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Neil Young Harvests His Musical History (Finally)

The 10-disc first volume of "Archives" is set for release on June 2 -- on CD, DVD and Blu-ray.

Longtime Neil Young fans may not believe it until they actually hold it in their hands, but the first volume of Neil Young’s long-awaited musical autobiography is finally seeing the light.

“Neil Young Archives Volume 1 (1963-1972),” the beginning of an exhaustive series of releases of audio and video material from throughout Young’s five-decade career, will be released June 2.

 

Really.

The package will exist in three versions: a fully interactive, 10-disc Blu-ray version, with 128 songs and hours of video and photographic content; a 10-disc DVD edition with the same content but less interactivity; and an eight-disc, music-only CD package.

Roughly a quarter of the songs are previously unreleased.

Though a Warner Bros. spokesperson said pricing has yet to be officially determined, she estimated a list of about $100 for the CD version and $300-$350 for the Blu-ray. Amazon.com is currently taking preorders for the CD, DVD and Blu-ray editions for $72.99, $199.99 and $281.99, respectively.
 
The set is one of the most long-rumored and often-delayed projects in rock music. In the works since 1990, and on Young’s mind for at least half a decade prior to that, it has been through multiple release dates, three in the last six months alone.

 

“A lot of my friends have gotten so tired of waiting for this that they’re still convinced it’s never coming out,” said Gary Burden, the art director who put together the lavish packaging, which includes a 236-page book filled with handwritten song lyrics, old photos and news clippings dating back to Young’s childhood.

On Wednesday night, Burden attended a demo in Los Angeles at which Larry Johnson, a filmmaker who's worked with Young for the last 40 years and is a producer of "Archives," showed off the set and showcased some of the dozens of hours of content.

Press, retail and label personnel saw everything from a handwritten manuscript of an instrumental written by the teenaged Young to footage of the artist laughing as he read a scathing review of one of his concerts (“as stimulating as watching your nails grow”), along with extensive footage of concert performances and recording sessions featuring such Young classics as “The Loner” and “Cinnamon Girl.” 

Though copies of the discs were handed out to those in attendance (minus the elaborate packaging), the famously mercurial artist is still tinkering -- just that morning, said Johnson, Young made some small changes to the wording in the enclosed book. 
 
“As we say at [Young’s film company] Shakey Pictures,” said Johnson, “anything worth doing once is worth doing over and over again.”

As for the hefty price -- especially at a time when music sales are in decline -- Johnson insisted that the set’s commercial prospects don’t concern Young in the slightest.  “I don’t think I’ve ever heard him use the word ‘sell’,” he said.

Joel Bernstein, a photographer and musician who works at Young’s archivist, began work on the project in 1990, though he said he and Young had discussed a similar but less extensive collection as far back as the mid-‘80s. 

“One of the issues in dealing with Neil is that he’s so changeable,” said Bernstein.  “The guy who I worked with doing the editing and song selection in 1990 is not the guy who was doing it in 1992 or 1994 or 1996. They’re all Neil Young, or at least they purport to be, but the things he wants can change, and sometimes that change is cataclysmic.”

“Archives Volume 1” is planned as the first of four or five similarly extensive sets. According to Johnson and Bernstein, Young spent a recent train trip from Los Angeles to Wichita thinking about what he wants to see in future sets. 

By the time he got to Kansas, they said, he had 80 pages of notes.