Participated in a Q+A session after yesterday’s keynote. Sat down with Neil Young, Larry Johnson, some Sun executives, and a small group of reporters including Tim O’Reilly. Young and Johnson struck me as animated and excited about both the archive project and the electric car (more below). Marshall Kirkpatrick of ReadWriteWeb also covered the Q+A session on ReadWriteWeb. Here are my informal impressions / quotes from the meeting. Read on for quotes and details…Young’s Keynote Appearance
First, here’s the keynote appearance by Neil Young:
Afterwards, Young went straight to a press room for a small briefing, here’s what he had to say:On the Music Archive
Young was archiving all of his performances and recordings for 15 years. He’s a self-proclaimed pack rat and he has an instinct to hold on to everything. Larry Johnson, who has been working with Neil Young since Woodstock in ‘69 as a film producer, mentioned that Neil was always keeping track of everything, mentioning that Neil’s archives had “detailed lists down to how much each member of the band was paid on the first tour.” Neil Young on his own collecting and the music archive he amassed, “I only gave the record companies what I wanted them to hear.” The first volume of the archive, Volume 1: 1963-1972, is set to be released this year.
Young talked of the archive and how it shows his own musical progression and development: “The recordings show a major ‘flow’.”…”In the beginning, I talked alot. I was extremely open. I was nervous. I would make a lot of jokes, and then I would sing some ’sad bastard’ songs”. He also commented that the collection shows his muscial progression and “the effects of success”.
Tim O’Reilly asked a question about Young’s digital archive and compared it to the My Life Bits. O’Reilly referred to the 9 patents on model trains, and commented on the link between creativity and art. Neil responded to Tim with (exact quote): “There’s a lot of math in music. It’s emotional math.”Linc-Volt
While Young was excited about the Archive project, he seemed particularly animated about the Linc-Volt project. The Linc-Volt Hybrid is a modified large-body 2.5-ton, 19.5 foot long, Lincoln Continental Mark IV (in other words, it’s a massive boat, take a look)). Young’s trying to prove that you can modify a car like the Mark IV to achieve greater than 100 MPG, and he’s working with Larry Johnson on a documentary about the effort. click here for more info about the XPrize entry
Neil started talking about the need to change automobiles, the need to do away with roadside refueling. He put forth some solutions, talked about electricity as being the solution. (exact quote) “An interesting goal would be to eliminate roadside refueling”. He connected energy policy to the global power structures that are to blame for war. He talked about the XPrize a bit. He mentioned the zero-emission Air Car in India that uses an engine run by compressed air. On taking risks and exploring alternative energy solutions for cars: (exact Young quote) “People say you are nuts. I’m used to that. I’ve been nuts for a long time.”
O’Reilly asked him how involved he was in the day to day construction of the car: “I’m an overseer/manager, I talk directly to the engineers.”
I asked him if he would make the Linc-Volt designs open source and freely available. His response: “There are creative things we can do with the patents. We can get a patent on something and then at the last moment release it on the internet.”…”We don’t want to get rich off of this car, but we would like to fund future research and development.”Back to Music
Marshall Kirkpatrick, asked him about Trent Reznor and Radiohead, Neil responded by saying that he doesn’t follow these things. I didn’t get the sense that he was paying attention to either. Young then talked about how his original concept included building a 3D “tumbling musical experience”. He then talked about how he continues to do everything he does in analog. (read Marshall’s take on radiohead/reznor question, it is interesting.)
Young was asked what his advice is for new artists, should new artists use analog. His response was along the lines of, “I can afford to do that. I can afford to pay people to maintain the equipment. I don’t tell people what to do” (exact quote) “I think they should do what they want to do”. Young continued to talk about the recording industry, was pressed by (other reporter) on the recording industry: “I don’t pay attention to the commerce part of records. That part will sort itself out.”
On piracy of this new BlueRay offering. Someone asked a question about piracy, Neil (quickly) interrupted to say: “They are going to do that anyway. People are going to grab it and put it on YouTube.”… “Laws don’t matter in this respect” (exact quote) “We want our name on the best quality”
He then continued to talk of the recording industry, likening them to “Microsoft reselling the same software year after year with more bells and whistles”. Young mentioned that companies like Microsoft need to change the way they do business to compete with innovation from companies like Salesforce (yes, Neil Young said something about Salesforce.)
Young on listening to music: “I don’t listen to music. I don’t like to crowd myself”…. “I’ll listen to MP3s coming through the air”… “Putting on headphones and listening to an MP3 is like hell” .. “I can listen to music coming through the air, the air has a chance to do something to it”Impression: Neil Young is a Geek
It’s tough to overestimate how involved Larry Johnson has been in Neil Young’s entire career. From Woodstock in ‘69, to Fillmore East in ‘70, to co-producing Young’s 2006 anti-war protest album Living with War, Johnson has been working with Young for almost four decades. Neil is a legendary musician, and Johnson is a legendary film producer. It is clear that Larry saw something innovative in the capabilities of the Blu-ray format that would allow them to realize this vision of a highly interactive music archive. I definitely didn’t get the sense that they were coerced into this by Sun, Johnson was genuinely excited about the format. You might find this hard to believe, but I get the sense that Neil Young is a genuine geek (in a good way).
I sat in a room with a rock star who was animated about social issues, tinkering with technology, and was very aware of the industry. Implicit in the conversation that was happening was a realization that the music industry is in a period of transition triggered by technological advances. Keynotes don’t give a people a chance to communicate, the Neil Young I saw in this meeting, was a Neil Young who was geeking out on automotive technology and tinkering with cars. Sure, he might not be using NetBeans, but he did strike me as a Jeffersonian polymath / Renaissance man (did you know he has 9 patents?). When Tim O’Reilly introduced himself to Neil Young he perked up and said “cool”, I wouldn’t be surprised if Neil Young is a Make subscriber.
Trivia: Neil’s middle name is Percival.