“We got a thousand points of light for the homeless man. We got a kinder, gentler, machine gun hand. We got department stores and toilet paper. Got Styrofoam boxes for the ozone layer. Got a man of the people, says keep hope alive. Got fuel to burn, got roads to drive. Keep on rockin’ in the free world.”
Neil Young has haunted me for over twenty years.
Wait. Hold please, I need more coffee.
Ok, that’s better.
The first concert I went to was Phil Collins. I went with my sister. My dad bought us tickets. The first album I bought was Ten by Pearl Jam, on cassette. I walked to Wal-Mart to get it. I didn’t tell my parents. I was going to get Nevermind by Nirvana, but I thought it was too “dangerous”. Not enough melody for my choir boy ears. I joined Columbia House (remember that), geez I’m old. I received the double album Decade by Neil Young as the “buy it or return it” album, but his music lived in a world that I had no idea even existed, so it sat largely unplayed, as well as everything else that I received with my 10 cds for a penny deal (seriously, REMEMBER THAT?!). I can’t remember what else I received for the life of me, but that Neil Young album has followed me throughout my entire life and I’ve never been able to shake it, even though I barely listened to it.
How daunting is this for a kid growing up in the extreme shelter of suburbia. It was like trying to read War and Peace.
Up until Neil made his appearance in my life, my musical pallet was a smattering of New Kids on the Block, Boyz II Men, Harry Connick Jr and whatever I came across through church and my friends in choir/band. It was very safe, to stay the least. As I got closer to finishing high school, I had branched out to the likes of U2, REM, The Wallflowers and Counting Crows, to name a few. I really liked their music, but mostly because they were great to sing along to. I was a choir boy after all. I sang in a barbershop quartet. You get the idea. I wasn’t really emotionally evolved.
As I’m writing this, I realize that my journey as a music lover is probably painfully normal. Life experiences give way to deeper understanding and meaning. The real world lifts the veil you’ve been living under and shows you that things aren’t the way you believe them to be, blah blah blah….
Maybe it’s not that normal though. My childhood was easy. I didn’t grow up around conflict and struggle. The vast majority of people I’ve met were surrounded by drama from an early age. I got to grow up in a two parent household. My cousins grew up in two parent households. I grew up in The Woodlands TX, the ultimate white suburban bubble. I went to new schools. I went to church every Sunday and sang in choir. My social circle was youth group on Sunday night. My parents drove a minivan and I mowed the yard on Saturday morning. We watched The Princess Bride and went on family vacations. It was easy. It was protected. It was emotionally neutral, so when I put on the first disc of Decade and Ohio came on, with Neil singing about the tragic shooting of students protesting the war in Vietnam at Kent State, I couldn’t even get past the odd timber of his voice, let alone understand the cultural impact that the song had when it was written, so I pressed stop and went back to what was safe.
There is a scene in the movie Almost Famous where William’s sister leaves home for San Francisco. She leaves her records in a bag for him under the bed. He pulls the bag out and starts flipping through the vinyl. She instructs him to put on Tommy by The Who, light a candle and well, just watch it for yourself……
How many kids got that lucky? How many kids had someone guide them into the wonderland of truly meaningful music? I remember when I bought that Pearl Jam album, I listened to it on my Walkman while I was helping my Dad clean out my Uncle’s old house in Houston. I remember being amazed by the music, but not fully being able to appreciate the depth of what I was hearing.
When I got to college, everything changed for me. I was woefully unprepared for life outside of my sheltered existence. I had my first drink of alcohol and smoked my first joint. I hung out with people who told me that God didn’t exist. I went off the deep end and gravitated to those who were the complete antithesis of what my life had been. Looking back on it today, I understand that they were lost as well, so I don’t blame them for leading me astray. That was my choice. I fell apart though, flunked out of college and began several years of decline and depression that would stay with me for the majority of my twenties. I eventually pulled myself out of it and accepted the mistakes that I had made, but it wasn’t easy. I wasted a lot of opportunities and potential, but I did gain one thing.
I saw what’s under the surface. I saw the other side. I started hearing music in a completely different way. The curtain was pulled back. Instead of just singing along, now I was listening. Instead of just appreciating, now I was absorbing. I was relating. I had my William moment. I’ll spare you the list of artists who opened my mind, but I’ll forever be grateful for what they gave to me.
So here I sit, about to be forty years old and still thinking about Neil Young. I wonder why that album crossed my path all of those years ago? Who put it there? Was it just a coincidence, or was it a tiny glimpse into my future? Why did something that I was unable to appreciate on any level stick with me for so long? I wish I knew, but maybe it’s ok that I don’t. Life is a strange and mysterious journey.
I’m going to go listen to Decade and think about mine.
SONG OF THE DAY 9/21/2018