Neil Young – Helpless

I first heard Neil Young in 1978.

Myself and my best friend, Simon, sneaked out of his bedroom window, late one night,  to attend our first ‘proper’ party.

We were 15 and innocent as strawberries.

There was beer, dope, girls and loud, loud music. It was awe-inspiring.

Simon and I got separated. He went in search of dope and I stayed near the beer, alone on the stairs, watching events like a hawk.

Teenage dream girls danced in bikinis and actually spoke to me. It was momentous.

These were the cool, beautiful Demi-gods of the brutal school hierarchy. They were the chosen ones and I was among them. At least hovering around them, anyway.

The music they were playing was great, too, for a hot summer night on the West Coast of Australia.

The Eagles, Seals & Crofts, Rickie Lee Jones, Fleetwood Mac, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Jefferson Airplane, JJ Cale and The Byrds. There was some disco, too, that I wasn’t familiar with but, after an hour of watching a room full of semi- undressed Bardots dance to it, I was a solid, aching fan.

I also heard someone else. Someone I didn’t know. He sounded a little bit like my hero, Bob Dylan, but more…guitary.

I moved into a dark room to be close to the stereo speakers. It was great! The songs sounded so real. It was as though these people were in the room. The singer’s voice was odd, which I liked. It had a country warmth but sorrowful and bluesy, too.

Before my brain could engage a casual tone or a social filter, I turned to the human form beside me on the old couch and blurted, “who is this? This is amazing! This is the best band I’ve ever heard!”

As my eyes adjusted to the smokey dark, I realised the form I had addressed was female. And pretty. And older.

Rather than dismiss or ignore me, she smiled and my heart floated away.

She leaned in close and said “it’s Neil Young and Crazy Horse. Good, isn’t it?”

The Man

The Man

Her warm breath on my neck rendered me catatonic for several seconds, but I managed to nod.

And, like a dream, we sat and shouted into each other’s hair for hours. About music and poets. Angela told me all about Neil Young.

She played an LP called ‘Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere’ and said it was her favourite. It was his second album and had three of his best songs – “Cinnamon Girl,” “Down by the River,” and “Cowgirl in the Sand”. She said that those songs were written when Young had a fever.

The songs were long, loose-limbed and sounded so, so good. Angela knelt beside the stereo and flicked through the row of LPs, picked one out and put it on the turntable. It was an album by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young called ‘Deja Vu’.

She told me who played on it, asking if I knew who Jerry Garcia was, or The Grateful Dead? I shook my head and she explained them. As the third song faded, she took my hand in hers and whispered, “Listen to this!”

Vocal symmetry

Vocal symmetry

That strange violin-like intro and loping, loose and lilting drum beat with acoustic strums, piano rolls and descending bass slope – it was majestic, intensified by this lovely girl who was squeezing my fingers and smiling, her eyes shooting yellow sparks into me.

The song made me feel like I was watching the singer as he looked at an old photograph. His perfect, peaceful memories were pouring out through his sorrow-edged voice. I could see his face reflected onto the photograph –  a home or a remembered face. I was young, but I knew that one day I would look back and the view would be both lovely and sad. Like the song.


“I know! It’s so good.”

The voices on the chorus were earthy and celestial at the same time. I made her play it three times, until someone shouted at us to change it. I wanted it to go on for so much longer.

Angela hadn’t let go of my hand.

I was in paradise.

Not only had I discovered Neil Young, but I had found that my shyness and inhibitions dissolved in this stuff called alcohol.

I soared above myself, immortal. I was brave and deeply attractive. I had consumed liquid angels and they were showing me how amazing life could be. I was connected to the world by a harmonious golden thread. An invisible ribbon of love tied me to all humanity.

After two beers.

Later on, Angela took me upstairs and, well, she introduced me to more than music. In the blue moonlight, many mysteries unravelled as I experienced the female form. My naive passion was treated with exquisite tenderness and I  finally realised what all the fuss was about.

Thank you Mr Young

Thank you Mr Young

As more beers went in, though, I began to feel very odd. I walked down the stairs like a man going up a hill. I couldn’t tell the difference between anything. I leant against shadows and was followed by walls. I banged into people that weren’t there. For the first time, I was hopelessly drunk.

I woke up in the front garden, alone, with no shoes and a blanket over me. It was still dark but thinner, nearing dawn.

The house was quiet. Those left were asleep.

Angela was gone.

I found a phone and called my Dad, asking if he’d pick me up.


He didn’t know I was at a party.


I was meant to be at Simon’s, revising for something.


My old man went nuts. Absolutely mental. I was grounded for life. I would never be trusted again. I was never going to another party.

I said little, nodding when appropriate, apologising in the silences between the fury and generally looking meek and sorrowful.

When we got home I was sent to my room and told not to come out.

I lay on my bed and smiled at the best night of my life.

Thank you, Neil Young.

At 15, in Fremantle, Western Australia in 1978.

At 15, in Fremantle, Western Australia in 1978.


3 responses to “Neil Young – Helpless

  1. Pingback: Neil Young – Helpless·

  2. Saw Neil for the first time in Louisville, KY in 1983–it was a bizarre experience. This was the “Trans” tour and I don’t think that anyone was prepared for this show. Neil was late, the crowd grew restless, and they didn’t like the music once Neil started performing. About 30 minutes into the show, someone threw a beer bottle which smashed into the giant TV monitor/prop. Neil left the stage, the house lights came up, the concert was over, and a riot almost ensued. I frankly didn’t care all that much for “Trans,” but didn’t think it was THAT bad!…Have seen Neil a couple of times since–my favorite was in ’85 when he played with the International Harvesters and toured with the RE-AC-TOR album. A criminally underrated album and band…

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