My memories of first hearing Neil Young were so long ago, boy bands did not exist in my life. Hanson hadn’t mmm bopped and N*SYNC didn’t want you back (yet). But Neil was there, and my naive little ears really liked the guy.
Growing up, when the Colorado summer weather was decent enough for it, we would eat dinner outside in the summer. Mom and Dad always keep a rotation of five or six CDs in the stereo – some of Dad’s favorites, some of Mom’s, and some mutual – and it seemed like Neil was always a mainstay. Heck, even if we didn’t eat outside, we’d still play music during dinner. Neil Neil Neil, always in the rotation. He was one they never disputed.
Music adheres to your memory. Music makes for moments in time you take with you and hold on to and go back to. And for me, I can remember so many instances where I heard Neil Young and I just felt at home.
But there’s a full moon risin’
Let’s go dancin’ in the light
We know where the music’s playin’
Let’s go out and feel the night.
Throughout my life there have been different, sometimes very random times when I have heard Neil Young or listened to him that at the time were so inconsequential, but now have stuck to my memory. And I’m glad they have; they’re like old pictures I would choose to keep.
June 2010. I was in Berlin, Germany starting my summer semester abroad. I had three months in Europe ahead of me and was making new friends left and right – all of us zealous and optimistic and blissfully ignorant American student tourists. A group of us went to a bar one night in Kreuzberg where they had an open mic night. A German was singing and playing Neil’s “Heart of Gold” in the small, dimly lit bar and at the moment it sounded so pure that it made me miss home for the first time in weeks. Although Neil is very much Canadian, and I knew this, I missed America just a little bit, just by hearing his song.
I want to live,
I want to give
I’ve been a miner for a heart of gold.
It’s these expressions
I never give
That keep me searching for a heart of gold.
When I came back that summer from Berlin, my parents weren’t able to pick me up from the airport. They left a car for me at the airport to drive back to Boulder. I hadn’t driven in over three months and I distinctly remember missing the act of driving – just being on an open road with the windows down, music blaring. The freedom that comes with operating your own transportation! In the CD player of the Chrysler Pacifica? Neil Young’s Harvest Moon. I knew they hadn’t planned that, but it couldn’t have been better for my homecoming. You bet your ass when “Unknown Legend” kicked off that I rolled all four windows down and cranked it up.
Somewhere on a desert highway
She rides a Harley-Davidson
Her long blonde hair
flyin’ in the wind
She’s been runnin’ half her life
The chrome and steel she rides
the very air she breathes
The air she breathes.
I have wanted to be that woman, that unknown legend, so many times. On a desert highway, and yes, on a Harley Davidson. In another life…
Fast forward a couple years. I started running a lot. I listened to a lot of music – Black Keys, Tom Petty… But I wanted to dig a little deeper and downloaded Neil’s Greatest Hits. It took me to a whole new side of Neil – the gritty rock, electric-heavy “Cowgirl in the Sand,” “Southern Man,” and “Ohio” were good motivators to grind a little more on the road.
You take my hand,
I’ll take your hand
Together we may get away
This much madness
is too much sorrow
to make it today.
Deep as sin of a song, I’ll tell you what. The darker stuff spoke to me in a different way than the lighter, folkier Harvest and Prairie Wind. I hardly ever seek out “dark music,” but when I came across it, it cemented Neil as a virtuoso in my mind. The man has reach.
Then, in the summer of 2012, I got a job pouring beer at Red Rocks concerts. To this day, one of the best jobs I’ve ever had. Making people happy by serving them beer at one of the greatest concert venues on the planet and catching free shows…take me back please? I digress.
Of course I signed up to work when Neil came on tour with Crazy Horse. Luckily that night I was able to get off early enough to catch a good part of his show. He was wearing a white button down shirt that flowed with the reverb and riffs that he played. He was an enigma. I was mesmerized. He had this aura around him. And I really have only ever used “aura” in my writing maybe three times in my life. I don’t use “aura” flippantly.
I can’t speak much for what he has put out recently i.e. The Monsanto Years, but man I am thankful for what he has produced. His craft has given me so many memories; places in my mind to go back to and automatically feel at ease.
Neil’s not the only musician who makes me feel at home when I listen to him. So I hope to start a series and write more about my other favorites. And for most of them, I have to give credit where credit is due: My parents have heavily influenced my taste in music and therefore have made me out to be an old soul. I think I should have grown up in the ’70s because damn. Music was SO. GOOD. in the ’70s. Notice how I went this whole blarticle without once mentioning CSN/Y? It’s because that’s another blarticle for another time.
I just discovered Neil Young’s documentary Heart of Gold on Netflix, so I’m off to watch it and go, well, home.