News Flash: Hell Freezes Over

In case the whole Obama/Clinton thing is getting old, here is a new debate, that in fact, is far more important. Did Neil Young embrace Blu-ray because digital audio is finally good enough to satisfy his musician's keen sensibilities, or did he embrace Blu-ray because he wants to make money selling records?

At a Sun Microsystems Inc. Conference (of all places) in San Francisco, vintage rocker Neil Young announced that he will release his entire music archive on Blu-ray discs (note that S&V entertainment editor Ken Richardson gave you a heads-up on that a couple of months ago). (In case you are wondering, Sun makes the Java software that is the platform underlying Blu-ray, giving it, among other things, its web and interactivity chops). In any case,the first installment, a 10-disc set from Reprise/Warner Bros. Records, will contain everything the rocker recorded from 1963 to 1972. The saga will continue chronologically, and include unreleased songs, handwritten manuscripts, video, and probably a bit of Young's own philosophical outlook. Which brings us to his well-documented hated of digital audio recordings and the CD in particular.

The rocker famously held to an all-analog, all-the-time, strictly vinyl position for many years. In various interviews he has repeatedly stated that "digital is a huge rip-off," and called it a "farce." Still unrepentant at the Sun event, when referring to a recording that appeared on CD, Young commented, "We took a giant dump at this point." Because this is a family blog, I won't mention what he thinks about MP3 and music downloading.

I respectfully (ha!) disagree with his opinions of the CD's fidelity, but  I do respect Young's right to hold them. Frankly, his anti-digital stance hasn't exactly slowed the tidal wave of global conversion to digital audio technology. Letting bygones be bygones for a moment, the question is whether Young has finally seen the light, and accepted that digital audio is the future? Or was his rejection of previous digital technology justified and his acceptance of Blu-ray a sign that only now digital audio is "good enough?"

My guess is that it's some of both. But no matter what his motives, this is an important announcement because it shows that Blu-ray may emerge as a high-end music carrier that might succeed where SACD and DVD-Audio failed. At the press conference, Young said, "I am glad we waited, and we got it right." If he gets it right, I'm glad he waited too, because there's going to be some terrific music in his BD discs. Even though he's wrong about the CD.-Ken C. Pohlmann

Photo: Neil Young singing in concert, November 9, 1976 in Austin, Texas. (Copyright 1976, Mark Estabrook).

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