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Thursday, January 9, 2014

Forever Young # 2: "Olympic Gold"

Song:  Long May You Run
Album:  Long May You Run (The Stills and Young Band)
Released:  June, 1976

In less than a month, the World will once again be celebrating the Olympic Games.  Sochi Russia will be hard pressed to top the last Winter Games in Vancouver Canada four years ago.  I’m not talking so much about the sporting events (though the men’s hockey final between Canada and the USA was memorable).  No, the lasting impression for me was the class of the host country, which came through big time in the opening ceremonies, and even more so in the closing ones.  There were many displays of this, including the prominent inclusion of regional indigenous peoples in the cultural part of the opening ceremonies, and the “We Are More” speech by Canadian poet Shane Koyczan to help wrap things up.  Bobby Orr as one of the 8 flag carriers was a nice touch, particularly for those of us who grew up in the Boston area in the early 70s.  The humor was top-drawer as well.  All in all a grand gesture by the Great White North.

Canada made another bold statement during the closing-ceremony events…… they unequivocally claimed Neil Young as their own.  Young had made overtures to his home country on numerous occasions over the years, including in song (Helpless), deed (most recently concerts in Alberta to help aboriginals fight oil sands development on their tribal lands), and the written word (his autobiography, Waging Heavy Peace is saturated with stories of his homeland).  This time it was Canada’s turn to reach out with a rather unique invitation.  Neil Young accepted the offer. 

And so, here it was all playing out.  Standing alone under the 4-pillar Olympic torch (including the now infamous malfunctioned pillar from the opening ceremonies, having since been repaired) Young performed Long May You Run ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3iHilRqOLx8 ) as the flames were slowly extinguished.  It was a magical moment for a number of reasons.  First, it was brilliant to see a serious rock n’ roll musician at center stage for such a singular observance.  Wasn’t this the place for an opera singer or classical composer, or some wholesome and polished pop icon?  Not this time.  Canada was showing the world that it still had a sense of depth and freedom and risk and complexity and quality. Second was the solemnity of the moment:  A man and his guitar (and harmonica), bathed in Olympic flame light, surrounded by a full, hushed stadium:  Tranquility and 100,000 people are 2 terms that do not typically go hand in hand.  Neil Young appeared to recognize the special circumstances by actually dressing up for the occasion; a stark contrast to his standard garb of choice (ripped jeans and an untucked flannel shirt). 

And then there was the choice of song. 

Now the story goes that Long May You Run is a song about Neil’s first car; a 1948 Buick Roadmaster hearse.   You can take the meaning at face value, which is fine enough:  It’s a great song no matter the depth.  But let there be no doubt, there is depth and levels of meaning to this song (as is the case with all great songs).  It’s a song that can be about the freedom that comes with a vehicle; the fascination of living on the road with a band (as a teenager no less, which was the case for Young); or the stories that are connected with being on your own for the first time.  For Neil Young this could be about travelling around and playing in the towns and villages near his home as a young man in Winnipeg, Manitoba.  But this song could connect with any of us that have had that wanderlust; that sense of adventure.  Many North American parents of the 60s and 70s either intentionally or inadvertently promoted it in their children to go out, hit the road and see the world.  Live and learn.  Grow.  I saw it all around me in high school as classmates forged off on their own immediately after graduation. 

Neil Young was singing to his compatriots that night, as well as those in his generation from other countries including the USA.  Many were all ears. 

So was I. 

-          Pete 

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