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Zain Patel on NeilTV
at MuchMusic Studios, November 1, 1996(Also check out several other NeilTV stories.)
Okay, now that I've had a little over a week to reflect upon it, here are some thoughts on my experience of seeing Neil at MuchMusic. I've tried not to repeat too much of what others have already posted.
I arrived at the MM building pretty early, as did some other dedicated Rusties (Mark K., Mary M., Dave Y., Trish R.), so we had a chance to talk for a while before Darren McIlwraith and I went inside. I had on my MORE BARN! shirt, anticipating a whole nation of TV viewers scratching their heads in unison. :) A sizable crowd had gathered outside the huge tinted window on the side of the studio, everyone peeking inside, hoping to catch a glimpse of Neil. I noticed that many in the crowd were very young (teenagers), and seemed by their appearance like they were more into punk than into someone like Neil (don't mean to be stereotypical, but that's how it appeared to me). I was glad to see this, because it indicated that Neil was connecting with a younger audience.
At about 5:00 pm, Darren and I went inside, where we were ushered into a room with about 35 others. I was immediately struck by the lack of security - we weren't frisked or even told to leave our belongings somewhere. I could have had anything in my knapsack for all they knew (as it happens, all I had was the MORE BARN banner, my SWA insert for Neil to sign (sigh!), the most recent issue of Broken Arrow magazine, and my copy of Neil And Me for Scott Young to sign, in case he was there -- yes, I was prepared for everything! :)
I explained about the MORE BARN banner to one of the MM people, and asked if there was a possibility that Neil could sign it, but was politely told that autographs of any kind would not be permitted. After waiting a while, we were told by the floor manager that a few of us would get the chance to ask Neil a question, but that our questions would have to be screened first. No questions about Neil's family or about CSN were allowed (hmmm...). (Later, during the show, I noticed that the host, Denise Donlon, cut herself short when she let 'CSN' slip into one of her questions.)
I hadn't really thought of a good question to ask, figuring I'd see what kind of mood Neil was in and what kind of other questions were asked. But since I had to provide a question to the floor manager immediately, I posed this question: Would Neil ever consider releasing something along the lines of Dylan's Bootleg Series, featuring rarities, oddities, and unreleased songs? (Everyone had said to me "Ask about the Archives, ask about the Archives", so I figured this was sort of a roundabout way of doing so -- and would allow Neil to bring up the Archives on his own, without it being mentioned directly.)
Darren also wanted to pose a question, but unfortunately he didn't get the chance. The floor manager left for a few minutes, and returned to tell us which of our questions had been selected. When she didn't mention mine, I was really disappointed, but in retrospect, I probably should have thought of a better question (but I was too pumped to see Neil to think straight that week). If I have one regret about the whole thing, it's that I didn't come up with a better question -- of course, I have dozens of good ones *now*! :)
Those whose questions had been selected were then taken to the actual studio where the show was to be taped. Then about 10 others were taken there, followed by 10 others (Darren and I were in this group), and finally the rest. We saw the train set that had been specially laid out for Neil, as well as a couch and some other decorations.
After a little wait, Neil entered the studio, along with Elliot Roberts, Poncho, Billy, and Ralph. Everyone in the room applauded upon Neil's entrance, and while he acknowledged our presense (with a nod, I think), he didn't approach us or say anything to us (like, oh, I don't know, maybe, "Hi there Zain, I hear you're my biggest fan - anything I can do for you?"). :)
I had been so looking forward to seeing him all week that I was afraid that when I did, I wouldn't be able to control myself. But when it actually happened, I was more in a state of awe than anything else. It was such a wonderful feeling to know that I was in the same room as the person whose music I love so much, whose posters grace my bedroom walls, whose baby pictures are on my bedroom door (yeah, so I'm nuts!).
The first thing I noticed about Neil was his T-shirt, which said 'Geronimo' at the top, had a picture of Geronimo in the centre, and below that said 'All my heros have been killed by cowboys'. I thought it was daring of Neil to wear a shirt with such a provocative message on it, especially on a live TV broadcast across the nation. I also noticed that in the top left corner of the shirt, someone had written 'To: Shaky' and below it 'From: ?????'. I couldn't make out the name after 'From:', but I'm certain I've seen that handwriting before. I don't think this little inscription was noticeable on TV.
