Baby mellow my mind,
Make me feel like a
Schoolboy on good time…
Summer 1989: I was that guy. Like many other lost causes, I decided to work at a place I spent all my money, the local record store. Back in the day when people worked in record stores. Back in the day when there still were record stores. Back in the day when people listened to records and it was neither nostalgic nor ironic.
My boss, the guy who used to collect my money like a street dealer, now handed me my barely-above-minimum wage paychecks. I wasn’t working there for the money; I was working there for the discount. And it was close to home. And I had nothing better to do. If I was going to listen to records all day, I may as well get paid barely-above-minimum wage to do it.
My boss was not much older than me, but he was old school. He tolerated my obsession with progressive rock, and took pity on my undeveloped appreciation for contemporary music. I thought I knew a thing or two. He revealed, among many other things, how deficient my not-inconsiderable record collection was.
I had, for instance, more than a handful of Neil Young albums and was rather pleased with this fact. How many more do I need to own? I did not ask. A lot more, he did not say. He was a show, don’t tell kind of guy. He showed me that if you want to comprehend, and appreciate, Neil Young, you needed to own everything. Especially Tonight’s the Night.
It is an ugly album recorded during an ugly time in Neil Young’s life. As such, it’s a perfect album for anyone who is either ugly or going through an ugly time in his own life. As a nineteen year old, I qualified on both counts. This is one you need to listen to at night (look at the title), but we played it during the day. It wasn’t personal; it was strictly business.
A woman (I’d have called her middle-aged, then, but twenty-five years later I’d be inclined to say she was early middle-age) strolled into the store halfway through side one. You could see her credulity being strained, then her patience being defied. Finally the last song played and while some of us could comprehend—and appreciate—that pain on display, even during the light of day (Vampire Blues, we might have said), she was inevitably pressed beyond her threshold and looked at me with a combination of disgust and disbelief.
“Put him out of his misery,” she said.
You talkin’ to me? I did not say.
There’s something so hard to find
A situation that can casualize your mind…
Every so often I can’t help hoping that there will be a knock on my door and when I open it, who is there but my sexy soul mate, a beautiful woman who heard the music every time she walked by, and wondered if, according to her own fantasy, a sensitive, erudite dude had been right there all along, waiting for her, waiting for happily ever after. And after a while, she could no longer ignore the siren song escaping the small space under the front door and came knocking.
Of course, this illusion presupposes three things, in descending order of unlikelihood: one, that there are such things as soul mates; two, that my soul mate happens to live in my building; and three, that anyone actually listens to—much less enjoys—this kind of music.
I’ve been down the road and I’ve come back
Lonesome whistle on the railroad track
Ain’t got nothing on those feelings that I had…
Doesn’t that make me sad?
No. In fact, exactly the opposite; it helps. Life might leave a mark, but music is always medicinal. Make me sad? No; happy movies make me sad. Manufactured moments sold on shelves are too easy to see through. Sparkly-toothed simpletons who tell us how to live leave me cold. Too-cool commercials give me cancer. And, of course, the ingenious march of a million soulless pixels remind everyone of everything they’ll never obtain.
Reality is never enough, so sometimes anything approximating art will suffice.
Neil Young could comprehend this.
I can appreciate it.
Baby mellow my mind, he said.
Put him out of his misery, she said.
But he’s not miserable, I say.
You might not comprehend that, but you can appreciate it.
Photo by Andrea Barsanti (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ANeil_Young_2008_Firenze_02.jpg) via Wikimedia Commons.