Obsessed with this video

My day job is teaching high school.

And half of my high-school teaching involves teaching online, which means I do a fair bit of marking.

And marking work that comes to me from students online means I listen to a lot of music at my desk.

And THAT means I spend a lot of time with Youtube running in the background of whatever I’m doing.

And that means that recently I fell upon a video that has completely captured me.

This video right here:

I listen to this at least a couple times a day right now, and although I know that is dangerous and I will eventually burn out on this version of this song, I can’t stop myself from replaying it.

Having been only the most casual Neil Young listener (sure, I played Cinnamon Girl in my first band in high school) (Drums. Thanks for asking), I really only liked a handful of songs enough to spend any significant time listening to him.

Yes, I am aware that this is sacrilege to some, and I realize that Neil Young is phenomenally talented and crucial in rock history and don’t disagree with people who enthusiastically strum and warble their way through his oeuvre at camp fires the world over. He is amazing and he deserves to be the legend he is. I even like the whole french fry car thing. It’s awesome.

However, I have always loved this song, which is how I ended up clicking on this link when it turned up on the sidebar of whatever else I was listening to. (The Band, I think…?)

And I was utterly hypnotized.

He’s so young. (no pun intended)

The song is so crisp and perfect, the production amazing and Young sings and plays so effortlessly, so perfectly, with such a focus that the audience sits there shell-shocked, or more likely, entranced. They’re absolutely silent, certainly realizing that what they’re seeing is irreproducible and if they aren’t careful it will be over too soon. They know they’re seeing something amazing and, ever moreso, something private. Young’s focus is completely internal, totally pure and without pretense or self-consciousness of image or style or anything of the bullshit that the music industry learned to commodify so successfully in the years since. (and before, let’s not kid ourselves)

I don’t know exactly how old he is in this performance (26) and I don’t care, because it crushes me to see a man – a boy, really – so insanely young and so talented, so creative and skilled and singing a song so powerful and so prescient. He wrote this song with an awareness that completely belies his age, like he could see himself now, today, and he knew not only what he would be, but what he would think about what he is. And now, he’s not just a lot like the old man, he IS the old man and somehow, in 1971, he already feels the gulf between one self and the other. He knew what was happening.

And so do I.

Standing here at my desk, marking art pieces from kids all over Ontario, I listen to Neil Young’s perfect performance and my chest hurts. He is just another kid from all over Ontario and he can write and sing a song that sounds like this, a song that soars out of the 70s and, thanks to technology, to the BBC, to Google and Youtube and everything in between, flies forever through wires and waves and cables and keyboards and hits me here in my 40s and breaks my heart.

I look at that brilliant boy and I hear his incredible talent and all the years between that night and right now are nothing compared to the impossible distance between what he did as a kid and what I will ever do on my best day.

And then, that song is over and the next one is Tiny Dancer by Elton John, from 1971.

When he was two years younger…

Thanks, Youtube.

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