Watch Neil Young Give Meryl Streep a Guitar Lesson - Rolling Stone
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Watch Neil Young Give Meryl Streep a Guitar Lesson

Rocker teaches ‘Ricki and the Flash’ actress the art of distortion

For Meryl Streep‘s new film Ricki and the Flash, the actress actually spent six months learning how to play guitar for the role of the titular rocker. Streep also had an impressive teacher aid in her transformation from Academy Award-winning actress to guitar goddess: Neil Young. In this video from the Jacob Burns Film Center, Young teaches Streep the noisy art of distortion.

The rocker first tells the actress – prior to every filmed performance – to turn the amp’s knobs to their max setting, both for sound reasons and for realism. Young then shows Streep the power of distortion and feedback, as one simple strum turns the instrument into a roaring beast. “The guitar does all the work,” Young tells Streep. The lesson concludes with Streep bowing in appreciation to the Godfather of Grunge.

While it’s unclear how the meeting between Young and Streep was arranged at Pleasantville, New York’s Jacob Burns Film Center, it’s likely that Ricki and the Flash director Jonathan Demme facilitated the guitar lesson. Demme is also a longtime collaborator of Young’s, teaming with the rocker on three concert films: 2006’s Heart of Gold, 2009’s Trunk Show and 2012’s Journeys. Demme’s 2008 film Rachel Getting Married also featured a scene where a character (played by TV on the Radio’s Tunde Adebimpe) sang Young’s Harvest Moon cut “Unknown Legend.”

Although Streep’s Ricki covers nearly a dozen songs in the new film, including tracks by Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty and Lady Gaga, her character – a grocery store clerk by day, a rocker by night – doesn’t perform any Young tracks on the big screen. However, the Ricki and the Flash soundtrack does feature a cover of On the Beach‘s “For the Turnstiles” performed by Streep’s son Henry Wolfe.


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