, no doubt. The latter, though, and more than likely the case, is a brilliant chameleon enterprise by which Young keeps an album-as-art motive but destroys it by virtue of his own artistic vision, withholding the dissolution from the music industry marketers, the passionate fans who just want an anthem.

In this way, one more entry on the Greendale ledger puts Young decidedly in control of the loss of a rock album as an entity, and at once this meaning gains propitious strength. Greendale is the absence and presence of album as art, and this is no devilish detail. Behaving like an industry unto himself, Young never gives rust a chance to sleep. Greendaleis an astute, further awakening that the album is not dead—it is merely a changeling.


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