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Sunday, June 16, 2019

Happy Father's Day! Neil Young, "Old Man" & The Story Behind The Song

Happy Father's Day!

Neil Young's "Old Man" seems an appropriate song for the day.

From BBC 1971.... back when Neil was a young man ...

look at how time flies past....

i'm a lot like you were...

From his 1972 album Harvest, "Old Man" is definitely one of Mr Young's most enduring songs of all time with brilliant banjo and steel guitar. James Taylor and Linda Ronstadt provide backing vocals.

The song was inspired by the caretaker of the Northern California Broken Arrow Ranch, which Young purchased for $350,000 in 1970 when he was just 25 years old.

The song has themes of loneliness and lost love: "Live alone in a paradise that makes me think of two" recalled with a certain pain "love lost/such a cost/give me things that don't get lost."

Yet Neil searches on for that oh-so elusive heart of gold:

"I need someone to love me the whole day through
Oh one look in my eyes and you can tell that's true."

In the film "Heart of Gold", Young introduces the song as follows:
About that time when I wrote (Heart of Gold), and I was touring, I had also -- just, you know, being a rich hippie for the first time -- I had purchased a ranch, and I still live there today.

And there was a couple living on it that were the caretakers, an old gentleman named Louis Avala and his wife Clara. And there was this old blue Jeep there, and Louis took me for a ride in this blue Jeep. He gets me up there on the top side of the place, and there's this lake up there that fed all the pastures, and he says, 'Well, tell me, how does a young man like yourself have enough money to buy a place like this?'

And I said, 'Well, just lucky, Louie, just real lucky.' And he said, 'Well, that's the darndest thing I ever heard.'

And I wrote this song for him.

Neil Young at Broken Arrow Ranch - 1971
Photo by Henry Diltz

As we noted earlier this year, photographer Henry Diltz has taken many iconic photos of Neil Young, as well as, many other legendary musicians over the decades.

From Henry Diltz' blog on Morrison Hotel Gallery, here is the story about spending a day at Broken Arrow Ranch with Neil Young and the "Old Man".
"Old man look at my life..."

"Neil Young bought a ranch in Northern California which he named "Broken Arrow Ranch". I went up there a few times with Gary Burden in 1971 and stayed a couple days taking pictures. Gary was my art director/ partner and still works with Neil. We used to walk around the ranch in the morning, smoking a fatty and checking things out around the property.

The Ranch came with a foreman named Louis Avila who had been there for years. This particular morning we stopped by the foreman's bungalow and he and Neil had a talk on the porch. This was in 1971, a year before his album Harvest came out and as the story goes, this is the "Old Man" that Neil sings about.

We later went on to look in a barn where Neil had some guitars. He pulled out a little old Martin guitar, sat on a hay bale, and played a tune. How great it was to be a fly on the wall and document everything that happened. Lots of those pictures got used in Neil Young Songbooks in the 70's."

--Henry Diltz
(See the photos Henry took the day of this story at Morrison Hotel Gallery.)

Although some have serious reservations, the song is about a ranch hand and more likely to really be about Neil's own father, Scott Young being the real "old man" behind the song.

The "Old Man" Louis Avala & Neil Young
1970 Dutch documentary film by Wim Van der Linden

So happy father's Dad ... from a not so young man to our old man...

The "Old Man" Louis Avala
YouTube - Neil Young - Old Man - Live at Massey Hall

Also, watch & listen to why Neil Young will never sing "Old Man" with a band again.

And here are a few more appropriate Neil Young Father's Day songs...
(Thanks Ralf B.!)

- "Daddy Went Walking"
- "Far From Home" ("Daddy took an old guitar and sang ...")
- Sixty To Zero (talk to my daddy On the telephone ...")
- Don't Be Denied ("daddy's leavin' home today ...")
- Prairie Wind ("Tryin' to remember what my Daddy said ..."
‎- This Old House ("thinking 'bout daddy, And how he always made things work ...")

A Father, A Son, and A Project (2012)

Anders and his Neil Pinewood Derby Entry
(Click photo to enlarge)

Over the past few days -- we and many, many others -- ponder how did we get to this sea of madness?

And where do we go from here?

