So Who Was The "Cinnamon Girl"? The Story Behind The Song
UPDATE: Since publication of this story, it has come to our attention that this tale is highly suspect. Proceed accordingly.
Rare Neil Young "Cinnamon Girl" 45 RPM Picture Sleeve
Recorded Live at The Fillmore East, New York City, March 7, 1970
(41 years ago *today*)
"I wanna live with a cinnamon girl
I could be happy the rest of my life
With a cinnamon girl"
So who was Neil Young's "Cinnamon Girl"?
And why did he want to live the rest of his life with a "Cinnamon Girl" anyways? (Then again, who wouldn't?)
Who was she? Or did she even really exist?
If we look at the Decade box album, Neil's hand written note about the song "Cinnamon Girl" says:
"Wrote this for a city girl on peeling pavement coming at me thru Phil Ochs eyes playing finger cymbals.
It was hard to explain to my wife."
The mystery of "Cinnamon Girl" only deepens.
Which city? What's peeling pavement? Who's Phil Ochs? Finger cymbals?
And why was it hard to explain to his wife, Susan?
Well, in that wild, weird and wonderful little Facebook world we recently got a message from someone claiming to be the song's inspirational muse.
The actual "Cinnamon Girl" herself.
So here's "Cinnamon Girl"'s story as relayed to us over a series of posts and messages. We report. You decide.
I met Neil when I was in high school at Kipling Collegiate in Etobicoke Toronto in late spring, early summer of 1968.
The kids from my high school called me the Cinnamon Girl. I was one of the first flower child kids at my high school. I was living way out in Etobicoke with my parents and we weren't allowed to go to places like a coffee house named The Riverboat. It was there in front of The Riverboat that I met Neil one afternoon.
I only met Neil that once.
Funny thing is if Neil had not been carrying his guitar we never would have met. My best friend had just been bragging to me that her and her sister & another friend now had super cute boyfriends who played in a band. She said they were the singer and guitar & bass player that were playing at El Patio in Yorkville.
I felt so left out.
I told my friend I was going to try and find a drummer to be my boyfriend. Truth is my father was super strict and I wasn't allowed to date. To go to Yorkville I always let on I was going to the movies, or babysitting. All hell would have broken loose if he thought I was with the hippies......
I saw his guitar case first and blurted out "I'm interviewing musicians to be my boyfriend.......are you interested?"
Without hesitation Neil came right over and stood beside me. Oh god. I looked up at him and he was the cutest boy I had ever seen.
He said "What's involved?"
I said you get to hang around with me for a couple of hours. I will ask you questions about dating and relationships and see if you pass. There will be kissing involved...are you a good kisser?"
Neil said "I guess so".
He seemed to be a little shy but amused by the situation. He didn't seem to be in any hurry to go anywhere and so the game started.
When we were together that night, I asked Neil to write a happy song about me and he promised he would. My nickname at school was 'The Cinnamon Girl'. I told him to make it sound Canadian (and even sang him the song from the cartoon ' Pow Wow The Indian Boy' so he's know what I meant). Funny, he's the singer but I was the one doing the singing....He had his guitar with him, he opened the case and showed it to me, but didn't play a note.
Everything in the song is something we did or something we talked about. I had never heard of Neil (or any of his bands) before but the time I spent with him still all these years later feels somehow magical. It was as though I could clearly see his future....and it was as though we had known each other for years, laughing our heads off.I guess the best way to describe it was I found him to be intoxicating.
I think 'Cowgirl in the Sand' is also about me. When we first met I was playing a crazy game with him, and he seemed amused by it. We talked about horseback riding, getting a farm one day, and the fact that I wouldn't tell him my age. I turned the conversation to the ages girls could wed in different provinces yet couldn't drink or vote. We spent the night in a park on the edge of a kid's sandbox talking about our lives, our dreams and the urgency for him to get to California.
I don't know if I'm a muse, psychic or an encouraging Cancerian or a combination of all of these because just as we sat there and talked I knew he would be very successful...just knew it. It was never 'if' it was 'when'.
When I left Neil at the Yorkville subway, I had an overpowering sad feeling that something would happen and i would not see him again for a very long time. It was 6:00AM and we had no paper or pen to exchange contact info.
Who knew I would get so sick?
I got dangerously ill after I met Neil. It lasted 2 weeks, first I was delirious with fever & then Bronchitis. So, I was unable to meet him as planned at The Riverboat.....one of the biggest regrets of my life. My friend saw him there waiting ......she estimated he waited for 2 hours and then was gone...I tried in the early years to contact Neil but letters were returned.
I've always had the feeling that that when the time is right, and the stars are aligned we would somehow meet again.
Neil Young Archives Riverboat Disc Sleeve
So here's the thing.
Surprisingly -- or not so much so -- we get all sorts of Neil tales, that -- quite frankly -- we can't make heads or tails of like this one.
But here's the other thing about this story that makes it a little cosmic. As we were doing that Facebook thing with our "Cinnamon Girl", we just so happened to stumble across the 45 single pictured above and noticed the date -- March 7, 1970.
And as we scanned the Decade box album liner notes, we recall how Neil -- absolutely totally astonishingly -- wrote "Down by the River", "Cinnamon Girl", and "Cowgirl in the Sand" all in a single afternoon -- while sick and delirious with a 103 degree temperature.
Down by the river (boat) he shot his baby (broke up with his young girlfriend) -- a red head (cinnamon girl) -- who was a cowgirl (hippie) in the sand (box at the park).
Both heartbroken and sick at the same time.
sometimes you just never know...
Thanks for sharing the memories cinnamon girl!
So what exactly would it be like to live with a cinnamon girl? Well, this is what we think it would be like...
"Cinnamon Girl" by Neil Young & His Electric Band with Rick Rosas, Ben Keith, Chad Cromwell, Anthony Crawford and Pegi Young. Madison Square Garden, New York on December 16, 2008.
It was the last stop on his 2008 North American Tour.
... and we'll be happy the rest of our lives...