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Wednesday, August 01, 2012

The Emotional Resonance That Is Neil Young

Neil Young
Avery Fisher Hall, New York City, NY, April 24, 2011

Photo by Norman Y. Lono
(Click photo to enlarge)

Sometimes folks will ask why we do what we do here.

And sometimes we wonder ourselves. But every now and then you get a note that touches your soul and the answer becomes self evident... what we call "Neil Stories".

So pull up a chair, sit down, clear your mind, and ponder this letter from Shane.

Thought maybe you might be interested in hearing this, as it is always something that has put a smile on my face (and maybe a few tears in my eyes).

I don't recall the exact time I really started to get into Neil's music, but once I did I devoured everything I possibly could find. This would have been right around the time that Prairie Wind came out, and I was entering my late teens. Working through Neil's back catalogue is a truly rewarding experience, as I'm sure you're well aware.

Needless to say I was hooked, and would play Neil albums whenever I could. This meant a lot of long road trips in Canada to university with my parents and them listening to my Neil Young cd's the entire way. While my parents grew up during the 60s and 70s, I wouldn't say they were big fans, but they knew a good deal of the songs. The acoustic-based songs especially. My mother in particular loved (as do I) Neil's version of "Four Strong Winds," and would always ask me to put it on whenever I played any Neil music. I always loved to do so because it felt good to share this common love for the music with her, even if it meant listening to her attempt to sing along!

Anyways, in the summer of 2005, my mother was diagnosed with cancer. This was obviously a trying time for everyone in our family, even if my mother approached it with a positive attitude. I found it especially difficult being away from home for a significant portion of time at university. While I had (likely naively) thought that this would be something that my mom would have to deal with for a number of years (and hopefully beat), in November of 2007 I was phoned early in the morning and told to get to the airport to fly home. My mother was in hospital, dying.

It is hard to put into words the scene of entering the hospital room, seeing friends and family gathered around my mother lying in the bed. She was still alive, but in a coma-like state where she couldn't speak to us, but she was able to react if we talked to her, if only in a limited fashion. I've never felt a worse or more hopeless feeling in my entire life, and I couldn't stop thinking about my mom in that position, still conscious that we are all there but unable to communicate with us. It was heartbreaking and terrifying.

I don't know what lead me to think of it, but I had my iPod with me from the flight home, and of course I had some of my Neil Young albums on there to listen to as well. I decided that if she was conscious of what was going on, that it was probably a terrifying situation for her. I had always felt like my mother and I were cut from the exact same cloth, so I just did what I thought I would want. I asked my dad if it was okay, and I put the earbuds in her ears and put on Neil's version of "Four Strong Winds" for her to listen to.

I hoped that if she was going to die, that at least one of the last things she would get to hear would be this song that she always loved, and that we were always able to share together. After I put the song on for her, we could see her lips moving to try and sing along to the song. She couldn't actually speak, but I know from her reaction that she could hear what I was playing for her. I really truly hope that it provided her with some measure of comfort and warmth in that moment, and I really believe that it did.

Come April 2009, I was ecstatic because I was going to finally be able to go to my first Neil Young concert, in my hometown no less (Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario). It really wouldn't have mattered what he played because I was just beyond excited to be at the show, but in the back of my mind I really hoped to hear "Four Strong Winds." I like to follow Sugar Mountain and read the set lists from previous shows, and I had noticed that in the previous 5 or so shows in Canada prior to the Sault show he hadn't played the song. I wasn't really expecting him to - there are so many songs he could play.

But then, during his acoustic set, it happened, and he played it. I don't know why he chose to play it (maybe due to going out to western Canada, it fits the lyrics), but in the time that song was being played it didn't matter. I thought of my mother the entire time, and i know that I welled up with tears in my eyes. Even though I know it's not why it was played, it didn't matter, and it still doesn't matter. In that moment, it felt like the song was played for my mother, and it felt perfect for me. I don't think any other concert experience I will ever have will eclipse the emotions and feelings for me there.

I thought on the cusp of a new Neil Young tour, it was an appropriate time to share this story with you. To me, it shows the transcendental nature of music, and live music especially. It's not even a Neil Young-written tune - but it doesn't matter. His version to me will forever be THE version of the song, and that performance will forever be a personal moment I'll never forget. It just makes me think of all of the different ways people can interpret and be affected by Neil's music - a song will mean something to Neil specifically, but it might mean something else entirely to one of his fans who hears it.

To me, that's the beauty of music, and of Neil's music in particular. There's an emotional resonance to it that sticks with you - it comes from an honest place and stirs something inside of you. He turned this Ian Tyson song into something intensely personal that I'll have forever more as a link between my mother and I.



Thanks Shane for sharing. wonderful memories. May the four strong winds always blow your way.


At 8/01/2012 09:35:00 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

Very touching.I have the same experience when Neil songs are played at special occasions.Tears filled my eyes.Cees Mostert,Holland.

