Sunday, January 28, 2024

Human Highway (1982)

It’s rare that I’m compelled to write a review because I consumed media that is so bad that I feel the urge to warn other people to stay away. (The only other time I can think of was after buying John Lennon’s Walls and Bridges in a fit of naïve, overzealous, completionist fandom.) As a great fan of Neil Young and at least a modest fan of Devo, it’s hard not to be curious about Human Highway, a film financed, cowritten, and codirected by the former and featuring the acting and music of both. Allow me to tell you now not to watch this movie. Wikipedia covers the “plot” and background details well enough, so let me summarize what this film features:
  • Bad acting from everyone involved
  • Bad writing, no character development, and a flimsy excuse for a plot
  • Blatant racism, including both Young and Devo’s Mark Mothersbaugh (as Booji Boy) dropping a slur
  • Casual sexism
  • Romanticization of car culture despite the vague environmentalist/anti-nuclear theme
  • Nuclear apocalypse
  • A senseless and gross milk bath
  • Less focus on music than you might hope for
  • Only one musical collaboration between Young and Devo
It is this last point that provides any reason to consider preserving any part of this film. The infamous early jam version of “Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)” with Booji Boy on lead vocals (recorded in 1978 before the officially released Crazy Horse version on Rust Never Sleeps (1979)) is bizarre and wonderful. But you can find that online without having to endure the rest. I suppose there’s also Devo’s cover of “It Takes a Worried Man”, but you can find that on their delightful The Complete Truth About Devolution (1993) anyway. The movie also features parts of most of the synthesizer songs from Young’s excellent and idiosyncratic Trans (1982), which might’ve been novel for the very few people who caught the movie before the album was released, but that’s irrelevant today. (And yes, I loved Trans long before I understood myself to be trans!)

Young was clearly fascinated by the phrase “human highway”, as evidenced by recording and performing myriad versions of the song over the years, recording an unfinished album under the same name with CSN in the 70s, and ultimately making this film. Of everything he created that used the phrase, this movie is the worst by a wide margin.

I have some concern that by bringing attention to this movie, I may inspire someone to watch it. Please do not make this mistake. It is not even campy in a so-bad-it’s-good sense. It’s just bad. It makes me think less of Young. He was old enough to know better.

Human Highway: D-
Young and Devo’s “Hey Hey, My My”: A
Trans: A-
The entirely unrelated Neil Young song “Human Highway” from Comes a Time: A
Either of the CSNY versions of “Human Highway” from Archives II (2020), originally recorded in 1973 and 1976: A+

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