allcdcovers_neil_young_crazy_horse_greendale_2003_retail_cd-front Each year around November 12th, whenever their schedules allow for a collective weekend off, a dozen not-so-young urban professionals leave the comfort of their city homes to sample the rugged charm of a remote log cabin. In the backwoods, the men (it is an all-male fellowship) don flannel shirts of the type favoured by Neil Young, and play his music non-stop. Thus, they celebrate Young’s birthday — and also by drinking a lot of beer, and by behaving like the uncouth backwoodsmen that any group of men eventually revert to when collectively removed from their womenfolk.

Christof Rutten is one of those men, recently returned from the latest of those outings. He sends in this map, culled from the latter part of Young’s weird, erratic oeuvre. Young has produced some of rock ‘n roll’s most emblematic anthems and ballads, but has also ventured down experimental avenues never explored before, or since, and all the better for it. Young tried his hand at rockabilly after its heyday, and electronic music before it was fashionable. He also penned a rock opera (or “concept album”, to use an even more suspect term).

Greendale, released in 2003 by the transplanted Canadian (Young lives in LA La Honda, south of San Francisco) is about life in a fictitious Californian coastal town as seen through the prism of the Green family. The songs on Greendale deal with some of Young’s favourite themes — war (and anti-war protest in general), environmentalism, social ostracism, violent crime and all of their social consequences. Greendale focuses on an ageing patriarch (also a pioneer and hippie) his son Earl (an artist and Vietnam vet), granddaughter Sun (environmental activist), and the spiel kickstarts when ne’er-do-well Jed kills a policeman.

The story, amplified by a dvd and a very extended booklet included in the packaging, echoes the energetic political activism of the Sixties — or tries to, and possibly fails (depending on how big a fan you are). The album cover for Greendale is a map of the fictional town, showing how its centre hugs the Californian coast (the outskirts continue on the back of the album). On the album’s very own website, you can scroll over the map to enlarge certain details relevant to the songs (*):

  • Captain John Green’s boat (left of the left hand pier);
  • Jed’s seafish apartment (to the right of the boat);
  • Scene of the crime (on the far left, where the road that dissects Greendale enters the map);
  • Carmichael’s house (between the road and the ocean, near the centre of the map);
  • John Lee’s bar, Greendale Mortuary (scene of Carmichael’s service), Sun’s room at rooming house (scene of FBI raid), Greendale High School, Motel (all near the ocean, between the pier and the far right of the map);
  • Double ‘E’ Ranch (in the bottom left corner of the map);
  • Jail, grandma and grandpa’s house, gallery (all below the main road, near the center of town).

In keeping with Young’s  abrasive, anti-commercial image, the map does not link to a place where you can buy the album. It merely states: This town is now available.

Many thanks to Mr Rutten for sending in this map; does anybody have it in a higher resolution? Also, any extra information on the map’s (and the album’s) back story is more than welcome.

Update: Thanks to all who commented or mailed in regarding a higher-res image; I went with this one, suggested by Tom (comment #4). Click to enlarge further. Also thanks to all who contributed corrections or extra information.

*: this album cover spans only the western end of town; the website covers double as much ground.

Update #2: A few days ago, I was delighted to receive an email from James Mazzeo, the artist who created the original Greendale artwork. He presented me with this fantastic, full-colour version of the Greendale map (cf. inf.), for which I am very grateful – to him and to his associate Joel Radman.

James produced the artwork for Greendale in close collaboration with Neil Young over a 14-month period, but his association with Neil is much older than that particular project. “Neil and I have been friends since 1972,” he writes. “He wrote the song ‘Bandit’ about me.” (Bandit being one of the songs on Greendale, Ed.) The movie accompanying the album also featured James, who played the role of Earl Green.

The fascinatingly multifaceted career of Mr Mazzeo doesn’t stop there. He designed lightshows, and sets for movies and for the stage, road-managed CSNY on their 1974 world tour, worked on Neil Young & Crazy Horse tours across the globe – and even played in a band with Neil himself: “He lived with me in Santa Cruz in 1977 and we had a summer surf band we called ‘Ducks’.” There is more to the picture than meets the eye…

The map James made is featured prominently in the Greendale movie. This full colour version is available as a print on paper or canvas at www.destineliteposters.com.

As I am writing this, I am flicking through the channels on tv – and I fall into the middle of “Don’t Be Denied”, that fantastic Neil Young documentary. If life is an accident, it is a more beautiful one thanks to the music and art of Neil and all those who surround him. Thanks James. Long may you run.

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