Monday, March 31, 2014

Neil Young, Solo

A much younger Neil: "Harvest Moon" video

I’ve been a Neil Young fan since the 1970s, when he released After the Gold Rush and Harvest, widely considered two of the greatest rock albums of all time. Tim and I have seen him perform many, many times with and without bandmates from Crosby, Stills and Nash and Buffalo Springfield. On Saturday, we saw him play at the Dolby theatre, home to last month’s Academy Awards ceremony. The stage was much smaller in person than it was on TV. We had “house seats—5th-row center—the best seats we’ve ever had for a large venue concert.

Neil was performing solo, a repeat of the already legendary concert he did at Carnegie Hall in January, though he is notorious for never playing the exact same set twice. When we arrived, the stage was dark, but we could clearly see a chair surrounded by about 10 acoustic guitars. To the right was a white baby grand and to the left a standup player piano. Neil’s pump organ was in the back on a slightly raised platform. A small spotlight shined on Woody, an old-time cigar-store Indian, who I believe has been part of every Neil Young concert we’ve ever seen.

Neil was amazing. Wearing an old black hat and rumpled clothes, he quietly walked on stage, picked up a guitar and started to sing. Known primarily for his poundingly loud electric guitar riffs, this performance was so restrained and intimate that I felt like we were inside a tiny coffeehouse with 3300 other fans. Between songs, Neil rambled around the stage, as if deciding which song to play next. He sang many of his hits—including my favorite love song, “Harvest Moon—but seemed to focus mostly on obscure material, like fellow Canadian Gordon Lightfoot’s “If I Could Read Your Mind,” a wonderful and sweet surprise.

Occasionally, Neil would slyly respond to the cacophony of yells from the audience. For the most part, though, he told brief stories either about songwriters he admires or his guitars—one that had belonged to Hank Williams and two that were gifts from Stephen Stills. At one point, he mentioned that “music used to mean something” and then immediately launched into “Ohio,” his heartbreaking anthem about the 1970 Kent State massacre—one of several songs that made me cry.


The concert ended almost as abruptly as it began. After a long and boisterous standing ovation, Neil returned to the stage for a much-too-short encore that concluded with everyone quietly singing along to “Long May You Run,” my other favorite Neil Young song about loss and moving on (more tears!). 

We love you, Neil, and always will . . .

Carnegie Hall encore

For more info about the concert, please read the excellent L.A. Times review here

Monday, March 17, 2014

Walt Disney Family Museum

The Museum, located in San Francisco's Presidio

Despite my love for all things Disney, I still hadn’t visited the Walt Disney Family Museum, though highly recommended by friends as well as other Disney fans. So I finally went this past weekend, while in San Francisco on other business.

Now I’m not one for what I call “the cult of Walt Disney,” but my friends were right: I had a wonderful time reading about his early life and listening to oral histories about the ups—and, interestingly—the many downs of his career. Arranged chronologically, the exhibits feature sketches, storyboards, film clips, sound recording technology, and fascinating historical context, along with “Family Story” transcripts of interviews with Walt’s daughter Diane and brother Roy. Everything is here: Walt’s early childhood drawings, his first Hollywood studio, Oswald the rabbit (who pre-dates Mickey), Steamboat Willie (Mickey’s first major cartoon), the Silly Symphonies, Disney's first full-length motion picture Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, the brilliant but unpopular Fantasia, the little-known “good will” trip to South America in 1941, Smoke Tree Ranch, the real-life nature documentaries we watched when we were kids, the Mickey Mouse Club and The Wonderful World of Color, the 1964 World’s Fair (where Walt premiered audio-animatronics), and the beginnings of EPCOT. 

Sprinkled throughout were touching Disney family home movies, showing how much Walt loved his wife Lillian and two daughters. But the real highlight for me happened about three hours into my visit: 1955 and the opening of Disneyland. There, in a dark room, surrounded by copies of the original ride posters, is an enormous—and quite glorious—diorama of the park in all its various incarnations (see below). I would fly to San Francisco just to see it again and marvel at all the miniature representations of my favorite attractions.

Sadly, [spoiler alert!] Walt dies by the end of the exhibits, leaving behind a room filled with tributes and tearful depictions of a grieving Mickey. After spending almost five hours following the great man’s story, I didn’t have the heart to stop and read the eulogies, so instead ran for the exit before I started sobbing. Walt’s legacy obviously still lives on, but what a shame that he died so young (only 65 years old).

Here’s just a fraction of the fascinating artifacts I saw (click on images to enlarge):

 When Walt was a teenager, he drew
cartoons for his hometown newspaper in Kansas

Early self-promotion

Quote about his first real job

Early Mickey merchandise:
watches and clocks

And tricycles: Mickey's feet are the pedals
(I want one!)

Paints used to make color cartoons

Snow White, the first feature-length
cartoon—a major risk, but Walt
prevailed, permanently launching Disney
studios into animation history

Disneyland grand opening

 The fabulous Disneyland diorama

Matterhorn/submarines/Monsanto house of the Future

Tomorrowland detail

In addition to the museum, I also visited the annex, which was showing an exhibit on Mary Blair, the artist who famously designed the characters for and bright palette of the “It’s a Small World” attraction. Mary and her husband accompanied Walt on the 1941 South American tour, where she developed her flair for color. She also designed the concept art for Disney’s Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, Song of the South, and Cinderella movies.

Post-South America

The view from the museum: Golden Gate Bridge

Sunday, March 09, 2014

Behind the Scenes at Spring Training

It’s baseball spring training time again, so we got up early Tuesday morning and drove to Arizona to watch the Angels play. We spent three days in Tempe. The Angels weren't in top form yet—it isafter all, still very early in the season—but the weather was perfect and we had a great time. One of the highlights was getting to go upstairs at the stadium to briefly tour the broadcast booths. Always nice to have friends in high places!

Checking the sound in the remote broadcast booth

Tim and coworkers

Angels broadcast booth

Visitors TV broadcast booth: Dodgers announcer
Orel Hershiser (center)

Angels spring training home

Pima Air Museum & Boneyard

My favorite type of airplane: on the ground!

I may hate to fly, but I do love airplanes. So while we were in Arizona, we took a short side-trip to Tucson, home of the Pima Air & Space Museum and Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Center (AMARG). The museum is great: 300 old airplanes and helicopters from the past 100 years of aviation history.

Vietnam War era helicopter—the famous Robert Duvall
beach scene from Apocalypse Now was on continuous
loop nearby—"Ride of the Valkyries," anyone?

Lockheed Electra—similar to the one Amelia Earhart
was flying when she disappeared

Various WWII aircraft

But it’s the some 4000 mothballed military planes, jets, etc., that really caught my imagination. Housed on the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, AMARG uses the planes to replace parts on active aircraft—saving the military about $400 million a year in replacement costs. Since the planes are on the base, access to the “boneyard” is via tour bus only, offered through the Pima museum. 

Bus tour through the boneyard

Tim was less enthused than I was about spending an entire morning looking at rusty old warplanes. He perked up considerably, though, when he noticed not one but three B-52 bombers parked in the back of the museum. Even we liberal anti-war pacifists were thrilled to see such magnificent aircraft.

Enormous B-52

NASA cargo plane

Another B-52

Three-fin tail of a TWA Constellation

We highly recommend visiting the museum, as well as the boneyard, the next time you’re in Tucson.