“In my mind I still need a place to go, all my changes were there.” -Neil Young, Helpless
So if you have any sort of background in music of another era, you might be familiar with the whole crusty nose appearance that Neil Young made on The Last Waltz. With great anticipation, he was welcomed to the stage with the upbeat announcement of “You know this guy…” and on comes Neil. Harmonica hammock, guitar, and a big freaking booger of cocaine on his nostril. Without any sort of knowledge of it being there, the show went on, and he performed an absolutely haunting version of the song “Helpless.”
I think the best part about it was the fact that he didn’t even seem to know who he was playing with, the statement of “These people on the stage” was a direct indication that Neil was somewhere else. His music traveled with him, his soul traveled, but his mind was somewhere else. He was there, but not really “there”. In the end, the final cut that made the film had to creatively edit the booger out. Think about it, you’re talented enough to deliver an absolutely ripping version of a depressing song, higher than a kite, and still manage to make the final cut of the film. He was questioned about it decades later, his response “it wasn’t my proudest moment.”
I however think otherwise. The combination of the lyrics, the facial expressions and the fact that he was, indeed, helpless. He was in the grasp of a great white wonder. He couldn’t function without it, or if he could, he chose not to. Then, we can flip the channel and see the stark opposite when he does “Needle and the Damage Done” on the Johnny Cash show. Expressing the feeling of being caught in the claws of addiction. When, though, does somebody start taking their own advice. How many times does one have to sing a song, tell a story, show a picture, before they learn from it. It’s the old “don’t touch that, it’s hot” mentality. Deep in our brains we know it’s hot, but there is a larger part of us that is curiosity stricken that wonders exactly how hot is it.
How high could you possibly get? How hot could it possibly be? How fast could I possibly go? It’s a hamster wheel of thoughts, never actually getting you anywhere. This doesn’t just resonate with people that struggle with addictions, it’s an every day occurrence for normal people, there is almost always a what if. In the Helpless song, what if Neil didn’t do a line before going on stage, what if Paul Walker didn’t go for a joyride? What if I decided to stay in Wisconsin. All very valid questions, but they’ll never get answered, because there is no way to go back in time.
Just like you can look through YouTube and fill your eyes with smut, songs, or silliness, you’re never going to get that time back. The time spent wasted will never be gotten back. I kick rock on occasion wondering what the hell I’ve done with my life, and of course, I’ve had many a shameful incident, none involving white boogers, but similar. A potent combination of lack of respect for life and lack of self respect put me in more comprimising positions than I care to admit to, but at the same time, I’ve never been helpless, there has always been a light at the end of my tunnel. The hardest part, however, it to push on through to the end. You have to have a reason to keep on chugging, sometimes it doesn’t seem worth it, but really, it is.
Looking back at the last few months, I can see a few times that life has thrown me a few curve balls that were too fast and too off center for me to catch. I wanted to quit the game, I wasted time and money trying to numb the reality that was life, but that didn’t get me anywhere. I needed change, and the biggest step towards making change is to admit you have a problem in the first place. Mine was just a deep seeded desire to self destruct, and I didn’t really think anybody noticed, but they did. The same way people noticed that booger on Neil, to us our struggles might not be too obvious, but to the rest of the world, it could be plain as day. Suffering in solitude isn’t going to get you anywhere, reaching out, however, will show you that there are actually some people that will come out of the woodwork that actually do care.
I listen to Neil Young, although I’ve noticed most of his tunes are pretty well peppered with drug innuendo, there are some good points to be made. Listen to Heart of Gold, “and I’m getting old…” Watching him fumble through the first live performance of this song is almost painful to watch, but also, it’s sort of an eerie feeling to see him in 1971 talking about getting old, and look at him now. He’s old. We’re all getting old, but are we going to sing about it for the next forty some odd years?
I listen to Neil Young when I’m blue. I usually throw it on the old record player and absorb the pop and hiss of the needle. The resonance of the voice seems to be right there in the room for me, and even though I think he can be a bit, ahem, whiny at times, aren’t we all? I’m blue, I’m sad, but I’m here, I’m pushing through to another day without falling on a bottle, driving fast, or swallowing pills to alter reality. This is life, kids, and it’s ending one minute at a time.
…but….I’m not getting old…