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Sunday, March 06, 2011

So Who Was The "Cinnamon Girl"? The Story Behind The Song by Neil Young

UPDATE #4: See our long awaited definitive update @ Is This The Story of "Cinnamon Girl"? The Story Behind Neil Young's Iconic Song Revisited

UPDATE #3: see below

UPDATE #2: Want to learn how to find "Cinnamon Girl"? See Accessing "The Cinnamon Girl Files" | Neil Young Archives

UPDATE: Since publication of this story, it has come to our attention that this tale -- while highly intriguing and very entertaining -- is somewhat suspect. So, proceed accordingly and -- as always -- please use disCERNment.

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?

Phil Ochs: 1940 - 1976

(Phil Ochs and Neil Young have a somewhat tangential, but critical relationship.)

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 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.

That's tomorrow?!

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...

Also, see Accessing "The Cinnamon Girl Files" | Neil Young Archives.

UPDATE: Since publication of this story, it has come to our attention that this tale -- while highly intriguing and very entertaining -- is suspect. So, proceed accordingly and -- as always -- please use disCERNment

UPDATE 3: And the confirmed identity of "Cinnamon Girl" can be found below in comments.  This is why this post will remain here and not be removed given these disclaimers at top and bottom. So chill out Blogger MemphisBelle ..peace

UPDATE #4: See our long awaited definitive update @ Is This The Story of "Cinnamon Girl"? The Story Behind Neil Young's Iconic Song Revisited

Labels: , ,


At 3/07/2011 07:36:00 AM, Blogger SONY said...

I've been living with the cinnomom girls for 20 years. My wife and my daughter. Both reds. One a bonified neilhead ('got any southern man' was her first request of me)and the other coming on strong.

That's a very cool story of the origin of an excellent song. The other coincidences are strong enough to set the stage of one of the greatest song writing days in the history of music.

At 3/07/2011 07:54:00 AM, Blogger doc said...

I concur with sony....but then again he knows exactly how I feel about this song!...i've told him often enough!!
Never get sick of it no matter how many times I hear it.
now ,this chick has either thoroughly done her historical chronological homework or she is genuine..either way i enjoyed her story...ya know....i just wouldn't be surprised if it is true!


p.s.NEIL: "Hello cowgirl in the sandpit!?
How commanding is this place?
Do you mind if I hang around a bit?
You have such a sweet,sweet smile!
how old do you reckon you are?
I bet ya got heaps of guys swooning over ya, hey?
ya know, ya seem older then that seeing ya playin all these mind games and all?"

At 3/07/2011 08:49:00 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

The question is, did Neil Young travel back to Toronto in the "late spring, early summer" of 1968? Buffalo Springfield formally broke up in early May and by the late summer of 1968 he was working on his first solo album, according to "Shakey".

Innaresting story.

At 3/07/2011 09:57:00 AM, Blogger Mother Nature on the Run said...

I had to check my calendar to see if it's April 1st.

The story is a fabrication from a very shy but love-sick fan in her late 20's.

According to "Shakey," Neil recorded the Riverboat in LATE January-EARLY February '68 -- not early Spring even by Canadian standards. Yes, he was with Susan (his first wife) but by that time, he had really had it with teenybopper fans.

I think a "chance encounter" was more likely with Neil three years earlier when Neil was doing a hootenanny LATE FALL at the Riverboat.

At 3/07/2011 10:11:00 AM, Blogger Sharry said...

Interesting story, but I'm having trouble with the dates. Neil was doing his thing in Yorkville in the late fall/winter of 1965. By the early spring of 1966 he was playing in the Mynah Birds. He left Toronto in March 1966 to go to California. The date for his Riberboat gigs is also incorrect. He played them in Feb. 1969.

At 3/07/2011 10:19:00 AM, Blogger SONY said...

"It's all illusion anyway"

Maybe as it should be?

At 3/07/2011 10:26:00 AM, Blogger Mother Nature on the Run said...


Neil's performing art series is that entire leg along the Great Lakes in '68, no? He's on the road with Crazy Horse in 1969 from January through March.

At 3/07/2011 10:33:00 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

You should research Phil Ochs - a major, major songwriter, teller of truths, and advocate of human rights. If you care about music, you owe it to yourself.

At 3/07/2011 10:52:00 AM, Blogger Mother Nature on the Run said...

I still suspect one of Neil's young female fans who has a very, very big crush on him is taking liberty with events she read about his life.

In "Shakey," Jimmy McDonough (lucky bastard) asks Neil Young this on page 337:

-Who inpsired all the dancing-women songs?

"I don't know ... I remember this one girl, Jean "Monte" Ray-she was the singing partner of Jim, Jim, and Jean, folk duo. Had a record out called, "People's World," and she did a lot of dancing with finger cymbals. She was really great. Might've been her. Good chance. I kinda had a crush on her for awhile. Moved nice. She was real musical, soulful."

