Tuesday, December 1, 2009


Almost every day I spend some time in our front room while the kids are watching Bill Nye The Science Guy. I work on my computer, and Noel works on his from his home office on the comfy sofa.

Noel listens to music while he writes -- music he's writing about right then, music he's got to write about later, music he's catching up on while writing about something else. The other day he was listening to an advance copy of Neil Young's Dreamin' Man Live '92, a recording of a concert at which Young performed the whole Harvest Moon album.

And I was reminded of a strange association I have with Neil Young. Something about his voice and style takes me back to a family trip to North Carolina. I was just a child -- too young to remember details or have more than vague images. But I remember going to Beech Mountain and visiting the Land of Oz, a Wizard of Oz themed amusement park. I can almost see through the haze of time the yellow brick road we walked down, and the Emerald City at which we arrived. No memory of the balloon ride at the end of the show survives. But I know we bought a sweatshirt. And I know that I was puzzled at the time that this place could be a ski resort; seemed improbable in the summer heat during our visit.

That trip must have taken place in the early 70's. The park was closed by 1980. And I don't know why Neil Young singing makes me think about it. It seems unlikely that I heard any Neil Young on the trip; my parents weren't pop music people, and neither was I until much later. I think it has something to do with the unreality of it all. I can never understand how that beautiful, fragile tenor comes out of that big rough man, much less those gorgeous melodies. And yet it's grounded in the details of a rural landscape. When I am taken back to Beech Mountain by that voice, what I see is tall grass, brown in the heat of late summer, outside the gates of that odd fantasy park. Something about that image is exactly what Neil Young means to me.

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