Well, we certainly don't have any better answers than others or all the "talking head experts" who are so consistently so wrong, about so much, so often.

Which brings us to this touching note (via The Guitar Refinishing and Restoration Forum :: This year's Pinewood Derby Car...), we received awhile back and felt like sharing.

From a father who proudly helped his son, a Boy Scout, complete a Neil-themed pinewood derby car. Anders ( age 11) is with a Cub Scout in Minnesota and is a big Neil Young fan and guitar player. He's also a big fan of Neil's Old Black guitar since he was 5 when he played harmonica for his dad's band on a cover version of "Flags of Freedom" at a benefit gig in Minnesota.

Anders' Pinewood Derby car was pretty slow in competition but he won a trophy in the best Not-a-Car category. As the Father said, "My son continues to Keep Rocking in the Free World."

To which we say, love and only love.

Thanks Ray "Old Black"!

Best of luck.

Every now and then we get a note that touches our souls and that we feel obligated to share with the rusted Neil Young community... what we call "Neil Stories".

So pull up a chair, sit down, clear your mind, and ponder this letter from Buck. Buck tells us that he has "always loved Neil because he does not care what others think about his music, and he naturally enjoys changing and growing as a person, too. He reflects that quality that most people have hard time grasping-living a life in which you don't change, or experience new things, is not really living at all."

(reprinted from 2012 on A Young Man and An Old Man - A Neil Young Story.)

Hey Thrasher,

Great job on providing current Neil news and stories. I have been a big fan of your site for a number of years, but a recent story touched me in a very special way. I can relate with the gentleman's story that was highlighted in "The Emotional Resonance That Is Neil Young" of August 1, 2012.

Just a few weeks ago, I lost my father in a fatal car accident. Growing up, Neil always had a special place in both of our hearts. At an early age, my father made a mix tape of several tracks from Neil's early years (mainly After The Gold Rush and Harvest), and I would often find myself falling asleep to those NY records. Fast forward to my high school years, I rediscovered Neil and have not stopped listening since.

Growing up, music was a big part of both our lives. I loved the same music from my mother and father's younger days, and would often go to several concerts with them. In fact, I treated both of my parents to two Neil shows on his Twisted Road tour from a few years back. At the show in Spartanburg, South Carolina, Neil treated many of his fans with both "Heart of Gold" and "Old Man" and encores. My dad always loved "Old Man," and the more I think about the song and its realism in illustrating that people from different generations are not that different, I began to think of my dad.

At 25, one does not realize how big an impact a parent has played in one's life until they are gone. When I got that news that my dad was killed in a car accident, I began to think not of material goods, but of those little idiosyncratic moments that make life grand. I thought of my dad's love of music, and how he and I shared a love for Neil's music. When it was time to plan my dad's funeral, my mother and I selected "Old Man" to be played at his service, and in true "Tonight's The Night" fashion my dad was buried in a concert T-shirt from the last show he and I attended, which was not a Neil show but Roger Waters performing The Wall.

Still, there was something very moving, very powerful about the way "Old Man" sounded at my dad's service. There was certain comfort my mother and I felt during that song that we had not felt all week in the wake of my dad's passing. When I heard the lines, "Live alone in a paradise that makes me think of two," I could not help but think of where my dad might be at the time of that song playing.

Not to sound too "otherworldly," but perhaps, as Neil sings, "There's more to the picture, than meets the eye."

So sorry for your loss Buck. Thanks for sharing your story. It sounds like you had some memories with your Dad... "Live alone in a paradise that makes me think of two."

Take care.

Here's a video of a guitarist from Britain named Fil (aka "Wings of Pegasus") with some analysis of Neil Young's writing at the tender age of 26. The song "Old Man" from BBC 1971 broadcast is analyzed from 7 angles to Sunday.
"There is nothing lost between what Neil Young feels, what he plays, and what the audience experiences."
SPOILER ALERT: the video concludes that Neil Young's song writing is "PROFOUND".

More analysis of Neil Young's "profound" song writing.

The Young Man Before Becoming An Old Man
Neil Young - 1967 (Age 22)

Photo by Linda Eastman McCartney

ps - yes, we've hugged the ones we love today.

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