Neil Young has always been able to reduce me to rubble. The dozen or so shows of his that I have been lucky enough to witness have always included moments of pure joy, absolute sadness and utter bewilderment, sometimes all during the same song.
It happened again last weekend at Farm Aid. After all but disappearing from touring for a year and canceling every major appearance, most of us weren’t sure if Uncle Neil would even show up for the landmark concert event that raises money and awareness for family farms.
Neil has always seemed to do exactly want he wants, when he wants and for how long he wants. During the course of the afternoon, bookended by my wife and brother, we had hours of engagements with concert goers wandering into our tent to learn about the great work of Lundberg Family Farms. The music lineup was strong. Great performances from Jack Johnson, Sheryl Crow, Nathaniel Rateliff, the Avett Brothers, Dave Matthews, Lukas Nelson and much more had people moving all day long. But as the sun fell and the stars appeared, we all found our spots to prepare for whatever Neil was going to give us.
The man came out like a gunfighter ripping through a Rocky Mountain town, shifted to a grandfather telling stories as kin crawled around his feet and left us like a rocket reaching for something greater still.
I’ve tried to explain what happens to me while attending a concert like that before and my descriptions have never seemed just. But my wife, seeing Neil for the first time, nailed it just hours after the old man left the stage.
“It’s as if you go on a ride,” she told me.
Thinking back to the hour of music Neil gave us, she was spot on. From the first notes to the final applause, I was in another place. I immediately thought of my favorite words of wisdom from Hunter Thompson, “Buy the ticket, take the ride.”
Our conversation led us down the alleys of the last eight months, focusing on my near death experience, surgery and current recovery, and before I knew it she gave me the better advice than I’ve ever gotten from Neil or Hunter.
“The ride is important, but you need to know when to get off.”
So as Neil barked right at me with lines such as, “You must have a heart of steel,” “I still can’t remember how, or when I lost my way,” “You see us together, chasing the moonlight,” “Take my eyes from what they’ve seen, take my head and change my mind,” “That’s how we kept what we gave away,” “I’ve crossed the ocean for a heart of gold,” “There’s somewhere safer where the feelings stay,” and “Got fuel to burn, got roads to drive,” I stood in quiet reflection of a life completely changed by the events of this past January.
It was fitting my brother stood next to my wife during the show, as they stood together so many times during my surgery, and supporting each other during my time in the ICU when just being able to swallow a glass of water was considered something to cheer about.
Through the surgeries, the recovery, the rehab, the first steps and the lasting memories, I took us all for a ride. I got in over my head, but it was too late to turn back, and so we went. So as Neil walked off the stage left, bringing a chapter of my life full circle, I think it’s high time I followed him.
I’ve bought a lot of tickets in my life and have taken a lot of rides. This year was tough, and the next ride will be just as hard. It’s a difficult thing to move on. To shed the uncertainty of recovery and focus on timeless living. I’ve learned so much in the last eight months and feel as if I am more prepared to handle what comes my way than ever before.
When your heart is in another man’s hands there are things you must acquiesce to. You become exposed to a life outside of your own, for reasons beyond your understanding. You are changed in a very profound way that becomes part of what you carry. Putting the pieces back together is just the beginning. Decide what to be, and go be it.
To start again. To smile again. To laugh again. To dream again. To believe again.
As the grandpappy of Farm Aid sung to me as the show closed, “I woke up still not dead again today,” making me grin from ear to ear. The reports of both my and Willie's death have been somewhat exaggerated. We are still here and still being heard, and that is all that matters.