Neil Young versus the bloggers at JavaOne

As part of Neil Young's appearance at Sun's JavaOne conference, groups of hacks were herded into a conference room to ask questions of the aging rock legend, presumably about how awesome Java is, but I think the plan is that Java is just awesome because Young says so, and he trotted out an expansive interactive discography powered by the Java functionality built into Sony's Blu-ray hardware and a clean car project with telemetrics powered by Sun-sponsored software. Because I doubt there's anything baby boomer executives and the formerly flannel-shirted Gen-X set they spawned like more than getting the most out of their cars and home theater systems. Except maybe hearing Young pontificate on the virtues of an all-analog recording process.

Young used his time on stage during the keynote to show off a 10-disc Blu-Ray project that included almost every song he'd ever recorded, in chronological order. Sun's role? In providing Sony the Java code that allows for interactive features on Blu-ray. Young said that while he'd been working on the project for 15 years, only now was the digital audio quality up to standard. Each track had visual accompaniment from the relevant era. When a recording from the compact disc era appeared, he joked "We took a giant dump at this point." He also mentioned that he was working to create a car that didn't require stops for refueling, which also has some tangential relationship to Java, showing off an American mid-century model he's entering in the automotive X-Prize challenge.

Interestingly enough, us bloggers with our hair-trigger deadlines were given first crack at asking questions of Young (and indulging in the complimentary fruit plate), while the print reporters with their leisurely deadlines had to wait outside. As we waited for Young and his entourage to arrive, O'Reilly Media founder Tim O'Reilly showed off his Livescribe pen for recording audio in time with written notes to News.com editor-in-chief Dan Farber, who remarked sagely about the need for special Livescribe paper, "So they're selling the razors and the blades." But the two quickly went into fanboy mode when Young arrived, peppering the man with questions before anyone else could get a word in edgewise.

The car project, part of a documentary Young's working on with filmmaker Larry Johnson, a longtime collaborator, seems to be a bit of a lark. He wants to create a superefficient car that doesn't need to stop for gas or electricity, and he wants it to be heavy. While I might have gotten a C+ in college physics, it's enough to know that you can't run a Lincoln Continental on unicorns and rainbows. "It's very kooky. When you try to do something like this, people say you're nuts." Wonder why?

I mostly went on behalf of my father, who's pretty much a superfan (to the point where, besides the mutton-chop sideburns and dark glasses, he and Young seem to have identical fashion sense). My question had to do with the fact that my father had already bought Young's work on vinyl, then again on CD, and will now probably buy it all over again on Blu-ray in the fall. "I think it's the same as Microsoft selling the same applications every year with new bells and whistles." He then made this vinyl collector very happy by lambasting the quality of digital audio, and saying that he still records and edits everything in analog.

Young was at his best when he pierced through the Sun marketing hype of the morning. When O'Reilly asked how the musician felt about the "free" aspects of Sun's open-source efforts with Java, Young veered well of the "Keep on rockin' in a free world" tagline I assume Sun paid dearly for: "The free aspect... I think that's a word, that's a marketing thing." Touché.