Friday, October 5, 2007
Music and Memory, Part 2: Neil Young
I had a friend long ago who once said that she wished Neil Young were her dad. While such a wish strikes me as misguided at best, my own opinion about Young has progressed from indifference to a respect that borders on awe. I first discovered his music while babysitting for hippies in the late 1970s. At that time, I was more attracted by the gorgeous harmonizing of his colleagues Crosby, Stills, and Nash. Young's quasi-tuneless, mournful, boyishly fragile voice and alternately morose and bitter songwriting seemed to me hallmarks of guy music, which didn't interest me as a rule; I preferred Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon, and Phoebe Snow. But I recall riding on a city bus around that time and witnessing an older teen vandalizing the seat-back ahead of her with the iconic words: "Oh to live on sugar mountain, with the barkers and the colored balloons." The pathos of this scene touched and unnerved me,leaving me wondering if the adulthood I so longed for would leave me with a broken sense of longing (it has).
As a professional longhair with a limited amount of spare time, I'm pretty well out of touch with current pop culture, and I haven't heard Young's latest two albums. However, the shaky voice, seemingly without overtones, and the despairing songs of the 1970s-era Neil Young are so full of human loneliness and a kind of existential resignation to the uncontrollable strangeness and suffering of life that they resonate powerfully in my heart and memory.