August 15, 2009

Neil Young: "Harvest".

I've been reminded lately by some of my fellow RYM'ers of the review I wrote of Neil Young's Harvest quite some time ago; thank you for the kind words, all. Here's the original review via rateyourmusic.com.

About a year before I got married, I started working as a subcontractor for a family friend who ran a small home maintenance business. I was working part-time and going to school part-time, and I didn't have many bills because I still lived at home with my parents, so I enjoyed the temporarily stress-free life I was living. It was working for Dave that I met Mike, your stereotypical eighth grade dropout, chain-smoking, alcoholic handyman. Mike was 34, widowed after cancer took his wife from him, and completely estranged from his two kids when his sister took custody after Mike began binge drinking. You'd expect a hardened, bitter middle-aged man with a gruffness to his voice and a mean-streak a mile wide, but you'd be wrong in this case; Mike was probably the most optimistic, soft-spoken guy I've ever met in my life. He was one of those guys you immediately like, right from the start. Mike had extensive experience as a maintenance guy for a small apartment complex on the east side of the city, and yet he had a quirky way of going about it all. He'd usually smile and tell me he'd never had any experience with whatever skill the job we were on required, but as soon as I questioned him about it, he'd say through a fresh smoke, "oh yeah, piece of cake brother; we'll be out of here in no time, and maybe we'll just fuck around the rest of the day, sound good?" It wasn't annoying or anything, it was just the way his brain multi-tasked; he'd be sizing up the work at hand, and reply with whatever came to mind the moment you asked him, however absurd it sounded. We'd be on a job, and he'd start playing a roller extender like a guitar, or I'd mention one of our coworkers and he'd start impersonating them just to crack me up. It always worked. With such an upbeat attitude towards life, I had no idea such a dark past existed in his younger years. Mike had been an alcoholic since age 15, as well as a chain-smoker, and he'd dropped out of school before he reached the ninth grade. He started working as a plumber, and soon took a maintenance position for an apartment complex, where he taught himself how to fix most anything. He married a woman, had two kids before she was diagnosed with cancer, and after she died, he became completely caught up in his drinking, and his kids were taken away from him and sent to live with his sister. Although his sister and his kids lived in the same town, he never went to visit them; I believe he was ashamed of his affliction, and I also think his sister would not allow him near his own kids after seeing how low he was capable of sinking. Mike soon ran out of money, and lost his job once again. He became homeless for years, sleeping in condemned homes on the city's west side, or sometimes on the street when he couldn't find a place to stay. He had no family, and his only friends were those he made along the way, many of whom were worse off even than him. I was always unclear of how exactly he rejoined society, but eventually he began working again at an apartment complex, and was given an apartment to live in. He ended up working for Dave a week before I started, through the recommendation of a friend.

One morning, I walked into the house we were remodeling to the stereo blaring. I had never heard the album he was playing, but it sounded so familiar I had to ask. "Neil Young, brother," he replied without looking up from his work. "Harvest", I said to myself, looking over the album artwork and the track listing on the back. Obviously, I knew of the album's fame, but until that morning, I had never heard anything off it. Mike explained that it was his favorite album, and he knew every word, every note from it. He would sing along in his hilariously off-key style, and I would just crack up. We listened to Harvest every day on repeat, the entire three weeks we worked on that particular remodel on the west side; it filled the house with a sort of dying, fading happiness, like the tail-end of a good vacation, or the last few hours of Sunday sunlight on the greatest weekend you can remember, and it also provided us with the perfect soundtrack to our lives at the time. We had our best, most real conversations over Young's masterpiece, and I will forever associate its honesty and pensiveness with my friend, whom I can only hope is doing well these days.

I began working at the family business in search of better income and opportunity, and I was informed that a few weeks later, Mike went on a binge again; this time, however, he didn't come back. Mike ended up in detox after incapacitating himself one particularly dark evening of his life, and he stopped showing up for work thereafter. I hear he got a job with a local plumbing company, but who knows where he is now.

>>Link to my original review on rateyourmusic.com.
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