How a forgotten screenplay inspired a classic Neil Young song

The story of how Neil Young came to write one of his most beloved songs begins with a serious case of writer’s block. In 1969, the singer-songwriter was transported to a house in Topanga, California, where he was trying to write material for his upcoming third album. Ideas were trickling in, but there was nothing solid for Young to grasp, no central concept or theme that could hold it all together.

A few thousand kilometers south of Topanga, Peru, Dennis Hopper led The last movie, his follow-up Easy rider. He was joined on set by his friend Dean Stockwell, who had been a child star in the 40s and 50s and would regain his stardom with the 90s TV show. Quantum leap. But in the late 1960s, Stockwell was experimenting with other creative outlets besides acting. Like he once reminded: “In Peru, Dennis really pushed me to write a script, and he would have it produced.”

Stockwell took Hopper’s advice and began working on what he later described as an “end of the world movie,” before developing further: “I went home to Topanga Canyon. [in the mountains outside LA] and wrote After the gold rush,” He continued.

“Neil was living in Topanga then too, and a copy somehow came to him. He had had Writer’s Block for months, and his record company was after him. And after reading this script, he wrote on After the gold rush album in three weeks.

Unfortunately, Stockwell’s screenplay was never adapted for film, and the original copy subsequently disappeared. According to Neil Young biographer Jimmy McDonough, however, the film was meant to be some sort of proto-disaster movement, in which a great tidal wave consumes the Corral, a hippie hangout in Topanga where Niel Young, Joni Mitchell and other icons of the counterculture once spent much of their time.

“This is not a regular, linear storytelling film,” Stockwell said. “Really what I had in mind was that the Gold Rush actually created California. And the movie took place on the day California was supposed to go to the ocean. This is what happened after the gold rush.

After filming was completed in Peru, Stockwell bought the production team that worked with Hopper in Topanga, where he attempted to introduce the increasingly unstable director to potential actors such as Janis Joplin and Neil Young. Young approached Hopper and asked him if he could write the soundtrack for Stockwell’s film, but, unfortunately, Hopper, being in a somewhat erratic state, ran a mile. But Young was never discouraged, so he got down to business regardless and ended up writing what would become one of his most beloved tracks.

In the album’s title track, “After The Gold Rush,” Young takes Stockwell’s distorted view of countercultural California and turns it into something entirely unique, using key scenes from the script as the source. of images. “The song was written to accompany the story,” Young said, “And the main character, as he carried the tree of life through Topanga Canyon to the ocean.”

“It relates to the script in an artistic way, not directly, in dialogue or whatever,” added Stockwell, who was invited to watch Young record the track in the studio. Indeed, Young himself has stated that he particularly cared about the element of time travel in Stockwell’s script: “After The Gold Rush is an environmental song,” he said. “I now recognize this thread that runs through a lot of my songs, it’s this time travel thing… When I look out the window, the first thing that comes to my mind is the appearance of this place. a hundred years ago. “

While Young After the gold rush became one of the most revered albums of the 1970s, Stockwell’s screenplay was never produced, which was clearly still a source of frustration for him when he said, “And even then, even though I I had the album, I still couldn’t produce this screenplay. Nevertheless, we have to thank Stockwell for one of the best Neil Young albums ever recorded. This is quite an accomplishment in itself.

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