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Neil Young - To Feel The Music: A Songwriter's Mission To Save High-Quality Audio

Doug Collette By

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To Feel the Music: A Songwriter's Mission to Save High-Quality Audio
Neil Young and Phil Baker
242 Pages
ISBN: #1948836386
BenBella Books
2019

In his introduction to To Feel The Music, Neil Young ascertains that the point of decline in the sound quality of modern music began with the compact disc. In his mind and to his ears, that physical manifestation of the advent of digital sound constitutes an abhorrent occurrence for genuine musiclovers, a point of demarcation about which he pulls no punches over the course of two hundred-forty some pages. Yet reading the whole of A Songwriter's Mission To Save High Quality Audio becomes an engrossing experience nonetheless because, however much the Canadian rock icon and his co-author, Phil Baker, discuss the technical side of their sojourn, they write in layman's terms, maintaining the conversational tone that pervaded Young's previous tomes, Waging Heavy Peace: A Hippie Dream (Blue Rider Press, 2012) and Special Deluxe: A Memoir of Life & Cars (Blue Rider Press, 2014)

It's that easygoing air, combined with alternating chapters by the authors, that makes it hard not to read To Feel The Music in a single sitting. Even if a reader knows the outcome of the Pono saga—spoiler alert: it ultimately becomes the means to a more practical end in the form of the on-line availability of The Neil Young Archives—there's a palpable sense of suspense that escalates exponentially with successive chapters. As Young and Baker present their particular perspectives on the development and marketing of the audio player, their individual and combined insight into the mix of business and technology is enlightening to say the least, even if the reader brings scant curiosity to the subject(s). Anyone familiar with Neil Young's recent (and not so recent) history knows he's got something of the zealot in him (see his quests with the LincVolt electric auto or the topical observations that comprise The Monsanto Years (Reprise, 2015)). Perhaps because the campaign recounted in To Feel The Music is devoted to music, his art form of choice, he never truly becomes off-putting as he makes (and remakes) his points about the righteousness of what he's doing. And that's despite how disingenuous he can sound when speaking with such seeming surprise of the obstinacy of the music/record industry: this is the man who conducted a public feud of sorts with label mogul David Geffen when at loggerheads about the legitimacy of the records Young delivered in the early Eighties like Everybody's Rockin' (Geffen, 1983).

But, as with Young's previous crusades, his candid approach evokes sympathy from a reader even when the futility of his pursuits becomes readily-apparent. This despite the very plausible notion that, whether the former linchpin of Buffalo Springfield and occasional comrade of Crosby, Stills & Nash wants to admit it, music is not the overriding cultural barometer it used to be. Whether he accepts that premise or not matters less than what this man's the fifty-year-plus career has proven (and reaffirmed) time and time again: he does not readily forsake attainment of what he deems a worthwhile and/or precious goal. This particular quixotic journey comes to an abrupt halt, just after its launch in the marketplace, through Apple's acquisition of one of the companies under the Pono umbrella, that specifically devoted to the on-line store.

To his credit, Neil refuses to wallow in suspicion about the nebulous circumstances of this crippling blow from which the entire operation cannot recover. The shutdown of the groundbreaking audio player comes in fairly short order, but that quick succession of events does hasten the redirection of Young's attention to a much more pragmatic end, that is, his long-gestating Archives project; adopting the enhanced technology of adaptive streaming nurtures the comparatively rapid progress of this initiative, and in turn, only seems to make the stunted Pono project worthwhile (which Young readily admits, but not in so many words). It also ratifies the telling of its story in To Feel The Music.

Even if the reader has never wondered about the sequence of events in a business startup, technology-oriented or otherwise, Phil Baker's personal account of the back-and-forth, stop-and-go, forward-then-backward process is almost literally eye-opening. It not only validates Young's decision to work with him, but designate him co-author: as with the very enterprise in question, without Baker involved, A Songwriter's Mission To Save High-Quality Audio would otherwise read like nothing but a pipe dream of exceedingly bloated proportions. As it is, Neil's latest book becomes another wholly fascinating chapter in the saga of one of contemporary music's most compelling figures.
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