Old Man – Neil Young

People tend to draw lines between each other and place themselves into categories. You are either young or old, educated or uneducated, thoughtful or shallow, middle class or working class, popular or a loser, or whatever other labels society uses to define us. Why is it that we pay such close attention to whatever groups we “belong” to rather than reach out to each other in spite of our differences? Neil Young’s “Old Man” discusses the idea that beneath our external differences, we all have the same desires, fears, and feelings.

Neil Young in 1970.

Background:

“Old Man” was famously written by Neil Young about Louis Avila, the caretaker of Broken Arrow Ranch, which he bought in 1970. Neil Young’s voice serves as that of a young man who tells an old man of all the qualities they share. During a time when clashes between the young generation and the old were frequent and sometimes even violent, “Old Man” serves as a reminder that we are all human, regardless of not only age but also race, religion, gender, or whatever other subtle differences that might be used to pit people against one another. Sometimes, the youths of society may not always follow the rules but perhaps that is because they have something to say about them. Likewise, being a member of the older generation does not necessarily mean being rigid and close-minded — they were once young as well. We are all people and amidst the chaos of this crazy world, the very least we can do is learn from each other’s differences.

Louis Avila (left), the inspiration of Neil Young’s (right) “Old Man”.

The Song:

Old man look at my life,
Twenty four
and there’s so much more
Live alone in a paradise
That makes me think of two.”

All people, no matter who we are, are subject to emotion. All of the little flutters of excitement in our bellies, the irritations and annoyances of the everyday, the warm, enveloping embrace of love, and the deep, sinking yearnings for companionship that remind us that we are alive. While at age twenty four, it may seem like “there’s so much more” ahead, that doesn’t mean that all of these emotions and more can’t have been experienced before. A twenty four year old who is still getting a grasp of the world and is wandering in search of love and understanding is not so different from an elderly man or woman who has lost a spouse and has plunged into a new world of life without his or her soulmate and is trying to find a new purpose in life. Both are “alone in a paradise” and wishing that they were “two”.

“Love lost, such a cost,
Give me things
that don’t get lost.
Like a coin that won’t get tossed
Rolling home to you.

When you discover that you love something, you hope that it will never leave you or “get lost”. No one wants to lose something that they love, which is why letting go of the past is one of the most painful things a person could go through. You could lose something you love as twenty four year old and still be mourning that loss fifty years later. Once you have found something dear to you, you are not going to gamble with it. A tossed coin has to do with chance and risk, but by keeping it safe in your pocket nothing will change. It will simply roll on home with you, on to old age and beyond.

DANIEL-MAY-COIN

“Old man take a look at my life
I’m a lot like you
I need someone to love me
the whole day through
Ah, one look in my eyes
and you can tell that’s true.

Regardless of who we are, we all have basic needs, desires, and fears. As humans, we all seek the same things, albeit in different forms. The elderly, conservative man from Kansas wants love, comfort, security, and justice just as much as the new-age, liberal hippie from Portland, Oregon. They may disagree on the methods of finding what they want but at the very core, their goals are all the same.

breakfast club note

From the movie “The Breakfast Club”.

“Lullabies, look in your eyes,
Run around the same old town.
Doesn’t mean that much to me
To mean that much to you.”

Our identities are composed of our past experiences, from the lullabies that were sung to us as infants to whatever occurred in the past five minutes. All of the places that we have been to, the people we have met, the things we have seen, felt, or experienced, these are the things that make us who we are. We know who we are, which is why it shouldn’t “mean that much to [us] to mean that much [each other]”. We do not need the approval of others to be who we are because at our innermost levels, we all have the desire to be ourselves and express our beliefs freely, whether we are old or young, rich or poor, liberal or conservative, white or colored, male or female, religious or atheist, liberal or conservative, gay or straight, a leader or follower, blue collar or white collar, left brained or right brained, or any other category that causes people to forget the the fact that we are all just people trying to find our way.

“I’ve been first and last
Look at how the time goes past.
But I’m all alone at last.
Rolling home to you.”

Age is all that distinguishes the young man from the old, but even that will change as “time goes past”. Both men have experienced ups and downs and have been “first and last” during their lifetimes. While their experiences may have been different, the emotions felt from being “first [or] last” are the same, regardless of the situation. “Rolling home to you” describes how, as time passes the young man will age and there will be nothing left to distinguish him from the old man.

Just a fun clip from the Tonight Show, with Jimmy Fallon showing off his spot on Neil Young impression. Ironically, there is both a young and old Neil.

“Old man take a look at my life
I’m a lot like you
I need someone to love me
the whole day through
Ah, one look in my eyes
and you can tell that’s true.
Old man look at my life,
I’m a lot like you were.
Old man look at my life,
I’m a lot like you were.”

It is often believed that revolution and change is brought about by the simple struggle of the young generation against the old. That in order for the human race to evolve the young must forsake their close-minded forebears in favor of new ideals, new rules, new technology, new ambitions, new society… But it is not that simple. To illustrate, technological innovation does not occur simply by throwing away all old technology and forgetting all old knowledge and somehow magically bringing some completely new invention into existence. Innovation is built upon previous knowledge, previous successes, and even previous failures. Even the ideas that seem the most unorthodox, the inventions and philosophies and crazy feats that have never been done before and are bound to change the world as we know it, must be inspired by something somewhere that is already in existence. It is for this reason that we need diversity and tolerance of it. Anyone can learn from anyone else, young from old or old from young. If we can recognize that on the inside we all want to be loved and understood, we can look beyond discrimination based on our outer identities and actually use our differences to our advantage. By venturing out of our own normal social groups and talking to someone different from ourselves or the people we have met, we can find inspiration for ideas that we may have never considered before. Being an original doesn’t magically mean pulling something new out of thin air, an original has the ability to see the world and the everyday things in it in an entirely different light.

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9 thoughts on “Old Man – Neil Young

  1. Not only is ‘Old Man’ a beautiful song by a great artist, but it has such a great message. The world would certainly be a better place if people could see that underneath all the labels that society places on each other, and that we are not all that different in the end. Great post!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you so much! Although I do believe people still pay way more attention to labels and stereotypes than they should be, I do believe that people are becoming more and more open-minded as time passes. Perceptions have already changed so much within just the past half century and I have hope that in the future things will continue to change for the better.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I love Neil Young. He’s such a legend! I completely agree with you that age should not define us. We often forget as younger people, that the older generations were younger once and have experienced things in their lives that we could stand to learn a thing or two from. Age is just a number in my view. Just because you hit a certain age doesn’t mean that you don’t want to try new experiences and meet new people and travel. My god, I know for sure that as I get older I will still want to experience new things and people. Life is for living until the day you die! Great post xx

    Liked by 1 person

    • I completely agree! No one should be set on any idea about anyone until they have actually taken the time to understand their thoughts and feelings. Anyone, no matter what age, race, religion, or whatever, can do or be anything they want.

      Liked by 1 person

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