- So is she the Cinnamon Girl?

Only part of the song. There's images in there that have to do with Jean and there's images that have to do with other people."

At 3/07/2011 10:58:00 AM, Blogger Mother Nature on the Run said...

Ellen -- Thanks for mentioning that little ditty. Important stuff here when we talk about major influences.

Neil has paid homage to Phil Ochs in several interviews throughout the course of his life.

"Shakey" is just one source that begins and ends with exactly how much influence Ochs had on Neil as a folk songwriter following his muse.

At 3/07/2011 11:03:00 AM, Blogger Mother Nature on the Run said...

FWIW - Jean Ray "Cinnamon Girl" was the bridesmaid in Ochs-Skinner wedding.

At 3/07/2011 11:26:00 AM, Blogger Mother Nature on the Run said...

There is youtube video that was upload in 2009 of Jean's first television appearance on Art Linkletter. Google Jim and Jean "Blackfly" and "Relax Your Mind."

I'm listening to "Relax Your Mind" right now.

At 3/07/2011 11:36:00 AM, Blogger Mother Nature on the Run said...

It seems like an entirely different story about Neil's life was left out of the 738 pages in "Shakey."

Jean Ray is quoted in liner notes that "Cowgirl In the Sand" came from a visit Neil made to her and her family living on the beach:

"Of the songs Ray penned, she reveals that "Topanga Road" was "about the Buffalo Springfield getting busted in Topanga Canyon, a totally bogus bust. Neil Young's song 'Cowgirl in the Sand' came from a visit he made to me and my family living on the beach. Neil watched me finishing up the tune, written on cheap paper with purple ink. I think he was so touched by my caring about their suffering through that awful ordeal, that his song came from mine. In it there's his lyric 'purple words on a [gray] background,' etc." - Liner notes from Jim and Jean's Changes/People World CD reissue by Richie Unterberger (2005) [1]

At 3/07/2011 02:56:00 PM, Blogger Sharry said...

I double-checked my dates about Neil at the Riverboat and they were correct. He played the Riverboat in a string of dates starting in early Feb. 1969. (See Sugar Mountain setlist link below):
He came to Toronto in late June/early July 1965 after Mort (his hearse) broke down near Blind River. He was in Toronto through the rest of the summer, the fall and winter and then until the spring of 1966 when he departed for L.A. in his second hearse, Mort II.

At 3/07/2011 03:02:00 PM, Blogger Sharry said...

Here's another official link from Warners regarding the date of "Live at the Riverboat." (It's included as a separate disc in the Archives (Vol. 1)
I think it can be confirmed that Neil played the Riverboat in Toronto in February, 1969.

At 3/07/2011 03:23:00 PM, Blogger thrasher said...

@ Ellen - at the time of Decade's release i was unfamilair with Phil. Very familiar now 35+ years later.

@MNOTR - wouldn't be the first...

@Sharry - thanks for all the research! Well, i guess the mystery on CG endures!

At 3/07/2011 03:29:00 PM, Blogger Mother Nature on the Run said...

Sharry, I stand corrected. Thank you. He was solo on that leg in Ann Arbor Nov. 10 in 1968 and ended up in Toronto February 1969.

At 3/07/2011 03:49:00 PM, Blogger Sharry said...

You're very welcome. All dates for Neil's live shows can be checked out the very fine Sugar Mountain website ( by Tom Hambleton or in the most excellent "Ghosts On The Road" by Pete Long.

At 3/07/2011 05:34:00 PM, Blogger Mother Nature on the Run said...

I'd like to get a hold of those lyrics from "Topanga Road."

At 3/08/2011 06:00:00 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

Really you have no idea who Phil Ochs is ?!?!? Its a pitty since he was a very nice poet and songwriter very politically active anti-war etc.
He comitted suicide in the earlies 70s.

At 3/08/2011 07:44:00 AM, Blogger Mother Nature on the Run said...

For as much as Neil talks about Phil Ochs in "Shakey," one would think there would have been some kind of back story in the book. Instead "Shakey" is superflouos when it's not patronizing.

At 3/08/2011 09:27:00 AM, Blogger thrasher said...

re Phil Ochs - When Decade came out, we were not familair with Phil.

But we've blogged on him previously - Phil Ochs and Neil Young.

At 3/08/2011 10:46:00 AM, Blogger Mother Nature on the Run said...

Let's get real, Georges. Unless you are a true lover of folk musicians AND born AT LEAST before 1960, how would anyone know who Phil Ochs was anymore than they would know about "Utah" Phillips?

