Don't Let It Bring You Down or Good to See You?
I'm a lifelong Neil Young fan. I love his music. The way it makes me feel, the sound of his voice, the way he connects with the listener, and his guitar playing. His beautiful acoustic playing and his crazy, otherworldly electric excursions. I've read practically everything written about him. I own all his albums. I've seen him play live dozens of times. With Crazy Horse, with Booker T.'s band, and many solo acoustic shows. I could literally trace my entire life from my teenage years to this very day though his catalog.
I had the opportunity to meet him once. In the summer of 2011, I flew out to California to see one of the Buffalo Springfield reunion shows. The band announced five concerts as a precursor to a larger, national tour. Those of you who know anything about Young, and his penchant for following his muse, know that nothing ever happens in Neil-land until it does. So I had no choice but to buy tickets and fly out to see Neil, Stephen Stills, and Richie Furay get together after more than 40 years at the Santa Barbara Bowl.
The day of the show, a friend and I were being seated at my hotel's outdoor restaurant near the water to have a late lunch when we realized they had just placed us right next to Neil and his longtime manager, Elliot Roberts. We could hardly eat as we sat trying to look natural while doing our best to eavesdrop on their conversation. To say we were freaking out is an understatement.
But then they started to talk about vinyl, and Neil was saying LPs are really the best way to listen to music. Analog in, analog out. My head was about to explode. Music Direct had sold thousands of Neil's reissues, and my friend pressured me to approach them and say hello. Reluctantly, I sidled up to their table and introduced myself. I mentioned something incoherent about records and how great they sound, plus what a big fan I was, and how I flew in from Chicago just to see the show.
After an extremely concise back-and-forth, Elliot suddenly said that if I was such a big fan, surely I wouldn't mind buying them lunch. So, I swooped in, grabbed their lunch ticket off the table, and said that, of course, I would be happy to pick up their check. Immediately, Elliot saw how excited I was at this opportunity, ripped the check from my hands, and said no – this would be too good a story for me. When they started to get up, I went a step too far, and asked if Neil would be willing to pose for a picture with me. It was more than he could handle. He just looked at me with cold, steely eyes, replied, "I don't think so," and they walked away.
This was the coolest thing that could have happened to me. I felt honored to get royally snubbed by one of my idols. My friend and I walked around the rest of the day with perma-grins on, and the show that evening was magnificent with "Burned," "I Am a Child," "Nowadays Clancy Can't Even Sing," "Mr Soul," and "Broken Arrow," and many more classic Springfield cuts. What a day. And what a musical event. I was right to make the trip out West, as no other shows got scheduled.
I have been thinking about what I could write on the topic of Neil for the last few weeks. How could I explain how his unconventional voice is so soothing to me? How could I convey how his guitar playing, either acoustic or electric, satisfies my soul? Would it be possible to explain how the events of my life always seem in sync with his songwriting? This all seemed too much for me, so I put the thought of writing about him away.
Then, I woke up on Saturday morning. It was cold, dark, and rainy. Like everyone, I had been getting a little down about being stuck inside and not seeing all the people who mean the most to me and my wife. Even doing simple things, like walking the path along Lake Michigan or taking a stroll down Clark Street, doing some people watching, or popping in for an amazing taco at lunchtime or grabbing one of my favorite chocolate cake donuts. After a while, you get a little blue, and it doesn't take much more than a day like Saturday to bring those emotions to the surface. It produced some disagreements in the house; I'm sure you can relate. I was trying my best not to let it bring me down.
After this really tough day and long night, I awoke to sunshine and temperatures in the mid-50s, just warm enough to put my face in the sun and feel its glow. Then something came over me like a punch to the gut. I needed to listen to Silver & Gold, Neil's acoustic album from 2000. It opens with one of my all-time favorite songs, "Good to See You." "Good to see you/Good to see you again/It's good to see your face again/Good to see you."
Silver & Gold is filled with songs of love and remembrances of past relationships. It brims with unbridled honesty, passion, and positivity. So you can likely understand why I was drawn to this record. My copy is a German pressing I got upon its release. I don't think a U.S. pressing was ever produced. In the liner notes, it says the LP was cut from the analog masters by Chris Bellman at Bernie Grundman's place. It's a great-sounding cut and the pressing quality is first-rate. The LP sounds much more lifelike than the CD or streaming file.
The first two songs, "Good to See You" and "Silver & Gold," always stir my emotions. They are simple, but beautifully written and universal, and unfailingly seem to elevate whatever I am feeling and bring it to the surface. And today, I needed to release some of my pent-up tension, fears, and aggravation. These songs of love were exactly what I needed. There are times when what we feel inside can be difficult for us to express, and music cuts to the core of what we feel. And here, Neil succinctly expresses some universal truths.
"Silver & Gold" was a song I'd heard played live many times but had never appeared on any albums. When the LP came out, I was thrilled to have the title tune on my shelf. "I don't care if the sun don't shine/And the rain comes pouring over me and mine/Cause our kind of love never seems to get old/It's better than silver and gold."
Writing about his father and mother in "Daddy Went Walkin'" sounds cathartic for Neil, and it's contagious. The next song, "Buffalo Springfield Again," seems like something that flew right out of him after hearing something from his past on the radio. For a man who's famous for looking forward, this album seems to be reflective while also containing a snapshot of a time of overwhelming happiness between him and his then-wife, Peggy.
It sure helps to have Ben Keith's steel guitar, Spooner Oldham on piano and organ, and the perfect rhythm section in Donald "Duck" Dunn and Jim Keltner. Add in the soothing sounds of Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt contributing their unmistakable voices to the singing on a couple of cuts. Neil knew exactly what he wanted for this album, and assembled a great team to execute it.
There have been times in my life when I've been grateful to have this LP, and it delivered exactly what I needed today. I'm gonna go walkin' now with my beautiful wife and my loyal little friend, Winnie, trying to get a handle on some gratitude. Thank you for the music, Neil. I really wish I had been able to treat you to lunch that day. To quote from "Distant Camera," "If life is a photograph, fading in the mirror/All I need is this song of love/A song of love to sing to you."