At 8/01/2012 10:47:00 AM, Blogger Greg Mantho said...

There are a lot of Neil songs that strike a cord in me, but nothing so deeply personal as this, Shane. It's pretty cool that there is so much about the entire experience and memory around the song that is Canadian, and I'm glad you will always have all those connections.

A Friend Of Yours

At 8/01/2012 11:02:00 AM, Blogger Liza ... said...

Thank you so much, Shane, for sharing these very emotional memories with us! It also brings back my own memories of Neil playing Harvest Moon in Cologne after the death of my husband.
I've heard Neil's version of Four Strong Winds maybe a thousand times and I too love it very much.

Thanks to you, Thrasher, for posting this!

Love, Liza

At 8/01/2012 11:05:00 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

A beautiful story - thanks for sharing. Gerry

At 8/01/2012 11:49:00 AM, Blogger Mother Nature on the Run said...

There is a lump in my throat and a gentle wash in my eyes. Alberta is almost heaven for me...

At 8/01/2012 12:16:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Shane, thank you so much for sharing the story about your Mom. I have been a huge Neil fan since the early 1970's (I guess I'm likely the same age as your Mom and Dad)and Neil's songs never fail to uplift me and touch me. There's a reason why us "Rusties" call him "Mr. Soul," he has a bigger heart, more depth and more soul than anyone else!
I am sure your Mom enjoyed hearing "Four Strong Winds" for the last time with you. I sat with my late Mom when she was in a coma like state as well and I was glad I was there, I am sure she was glad I was there as well. May God bless you.

Deb R

At 8/01/2012 01:34:00 PM, Blogger Jill said...

I read this story with tears streaming down my face having lost my own mother just a few months ago. I was telling someone just recently how much my mum loved some of Neil`s songs that I played her, especially The Painter which was one of her favourites (and one of mine too). Neil touches our lives in so many unexpected ways, he brings us joy and inspiration, and it`s such a pleasure to be able to share that experience with people we love and care about.
Thank you Thrasher for sharing this with us. Shane, my heart goes out to you, you did a truly wonderful thing for your mother.

At 8/01/2012 02:41:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you Shane... I needed a good cry today.


-- Eric

At 8/01/2012 05:47:00 PM, Blogger thrasher said...

Crossposted from Thrashers Wheat Never Sleeps by Francis:

A beautiful letter about a beautiful subject matter, the power of music. I read this with tears in my eyes, Neil's music has meant a lot to my family and I as well. My sister and father danced to Neil young's 'Here For You' from the Prarie
Wind album at her wedding. A beautiful unforgettable moment. There is something very powerful about listening to Neil Young when driving the Trans Canada Highway 17! So many memories!!! So much resonance! Cranking Neil and looking out your window to cliffs of granite or the beautiful Lake Gitchee Gumee ( Lake Superior) maybe spotting an eagle soaring or a timber wolf walking out from the bush! Your story was very touching, and I was blown away when I saw you were from The Sault, I was at that specific Neill Young show and it was absolutely AMAZING!!!!!! Cortez The Killer and Pocahontas were songs that really stuck out for of my favourite experiences in music. It was great to hear another fans experience. The Sault was a better place on that evening for us all. Great letter Shane. Sorry about the loss of your mother, your letter, like Neil Young's music has given me a different perspective on the day ahead. All the best.

At 8/01/2012 06:03:00 PM, Blogger Sandy Horne said...

That is as real as it gets. I just posted "4 Strong Winds" the other day, was thinking about it for no particular reason. It was a beautiful version with Willie Nelson playing along.

I occasionally read a post on this site that almost brings me to my knees. This may be the most powerful one I have ever read here.

Sure makes the negativity and bickering seem petty in comparison.

At 8/01/2012 08:53:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very touching Shane thank you. I myself got to share some wonderful Neil Young music recently with my Mom the new Americana video short from this i-pad she started singing along with the old timey renditions she is 75!!! Thanx again Mr Neil Young and Crazy Horse for your talent and love...
Peace and Huggs

At 8/02/2012 09:02:00 AM, Blogger Dan1 said...

Thanks for sharing your very touching story. What a blessing that you were able to share those special moments with your mom near the very end.

At 1/27/2013 12:53:00 AM, Anonymous Nebbie said...

Great story thank you for sharing. Have to say tears welled up in my own eyes. Neil's music and I go back to 1976 when I was living in a group home in White Plains NY. I was 14. I have many many of his recordings in various formats original vinyl to the Shocking Pinks, then took a break. I have only been able to attend two shows and the last was Bridgeport CT Dec 4 2012.
My son also shares the passion and I know it moves him also.

At 6/04/2016 12:25:00 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

this is so touching and beautiful and can absolutely relate to his music. It brings out deep emotions and childlike characteristics. Neil heals! Listening to the song now...thank you for your story


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