Friday, September 07, 2007

Basement Song- "Out On The Weekend" by Neil Young



We had a custom in 76 Rodgers my first year at Bowling Green. That year I roomed with my cousin Dave and nearly each night we’d slap an LP on the JC Penny turntable I inherited from my brother, Budd, and let an album side play while we slept. The record player was an old 1970’s model with a return mechanism that kept an album side repeating continuously until you shut off the machine. Back then I was old school and had two crates full of crackling, well loved records. Cousin Dave began our unusual ritual, most likely after a night of Iron City beers and a couple Marco’s pizzas. Our first semester was pretty typical of the freshman experience. That initial taste of independence coupled with the recklessness and abandon of youth lead to many nights of laughter resulting from the stupid shit we’d do.

Cousin Dave and I weren’t exactly bosom buddies when we decided to room together. A year older than me, I looked up to him, yes, but more like a second brother than a friend or a confidant. Still, having the opportunity to live with someone I grew up with was more inviting than sharing my space with complete stranger. At least Cousin Dave still had to associate with me (out of family obligation) if we ever fought or grew sick of one another (which we did).

So it was Dave who one night put on an LP and let it play all night long. I didn’t mind; in fact, I liked it. Waking up to the dreamy sounds of some song you love is like being enveloped in a warm blanket: comforting and familiar. Throughout the fall, Clapton’s Slowhand; Tracy Chapman’s first album and Springsteen’s Tunnel of Love and Born to Run all became the bedtime music that lulled us to sleep on a nightly basis. The most frequent artist to sing us complex lullabies was Neil Young, whose tangy warble on his masterpiece, Harvest, became the soundtrack to the autumn of 1988. At the time, Cousin Dave and I were just discovering the music of Neil Young. In my opinion, there is no finer record to introduce a novice to his catalogue than “Harvest”, and there is no finer song to ease you into the Neil Young mindset than track 1 on side 1, “Out On The Weekend”.

Harvest was given to me as a gift by my friend, James, after the two us toughed it out at a cold, rainy Young concert in early September of that year. This was at the very end of Young’s “fuck you David Geffen, I’ll make whatever kind of music I want” period in the 80’s, so the concert venue was far from sold out (the actual show was Neil Young an the Blue Notes, who produced a solid record and a controversial video that year). James bought me Harvest to build my interest in Canadian poet and I am forever grateful. While I quickly took to the popular songs like “Heart of Gold” and “Old Man”, Cousin Dave was enamored with “Out On The Weekend”. Perhaps it had something to do with his musical upbringing consisting of a fine mix folk influenced country music. “Out On The Weekend” typifies Young’s strength in that genre.

Our countless nights of partying or blowing off steam began with the mellow “doom doom thunk” of Kenny Buttrey’s drums and the guitar and harmonica of Young. The rest of the Stray Gators Band ease into the rest of the song, slowly getting the blood flowing as if we’ve just woken up from a long bender. (The Stray Gator’s, by the way, consisted of Ben Keith on steel guitar, Tim Drummond playing bass, and the legendary Jack Nitzsche handling the piano and slide guitar).

Initially, “Out On The Weekend” sounds like a typical getaway song.

Think I’ll pack it in and buy a pick-up
Take it down to L.A.
Find a place to call my own and try to fix up
Start a brand new day


For a couple of young guys (19 & 20), what better was to get you motivated for the classroom than a song supporting the age old motto of following your dream- moving to L.A. (which is what I panned) and starting your life. That first verse is what lured us in. Dave’s constant playing of the song (sometimes two or three times in a row) and the repeated times it soothed us to sleep made “Out On The Weekend” a standard in room 76 of Rodgers dorm. At any given point in the day, whether it be after a shower, between classes, or before the tray races we held with our R.A., the plaintive cry of Young’s harmonica could be heard coming from our room. With the popularity of hair metal and early dance music at that time, we must have seemed like oddballs on our floor. Then again, with a 50 inch stuffed Bullwinkle doll and a map of Tennessee taped on our wall, it didn’t take much to appear a little odd. At that time, I had severed ties with my high school girlfriend. It was a long, painful period for me after she moved to Tennessee (hence the map). When she finally wrote me a final “we have no chance”, I went through a very blue period. The only thing that could ease my mind was buying something ridiculous (hence the stuffed Bullwinkle which we hung from our ceiling). I bring this up because it is the second verse of the song that reveals a deeper meaning to “Out On The Weekend”, a meaning that connected with my heartache at the time.

The woman I’m thinking of- she loved me all up

and

See the lonely boy, out on the weekend
Trying to make it pay
Can’t relate to joy, he tries to speak and
Can’t begin to say


This isn’t a song about running to find your dreams; this is a song about moving forward and putting the pain behind you. This is a song about heartbreak. Pure country.

Dave and I never spoke about what the song meant. He wasn’t one to expose his emotions as openly as I did. With a constant smile on his face and a devilish gleam in his eye, Dave easily disguised any pain he may have been feeling. While I constantly fought back tears during Springsteen’s “Valentine’s Day”, he challenged me to live life for the moment and not wallow in the misery of a broken heart. Looking back at that time, I like to believe that he was doing his best to get me going in my life, as if to say, “Deal with the pain, cousin. She’s not coming back. You have to move on.” In other words, “You have to pack it in and take it down to L.A.” Thanks to his subversive methods, that was what I was able to do.

Ten years ago, Cousin Dave came to visit us in California (the first of several visits). I recall it as a period o cautious fun. We drank, went to an Indians/Angels game, reminisced and toured Los Angeles in his rental convertible. It was a wonderful time. One of the first things he did upon arriving in California was purchase Harvest on cd just so he could listen to “Out On The Weekend” over and over again in the car. When he left for home, he gave me that cd, which replaced my beat up vinyl copy of Harvest. It was the second time I was given this classic album as a gift. I am forever grateful.

Throughout the years, Cousin Dave has become one of my closest friends and supporters. When it came time to shoot “King’s Highway”, he came out to help with not only the first 9 day shoot, but also the three days of pickups. And when we needed hast or magnets for CF fundraising, Dave has never hesitated to help design something at no charge (he works in promotional merchandising). Try as I may to convince him to move out west, he enjoys his life in Washington DC. Although our year as roommates ended poorly (we were at each other’s throats by the end), all subsequent years at BG were sometimes lacking the spontaneity we shared while living in Rodgers dorm. We would hook up once a month to watch a Browns game or go out to hold us over. And if there came a day or night when I felt I needed a little nudge- a simple reminder to keep pursuing my dreams and not to dwell on life’s minor setbacks, I could always put on side 1 of Harvest and listen to “Out On The Weekend” over and over again.

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