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Neil Young And Jonathan Demme On The Pain And Power Of 'Heart Of Gold'

Neil Young (left) and director Jonathan Demme.
Peter Bregg
Getty Images
Neil Young (left) and director Jonathan Demme.

Neil Young: Heart Of Gold from director Jonathan Demme captures an intense live performance by Neil Young. But equally intense were the circumstances surrounding the Nashville concert, which took place months after Young underwent life-threatening surgery.

That surgery, and the brain aneurysm that prompted it, served as catalysts for Young to create some of the most compelling and lyrical music of his career.

Prairie Wind is the album that emerged from Young's burst of creative energy. Completing the trilogy begun by Harvest and continued with Harvest Moon, the record was hailed as renewed proof that Young is one of the greatest singers of our time.

"He had just created, arguably, one of the major masterworks," Demme tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross. "I just heard these songs he'd sent up from Nashville and thought, 'To capture this stuff on film could be really amazing.' I responded to my own emotions. It gave me a lot of confidence to pursue the idea of staging a concert in Neil's ideal location — that would the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, Tennessee — with his ideal group of musicians. We would probably wind up with something singular in the music-on-film category and something I know I would feel very privileged to be a part of."

To perform the music of Prairie Wind for the first time before a live audience, Young assembled a band of friends and fellow musicians. The roster ranged from his wife, Pegi, to pianist Spooner Oldham and singer Emmylou Harris.

Young and Demme discuss the making of the documentary, the pain and power behind Pegi Young's performance, and making the bonds of the musicians a texture of the movie.

Copyright 2022 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

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Combine an intelligent interviewer with a roster of guests that, according to the Chicago Tribune, would be prized by any talk-show host, and you're bound to get an interesting conversation. Fresh Air interviews, though, are in a category by themselves, distinguished by the unique approach of host and executive producer Terry Gross. "A remarkable blend of empathy and warmth, genuine curiosity and sharp intelligence," says the San Francisco Chronicle.