“Opening up and finding what’s inside me to write.”
By Michael Goldberg.
Neil Young bangs away at the chords. And there’s such sadness in his voice. He’s playing an acoustic guitar. He’s nearly finished his third song of the night. Banging away too hard. Or maybe the way he’s banging at those chords is perfect. And oh, the sadness.
In that quavering voice he sings:
Yes only love can break your heart, What if your world should fall apart?
Love broke my heart, and my world fell apart. I was 17. When you’re 17 you don’t know you’ll recover. When you’re 17 everything about love is the first time, even if it’s not the first time.
When you were young and on your own, How did it feel to be alone?
She had long brown hair, almost down to her waist. She wore white peasant blouses and worn denim overalls. It was 1970 and the world was so different. There are a lot of clichés about the ‘60s, which actually didn’t end until the early ‘70s (countercultural movements don’t conveniently end as a new decade begins), a lot of misunderstanding about what it was like back then.
There was a day in 1970 when we sat together, her and I, in the swing that hung from a huge tree in her family’s very private, very large front yard, and the wind was making the leaves in the trees shimmer, and the future seemed wide open, full of possibility, I mean anything was possible. Her body warm against mine as we swung back and forth. The whole world about to be remade, I just knew it.
I am lonely but you can free me, All in the way that you smile.
Yes, that was exactly it. Exactly.
Neil’s music was part of my soundtrack during the ‘60s and the ‘70s. He sang the sad songs and as a teenager I didn’t want to know the pain I heard in his voice. But I did know it. Every time her and I were apart, I knew it. Still I loved to hear Neil’s voice.
And later, after it was over, when we just couldn’t make it together — that girl and I — I knew for real how true Neil’s words were, and today they’re still true.
Neil’s new album, Live at the Cellar Door, was recorded in 1970, 43 years ago, at the Cellar Door, a club in Washington, DC. Listening to it I see, hear, feel, smell those days, a rush of moving images, as if my life was captured on film and these old recordings are the key to starting up the projector. All the ways I blew it, and how crazy it got. And she wouldn’t take my calls, wouldn’t see me when I came to her door, and I thought I’d explode.
Yes, love can break your heart — a cliché and so what, ‘cause it’s the truth.
Hearing Neil sing those old songs in that tenor voice, the tenor voice of a young man, it breaks my heart all over again. Neil was 25 when he played those songs at the Cellar Door.
For the rest of this column, head to Addicted To Noise.