"…Old man take a look at my life
I'm a lot like you
I need someone to love me
the whole day through
Ah, one look in my eyes
and you can tell that's true…"
- Neil Young
The other night we were on our way home from Trader Joe's, after some mid-week grocery shopping, listening to the radio, which is permanently tuned into NPR, and we caught a special segment on songs that have had an impact on the lives of listeners.
I was somewhat surprised when the first strains of Neil Young's "Old Man" floated lightly up and around one young woman's story. She told us about entering a New York City subway station soon after September 11, 2001 with hundreds of other commuters. A street musician, who was playing his guitar and singing for spare change, began Young's classic and without hesitation most everyone in the Subway station started singing with him. For a few brief moments, while they waited for their train, they were not NYTimes-absorbed business commuters on their way to somewhere else. Nor were they the shaken victims of a heinous attack on their city and their sense of security.
For that moment she felt that they shared a common link through this song. They were the same...united...in their desire to love and be loved, to feel safe, and to want security for their families and loved ones.
As I listened to her story I found myself wishing that I could have been there, singing right along with them. Then I remembered that, in fact, I too had experienced my own moments of solidarity through music during those unsettling days following 9/11. Moments when, while driving our daughters to school, we would all find ourselves singing the words from the same favorite Bible verse set to music. Evenings in church when the hymns, we sang together as a congregation, united our voices…and our hearts…in an affirmation of God's presence and cementing the bonds of community among us.
In those days following 9/11 it was often music that reminded my daughters and me that nothing had changed…that we were still the same silly girls that loved Mickey Mouse's version of "Living La Vida Mickey" and shared the same childlike love of, and need for, our regular series of lullabies before bedtime…the same ones, in the same order, my mother had sung to me every night of my childhood.
As I listened to that young woman share her story, and pondered the power of music to unite us, I was also reminded of a time when this very Neil Young song, made me feel like I belonged to a larger community of hearts.
My husband and I were out walking late one evening and as we passed the old art deco Tivoli Theatre near our home, we noticed that there was a midnight showing of a new biopic on the life and music of Neil Young called "Harvest Gold". We both grew up with, and shared a love for, the music of Neil Young so it wasn't hard to convince one another that we should come back later that night.
When we arrived the theatre was almost full…and, for the most part, it was full of people "like us"…men and women who seemed to be about our age, rather hippie-ish, and friendly. We looked around, smiled, and if we were part of a couple, held hands. The lights dimmed and soon we were bathed in the golden light and music of someone else with long graying hair and an even more gravelled, but familiar, voice.
The music was one part reminiscent of a time past, and two parts reminder of how brilliant a song-smith Young was…and is. It was rich with political pokes and deep emotional longing.
He sang old songs…and we sang along. A theatre full of folkies who spontaneously joined voices in a way that years ago we had joined hands at sit-ins and marches, rallies and demonstrations.
He sang new songs and we were as inspired as ever by his call to action, his boldness in opposing imperialism, his deep longing for peace.
There was a feeling of church to this random gathering of folkies. There was fellowship, singing, unity in our love for Young's message of peace and brotherhood. We were smiling at one another as we filed out of the dark theatre, through the softly lit old lobby and into the night air. The streets of the city seemed more full of promise, there was a glint of hope smiling down on us from a cloudless starlit sky. I wondered, as we walked hand in hand, how often we go about our lives in community with others, barely realizing that there is a silent song of longing, a wordless hymn of love, playing just below the surface of our busyness. A song we are all either humming along to, singing full-voice with, dancing to the beat of, or just swaying unconsciously with...the way a mother moves whenever a baby is in her arms, or even when she is just watching another woman hold a child. It is a song played by a loving Father who wants to set the rhythm of His universe to a song of grace.
Jeff and I walked along silently for about ten minutes before he asked me what my favorite moment of the film was. I told him it was in a series of moments throughout the film where Young's wife, Pegi joins him on stage, with Emmylou Harris, as a backup singer. There was such tenderness and appreciation for her from this musical giant. We agreed that it touched us both deeply to see how his - and our - hunger to love…and be loved…knows no bounds. Neither age, race, socio-economic category, celebrity give us immunity to the call of love. Love always shines larger and brighter than anything else "on stage".
The following week I was talking to a college-age friend who had wandered into the same theatre one night and seen "Harvest Gold". His assessment was simple, "Boy that old guy sure loves his wife." "How did you know it was his wife?" I asked him. "By the way he looked at her and heck, they were old, of course they would be married." It made me chuckle. Here was probably one of the most out-of-the-box thinkers of my generation. He would have gotten a kick out of that I think.
Here's the 2006 version of "Old Man" (his beautiful wife Pegi is the singer with blonde hair on the far right in the blue dress)for those who want to see musical gold sung from a depths of a "Heart of God" (Im including the 1971 version of this classic also...for those of you who really want to remember....
don't you just love watching Love sing itself in, and as, us...