OTR, Take 1: Neil Young - Everybody Knows this is Nowhere

Welcome, welcome, welcome! After much prodding, a free branding session with Joel Roy (seriously, legal puns are his native tongue), and two weeks away from my record player, I am very happy to launch On the Record, my weekly Saturday morning newsletter. As some of you know, I've been writing about my Saturday morning ritual of waking up early and listening to a record as a means to unwind, reflect, ground myself, and bring to the surface some of the ineffable thoughts lingering in this brain of mine.

On the Record will be the vehicle for the #saturdayvinyl posts going forward, because as Gonzfather always sez, when the going gets weird, the weird go pro. Right, so with the throat-clearing introductions completed –

My mom hates Neil Young, almost as much as she hates Bob Dylan. He can't sing ("he squawks and gulps through songs!") and his guitar playing is jagged and at times sloppy.

My dad, however, loves Neil Young almost as much as he loves Dylan.

My musical tastes align more with my dad than my mom, although I agree with her: Neil can't sing and his guitar playing is not conventionally great. I can't say I love his singing, but I think his angular, off-kilter guitar playing is so, so good. On "Cinnamon Girl," the lead track of Everybody Knows this is Nowhere he plays a solo in the last third of the song that is nothing more than an E note played on the 9th fret of the G string over and over and over again. One note, with a minimal amount of bending. And it's perfect. The hair on the back of my neck stands at attention every time I hear it.

I've been thinking about my parents a lot, lately, and Neil Young always brings to mind a nostalgia for youth. For the house I grew up in, now occupied by strangers navigating through the invisible stories each room of that house holds. For the warm feeling that your parents were In Control.

Every time I think about back home, it's cool and breezy/I wish that I could be there right now just passing time

I suspect that all of us at some point have the shocking realization that our parents are real people with independent desires, ambitions, and lives – lives that we fit into rather than lives lived merely for us. Recognizing in that moment that if that's the case, they're every bit as flawed and lost as we are.

And, recognizing that, feeling your heart swell with compassion, learning to love them even more. In that moment, you are amazed they were able to fool you for so long and somewhat ashamed at having been so self-involved as to have missed it for so long.

I have begun feeling a new stage of this relationship with my parents. I am willing to bet, but have no evidence that my supposition is true, that this is a common experience.

More and more frequently, I'm the default adult in charge. It's as though the system's center of gravity has shifted. Mind you, this isn't uniformly the case: my parents are still relatively young (around 70), very much independent, and able to take care of themselves.

But it feels like I am now responsible for far more than I used to be. A good friend said to me yesterday that at some point you become the parent. It's strange to see that moment approaching, a real thing rather than an abstract notion. For it to be close enough that you can see the shape of it.

I remember first listening to Everybody Knows this is Nowhere with my dad. I was 11. It was a Saturday morning in the fall. We listened to the actual record that I'm listening to now. My dad is a lawyer, too, and he worked like a lunatic when I was young. The times I got to spend with him were usually limited to Saturday mornings, when we'd listen to music or read, and Saturday afternoons to watch Notre Dame.

I just realized, as I'm writing this, that my Saturday vinyl ritual dates back to spending time with him. Life comes at you fast.

That morning, I distinctly remember him saying, "This album is when Neil Young became Neil Young." I don't think I really understood what he mean then, but I do now.

I think it's more complicated than that, though. We don't simply go through chrysalis and emerge in our final form. We are often becoming ourselves, new iterations with different focuses, responsibilities, and desires. Not long after this album was released, my dad lost his father. He was still in college. He's spoken on occasion about what a shock to his system that was – not just that his dad was gone, but that in that moment he realized he had to grow into someone different. The circumstances demanded it.

I suppose it's not always been as apparent to me when I have a new version of myself to step into as it is now.

Take it away, Neil...

Listen to Everybody Knows This is Nowhere on Tidal (better than Spotify, but Mr. Young has also pulled his music from Spotify).

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