Reading between the lines of ‘Old Man’ by Neil Young…
In 1970 Neil Young spent $350,000 on buying Broken Arrow Ranch in Northern California. A huge star in America following his stints in Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young he had become a phenomenal songwriter and recording artist and sought solace in the beauty of the acres of land at the ranch which he still owns to this day.
Two years later, Young released ‘Harvest‘, his fourth album and the best selling record in America for 1972. One of the singles from the album was written about the two caretakers who lived at the ranch when Young bought it. Recalling the origins of the song and the first time he met them, Young told the story in the 2006 documentary “Heart of Gold” about his life and music “There was a couple living on it that were the caretakers, an old gentleman called Louis Avila and his wife Clara. And there was this old blue jeep there and Louis takes me for a ride in this blue jeep. He gets me up there on the top side of the place and there’s this lake up there that’s fed all the pastures, and he says “Well, tell me, how does a young man like yourself have enough money to buy a place like this?” And I said “Well, just lucky, Louis, just real lucky” And he said “Well, that’s the darndest thing I ever heard” And I wrote this song for him.”
It is a beautifully crafted song, it’s lyrics reach out to men of a certain age who look back at the life of their father as well as their own, it asks of us if one’s current state is a mirror image of the parent. It is a realisation of the passage of time and with it an understanding of what one’s father gave, or neglected for the cause. For me it symbolises a transitional period in life when we pause for greater periods of inner reflection, a coming to terms with our life and what we have made of it:
“I’ve been first and last
Look at how the time goes past
But I’m all alone at last
Rolling home to you”
Photograph of Neil Young at Broken Arrow Ranch taken in 1971 by Henry Diltz
Take a listen and pause for a while….
Categories: The Music Lounge