Neil Young reminds me of my Grandfather. Not because he was a multi-million selling Canadian rock musician. He wasn’t. He was a Minister, but he’d finished with that by the time I had most of my interactions with him. Thankfully, he was big on photography and there now exists a massive volume of photos showing him with a big smile and a pipe and my dad in short trousers and a frown. But by the time I got to know what I was talking about he was, at least to me, a sick old man who died five years ago.
Neil Young, of course, is still putting it about like the legend that he is, but after listening to his live show at Canterbury House in 1968 I can’t help but feel like I’ve seen a different side to him. Sugar Mountain captures him post Buffalo Springfield and pre massive solo popularity, which would follow as he built up his head of steam towards 1972’s Harvest. His banter is free-flowing and confident, and he sounds care-free and excited. He bangs on about having worked in a book store and the motivations for playing music – “residuals…that’s money by the way….I didn’t know that either, but I remembered after that.” But what makes this record a real time-travelling experience is hearing the man proving himself. Buffalo had made him somebody of note, but free from their group dynamic his muse wonders through the guitar he plays like a bird taking flight for the first time. “Sugar Mountain ” (the song) is simple and calm but with a stateliness that beams with confidence, while “Birds” shows that Young very much had something to say, even this early on.
It is this youthful sense of possibility that I imagine my Grandfather with – the man striking a pose in that picture with a palpable sense of glee about the family fortune he was blessed with. I guess I’ll never really know what he was like as a young man, romanticism takes over. But I caught a glimpse. My Gran once asked him what he thought they should get for a family member’s first wedding anniversary, a gift that could be related to the first anniversary’s name (paper) and be practical for a couple in a new home. “Toilet paper”, he said.
Nice one, Gramps.