The recent releases of Neil Young‘s long-unavailable 1982 feature film Human Highway and the 1979 concert doc Rust Never Sleeps are just the beginning of a deep excavation into his film archives, according to longtime manager Elliot Roberts.
“Neil has a whole series of Shakey Films that we’ve done through the years,” Roberts tells Billboard. “We haven’t really had a chance to put a lot of them out. Either he tours or starts doing an album or moves on to the next one. But we have about six or seven full-length films that will be coming out over the course of the next two years. These are really the first two.”
Among the offerings on the runway are Hal Ashby’s film of Young’s 1982-83 one-man Trans Tour, a Tim Pope chronicle of an early Young concert in England, and a full-scale rollout of 2003’s Greendale, which has never been in wide release. And with vinyl reissues of four albums — 1973’s Time Fades Away, 1974’s On The Beach and the 1975 albums Tonight’s The Night and Zuma — coming on Sept. 6, Roberts says Young has finally checked off on reissuing the oft-requested Time Fades Away, though no release date has been set, while Archives 2 is nearly completed and should surface in 2017.
“Neil had a lot of things that were important to us — not because they sold well,” Roberts notes. “I think of it as we’re introducing him to a younger audience, a new audience. We know there’s our core audience that’s 50-70 or so. That’s always been the case, and it’s nice to actually have. But it’s like discovering Dylan — you may like EDM, but at some point in your life you’ll be into Dylan and you’ll get it, whether you’re 23, 24, 21 or 26. Discovering Neil or discovering those catalogs, that material. It’s still fun for Neil to create. He doesn’t mind going back or going forward.”
The release of 1982’s trippy Human Highway — directed by Young (aka Bernard Shakey) with pal Dean Stockwell, and co-written with starring players Stockwell, Russ Tamblyn, Dennis Hopper and Devo — was particularly long in coming and a holy grail for many Young fans. Roberts says it was spurred by a request for it from last year’s Toronto International Film Festival, which also gave Young some impetus to return to the project for some revisions. “The main thing I was waiting for was to get masters of them that were really great,” Young told Billboard earlier this year. “And I had a lot to learn, especially with Human Highway. So after many years of looking at movies and thinking about it, I recut it and I think I added some things to it and made it a lot better than the original was, although it’s still very much the original.” Human Highway‘s environmental concerns, meanwhile, still echo today, if in a slightly different fashion than the film’s focus on the risks of nuclear power proliferation.
“Neil’s been an advocate for the environment, quietly or unquietly, all his life, really, from [Buffalo] Springfield on,” says Roberts, who was also part of the film cast (and has appeared in Made In Heaven and Almost Famous). “This was actually an environmental film. At the time atomic energy was a big topic. This a political statement of that time on the state of where we were on atomic energy and where the world was, with worldwide disasters happening at atomic plants and yet we were going forward with this energy. It was (Young’s) way of doing a comedy spoof about what was on his mind. They really were bent on making a point and entertaining. It was such broad comedy for Neil, who at the time wasn’t known for his broad comedy. For Neil to sort of be Jerry Lewis, in a sense, was great fun for him.”
After finishing a European summer tour with Promise of the Real, Young will be back in action on Sept. 17 at the Farm Aid concert in Bristow, Va. His fall schedule also includes appearances at Desert Trip on Oct. 8 and 15 in Indio, Calif., and hosting the annual Bridge School Benefit concerts Oct. 22-23 at the Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View, Calif.