Q&A

Neil Young and Shepard Fairey Talk "Americana"

Saturday night in Los Angeles brought together two masterminds of artistic integrity; icons in their uncanny knack for showcasing the best and worst of our socio-political DNA—artist Shepard Fairey and musician Neil Young (above, left and right, respectively).

The subject of their collaboration? America—sometimes the beautiful, and sometimes, not so much.

His first album with Crazy Horse in almost nine years, Young's Americana (out today) is a collection of 11 classic folk songs, reimagined. Many of the tracks are American standards that showcase the harsh realities of what went into building this country.

Fairey, the force behind OBEY, took Young's adaptations and added his own subliminal commentary, creating a series of paintings for a small exhibition at L.A.'s Perry Rubenstein Gallery.

"When I was first told about the concept, I thought it sounded like a cool idea, but I'm not a huge fan of the original versions of those songs, so I was eager to hear how Neil translated them," Fairey says. "Then when he sent me the lyrics and some of the backstories on the songs, I was even more excited about the project—especially because of what's going on right now in the United States with the economy and a lot people feeling like the promise of the American Dream is not a reality for them. A lot of the original ideas behind songs like 'High Flying Bird' are about a man that works so hard in a mine that when he comes out into the light of day he can't enjoy the world because he's blinded by the light—in essence, the fruits of his labor. So I think there's a lot of parallels between the aspirations and failings of the American Dream, whether it was 1880 or 2012."

Saturday night's debut event attracted an interesting mélange of music folk, art doyennes, and movie stars. In one corner, Kate Hudson and fiancé Matt Bellamy chatted with Vera Wang, while over in another room—which showcased an electrifying collection of rarely seen Helmut Newton images—Linda Ramone stood beside Steve Tisch and True Blood's Joe Manganiello.

Amid this throng of admirers and friends, Young and Fairey spoke with Details.

• • •

DETAILS: What was your first impression of Shepard's interpretation of the music?
Neil Young: I've been impressed with the whole project all the way through. It's been a really fulfilling trip.

DETAILS: What about at the end of the day, as far as the relationship between your musical vision and his visual interpretation?
Neil Young: Well, I think it's working. The music that I've made, combined with the images he's created—you're going to look at those images while listening to those songs and you're going to go deep into it…really deep. And that's the whole idea—to make you think.

DETAILS: Is there one piece here that you dig more than all the rest?
Neil Young: There are several of them, but they're like a family now, so it's hard to pick your children.

DETAILS: Very Sophie's Choice.
Neil Young: Well, I love Clementine. And Travel On is so wacky, I have a soft spot for that one [both pictured below].
Shepard Fairey: God Save the Queen [also pictured], which is Queen Elizabeth's head and Betsy Ross' torso with the Union Jack and the original 13 colonies' flag—all together.

DETAILS: Do you think the American Dream has become a fallacy?
Shepard Fairey: I do.
Neil Young: Wow. That's a big one. All I can say is, everyone has a different idea, but this truly represents a lot of those things and touches on a lot of the core beliefs in the American Dream and questions them and makes you think about them. And questions whether it's that different from what everybody else's dreams are everywhere else. It turns out we may not be so perfect.
Shepard Fairey: That's a very realistic take. I think the obstacles are as much there as ever before, and the idea that our union becomes a more and more perfect democracy, and becomes better and better…I just don't think that is happening right now. The political climate is tough. But you know, these pieces are about the struggle anyway, the idea that it was hard then and hard now.

Fairey and Young weren't the only celebrities to comment on the ever-changing landscape of the public consciousness. "American values are in question, as well as the idea of America's identity," said actor Adrian Grenier, a longtime fan of Fairey's. "I think it's something we're always struggling with—and a question we're always asking ourselves—just who are we?"

"Americana" is on display to the public from June 28 through July 14 at Perry Rubenstein Gallery; 1215 Highland Ave., Los Angeles. Click through for photos from the exhibit and the opening party.

• • •

  • adrien_grenier.jpg

    Adrian Grenier and guest

  • 15.jpg

    Shepard Fairey, Clementine, 2012
    Mixed media (stencil, silkscreen, and collage) on canvas

  • 16.jpg

    Shepard Fairey, This Land Is Your Land, 2012
    Mixed media (stencil, silkscreen, and collage) on canvas

  • 17.jpg

    Shepard Fairey, God Save the Queen, 2012
    Mixed media (stencil, silkscreen, and collage) on canvas

  • 18.jpg

    Shepard Fairey, Travel On, 2012
    Mixed media (stencil, silkscreen, and collage) on canvas

  • jd_king.jpg

    JD King, Linda Ramone, Matt Bellamy, and Shepard Fairey

  • kate_hudson.jpg

    Kate Hudson and Neil Young

  • lp_tamzin.jpg

    LP and Tamzin Brown

  • moby.jpg

    Moby

  • rose1.jpg

    Rose McGowan

  • shepard.jpg

    Shepard Fairey

• • •

—Susan Michals is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles and a regular contributor to Details.com. You can follow her on Twitter at @Susan_Michals.


Also on Details.com:
Q&A: Bill Paxton
On the Red Carpet at the Mansome Premiere
A Quick Guide to the Best Summer 2012 Music Festivals

Photo at top by Claire Marie Vogel. All BFA celebrity images by Aleksander Kocev/BFAnyc.com. Art photos courtesy of the artist and Perry Rubenstein Gallery, Los Angeles.
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