Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Grand Opera, Gospel and FRED NEIL

photograph by Mort Shuman
Many types of music claim universality beyond their abstract presentations, but unless one is culturally attuned, enjoyment of same omits its intentions. Some indigenous peoples' drum music carries great meaning to them: the rest of us just intrinsically appreciate the expressive percussion for what it is. Grand Opera in languages other than one's own generally holds its own as narrative because all its myriad components from set decor to soloists try SO very hard for it to work as such.

However, sometimes an art form really does deliver specifics. African-American Gospel music really does uplift one by its very form (generally chorales with an incendiary lead vocalist, all together as one in escalating crescendo towards a glorious finale together, like sex.) It's appreciated by and enjoyable to all possible listeners, even godless heathens like me.

And sometimes one has to investigate why something persists in being so appealing despite, perhaps, a lack of initial renown or even a bad reputation professionally. No, I'm eschewing recounting the bad old days of Iggy and the Stooges, and hopefully introducing you to one of my favorite chill out musics. Meet (the late) Fred Neil.

Neil was a Greenwich Village, NYC-based folk performer of the late '50s (he wrote songs for Buddy Holly and Roy Orbison ["Candy Man" is his] amongst others) through the mid-'70s, self-accompanied on a 12-string acoustic guitar with a lot of releases you've never heard. He seems to have been badmouthed by most who actually worked with him. Sample story with two degrees of separation: he allegedly stole and sold other players' guitars for dope DURING their actual recording sessions for him.

He nonetheless had a real live, mainstream chart hit with his bright, optimistic (and eventual real-life wish fulfillment) "Everybody's Talkin'" covered by Harry Nilsson and popularized in the mid-'60s movie "Midnight Cowboy" starring Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight (Angelina's dad,) actors happily still at it. Then, thusly recompensed Neil cut out for coastal Florida digs and left the music world behind forever, "...banking over the north east wind, sailin' on a summer breeze, skipping over the ocean like a stone." Oh yeah!

Overall it's admittedly an archaic sound today what with its folkie, campfire harmonicas and 12-string blues. But...oh... that voice!

It is said that the sound of the French Horn is so beloved because it mimics the timbre of the human male voice: females generally like males, and males generally like themselves, hence the French Horn's universal appeal. Fred Neil's voice retains universal appeal because it is not what one ever expected in popular music then or now: deep, resonant, laconic, masculine and kind.

I mentally and physically feel better after hearing Fred Neil sing a song, whether his own or someone else's. The first video below is his own composition. And if any reader ever perceives me to be suicidal, please play the second one, a cover, for me immediately as a reliable antidote to anything unseemly. Instant re-boot to the psyche, on a limbic system level of appeal.


Anonymous said...

I've walked across that same manhole cover lots of times. There used to be a mexican restaurant my wife and I would go to down on McDougal not to far from Bleecker 25 years ago or so.
-Eric Rasmussen

Anonymous said...

(the front cover night shot):
Very effective! That's what actually drew my attention to open up the website and read the article!
-Eric Rasmussen

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