No one here is on a power trip or pretends to know more than the next person. We nurture curiosity, not criticize it when somebody has a question. (That's why our schools are so fucked up.)

At 3/18/2011 08:13:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a crock-a-s*** as it happens i think,no I'M sure who's that wannabe C Girl..the same one who set the fort on Neil Young's fake Facebook page...i think psychos like her should have their own social(sick)network...somethin' like Psychobook where they can exchange their BS till kingdom comes.Give me a effin break!

At 5/17/2011 09:56:00 PM, Anonymous mazzeo said...

neil told me that cinnamon girl was his wife susan who used to put cinnamon in his coffee in the mornings...this was in 1973 when he told me .....mazzeo

At 9/13/2011 08:56:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was sitting by the Cinnamon Girl last evening in the front row of The Princess Of Wales theatre in Toronto, while Neil was conversing with Johnathan Demme on stage. She had a paper with large script identifying herself as the Cinnamon Girl. I saw Neil read the sign and then look at her. He knew this lady. It was written all over his face. It was the same look he gave Mary Ellen, the girl he had a crush on in Grade 4, only more fleeting.
The Cinnamon Girl is still very lovely and she does have a sweet sweet smile, rather unique eyes too. A very memorable face and the kind of personality that intrigues Neil.
Neil is a cagey character, but he doesn't hide his true feelings. Interestingly, he reached down and took the paper from the Cinnamon Girl as he left the stage. She is the one.

At 12/26/2011 03:20:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah right...

At 6/12/2012 09:20:00 AM, Blogger Julie Clark said...

Brian Ray, the blonde guitarist for Paul McCartney, has said that Cinnamon Girl is about his late sister, Jean. Here's Brian Ray covering Cinnamon Girl and what he has to say:

At 10/04/2014 12:50:00 AM, Blogger Grumblethorpe said...

The final word on this should appropriately be Jean Ray's brother, for these two great songs were clearly about her. The cryptic reference by Neil can easily be deciphered by anyone who knew the story of Jim and Jean. Jean Ray's husband Jim was Phil Och's college roommate. Jean performed and recorded several Phil Ochs songs in her duo with her husband Jim Post...and yes she was well known to perform live with hand cymbals. When you see the few surviving videos on YouTube of beautiful Jean Ray and her gorgeous smile you can see how Neil could have easily been smitten. She was a wonderful singer as well. RIP.--Rob Lincoln

At 10/05/2014 10:18:00 PM, Blogger Grumblethorpe said...

Correction--Jim Glover not Jim Post was the correct Jim in Jim and Jean. To make up for my mistake here are links to the only two live videos of Jean Ray on YouTube: an early video from when they were folkies and later on from when they went more electric:

At 9/07/2017 01:01:00 PM, Blogger ken said...

Jim and Jean(Jean Ray, the inspiration for "Cinnamon Girl") interpreted a number of Phil Ochs'songs. One that stirred me deeply was "Crucifiction," partly inspired by the Kennedy assassination. Here is that song.
By the way, Jean's brother, who still plays with Paul McCartney just reiterated in a newspaper interview the story about his sister inspiring "Cinnamon Girl."

At 8/21/2019 05:02:00 PM, Blogger jdub said...

It's also been rumored that longtime companion of Jim Morrison, the late Pamela Courson was the subject of Cinnamon Girl

At 12/06/2020 01:18:00 AM, Blogger MemphisBelle said...

Thrasher is a nutcase. Nothing in that rant is even remotely credible.

At 1/05/2021 08:16:00 PM, Blogger Katarsiz said...

It can't be clearer than that. This is Brian Ray ... her brother. Jean Ray folk singer.

At 1/05/2021 08:16:00 PM, Blogger Katarsiz said...

At 1/11/2021 06:27:00 PM, Blogger thrasher said...

@ everyone - thanks for all the comments here!

@ MemphisBelle - please note the disclaimer at the top and bottom of the posting. it clearly states that the revelations here have been de-bunked.

so why keep this up? because apparently this story has been making the rounds for decades. we leave up for posterity in hopes of anyone stumbling across the story and doing research might find this useful.

no need to be hostile.
btw, we're living w/ our CG and couldn't be happier for the rest of our lives.
Hope you find true love, also. might be waiting right around the next corner?!

peace & love

At 8/29/2022 02:07:00 AM, Blogger Epic Truth said...

I wish it was about a girl but Cinnamon Girl is about heroin. He alone "runs in the night" and all of a sudden "chases the moonlight with his Cinnamon Girl" He begs his dad to send him money because he likes to "dance" If these lyrics arent enough, Neil Young wrote the song before heroin ravaged his band. Young abruptly stopped playing this song and didn't play it again for 3 years after Danny Witten was in serious trouble. If you look at the set lists, they replaced it with "Needle and the Damage Done"


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