1979. Indianapolis. 7th grade. Art class. Barrow Davidian was the teacher, and a bit of a hippie though he had short hair. He was the ‘coolest’ teacher we had in 7th grade. He was laid back and played records all day. Though there was a sticker on the record player that said “variety is the spice of life”, he only played two or three records. Over and over…
One of them was a Buffalo Springfield album, and I loved the vocals, guitar work and creativity of tracks like Expecting To Fly.
Another album Mr. Davidian played was Harvest by Neil Young. Of course Neil was a member of Buffalo Springfield, and I was happy to hear the more acoustic side of his music.
About the same time, I had started playing guitar, and only had an acoustic. Neil’s songs were accessible to me, because I could handle easy open chords at the bottom of the neck. I couldn’t sing just like Neil, but at that young age I could hit all the notes.
I got my own copy of Harvest, and then After The Gold Rush. I learned bunch of those songs with the help of my guitar teacher and a chord book. I was off and running! I was building a playlist with a lot of Neil’s songs, and I didn’t know it then, but they came in very handy my first year in college. (The ladies like Neil Young tunes.)
Being able to play these songs gave me the confidence to write my own, and feel like I was somehow in the same ballpark.
Cortez the Killer off of Zuma primed me for the Rust Never Sleeps album that had great live versions of Hey Hey My My – one acoustic, one electric. It was a bit like Lou Reed’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Animal to me: the acoustic players getting a good dose of distorted guitar. Now I had some great tunes to practice on my brand new Strat copy in my bedroom.
The music just kicked my ass, but it was the lyrical content that captured my imagination and my heart. The song After The Gold Rush had some great visuals in the lyrics that evoked some grand fantasyland not unlike some Bowie stuff:
Well I dreamed I saw the knights in armor coming
Saying something about a queen
There were peasants singing and drummers drumming
And the archers split the tree
And that great line for young college stoners:
There was a band playing in my head
And I felt like getting high
Wise reflections on a relationship gone wrong from A Man Needs A Maid:
It’s hard to make that change
When Life and love turn strange, and cold
To give a love, you’ve got live a love
To live a love, you gotta be part of
When will I see you again?
There’s loss, recovery and regret all right there. There are so many moods that song may just help you get through. A great songwriter will help you find words for your experiences and feelings that may just help you frame your situation, your emotions. It also lets you know that you are not alone. Feeling dark and gloomy? Wistful? Nostalgic? Uncertain, insecure, lost? Defiant? Neil is right there with you.
It is the slower moody stuff that really made me come to love Neil’s music. One of my favorites is Pardon My Heart, a love-lost story. It’s gentle, moving and sad. A great song to play at 1 am! Pocohontas, off of Rust is right in there as well. Hell, I could made a great long set of his tunes for after midnight! And I could probably play 80% of them myself. In fact, when I do live acoustic shows (I haven’t in a while), I try not to play TOO MANY of them. Not everyone gets Don’t Let It Bring You Down!
As with my other songwriter heroes Reed and Bowie, the earlier stuff resonates most with me. Perhaps because I soaked them in as a teen and young man, I am not sure. In the 1980’s Neil did some strange stuff- the Trans album and Everybody’s Rockin’.
Rockin’ In The Free World and the excellent album Harvest Moon brought me back. But I never really strayed that far. I think Neil does his best work when it’s just him and his acoustic guitar. Man, I wish Bowie would do a whole album just on acoustic. That would be Epic!
Neil Young rocks on, and will always occupy a huge slice of my playlist.