Some of the MM people greeted Neil, Elliot, and CH, and before we knew it the show began. Others have already mentioned some of the questions that were asked, so I won't get into any of that. Just a few observations. Shortly after the show began, I looked over my shoulder and noticed Rustie (and former-Torontonian) Mark 'Powderfinger' Klus standing at the back, and we smiled at each other. Since he had come all the way from Philadelphia, I thought it was a great twist of fate that he was able to make his way into the studio (way to go, Mark!). Prior to the show, Mark and I had chatted over coffee, which had eased my jittery nerves. Just too bad the others couldn't make it in as well.
Neil seemed in some ways uncomfortable, but also kind of amused by the whole thing. Many of his remarks and answers to questions were tossed off in Neil's typically offhand way. Strangely, in the studio, a lot of his answers seemed either inappropriate or nonsensical to me, but upon watching it later on video, he seemed much more coherent. Maybe I was too distracted in the studio to pay careful attention to what he was saying, but at the time it seemed like he was being excessively evasive. I've seen interviews in which Neil is really serious and intense, and gives a thoughtful answer to each question, and other interviews in which he just jokes around. His approach to the MM interview was definitely the latter.
Neil seemed in very good spirits, and as nervous as we were to stand before him, he put everyone at ease. Occasionally, as I looked around the room, my eyes would meet those of another audience member, and we would just smile at each other, as if to say 'Can you believe we're so close to Neil Young?!!!'
At times, he walked around strumming an acoustic guitar, giving the impression he was preparing to perform a song. While he did 'practice' a bit with CH during the commercials, he didn't actually perform a song on the show. (I put 'practice' in quotes because to watch Neil practice is almost as good as watching him play...hell, I'd pay good money just to watch him 'practice' for 2 hours straight!) :) Neil's voice was so high that at first I didn't even know it was him!
Of course, it would have been a thrill for us if he had actually performed a song, but I guess he just didn't feel comfortable doing so. When I had called MM a few days before for info, I was told that there was a 'possibility' that Neil would perform 'if we're lucky', so I guess they left it up to him.
I had also been told that the show was to last an hour, or possibly an hour and a half, or even 2 hours, if Neil would oblige. Again, they left it up to him. To those wondering why MM cut him off so soon, believe me, it wasn't their doing, it was Neil's own decision to end it. I don't remember exactly what was said, but without a doubt it was Neil himself who chose to end the show after an hour and 10 minutes. I'm sure MM would have let the interview run even longer than 2 hours if Neil was up to it. Given Neil's mercurial nature, I guess we should be grateful it lasted even an hour! :) From our point of view in the studio, the show went by very fast.
At one point the guy in front of me (with the red shirt) got to ask Neil a question, even though it hadn't been pre-screened (By the way, since I was standing right next to this guy, Neil definitely noticed my MORE BARN! shirt!). After Neil answered his question, I spoke briefly with the guy and discovered he himself worked at MM. I told him that if Denise Donlon turns to him again to ask a question, please direct her to me! (I intended to ask what the likelihood now was of any live Buffalo Springfield material being released.) I never got the chance, as it turned out, but at least I can't kick myself for not making an effort!
Once the show was over, MM people were shuffling about, and we (the audience) were asked to leave. I again asked someone if I could ask Neil to sign the banner, and was once again told that no autographs were permitted. Doesn't really matter, I suppose, 'cause he did eventually sign the banner after the Ottawa show, but it would have been a thrill to actually meet Neil in person. But it was probably for the best, anyway, 'cause if I had met him, I probably would have needed immediate heart resuscitation! :)
As we left the MM building, we were met by the other Rusties who had braved the cold outside (now that's dedication to Neil!). After it was all over, I felt different than what I had expected beforehand. I thought I would be on Cloud 9, just freaking out over having been so close to Neil. In actual fact, I *was* on Cloud 9 (how could I not be?), but I wasn't freaking out, I was almost morose. Being so close to Neil (and the Horse), and seeing Elliot Roberts and a few others from Neil's camp standing around at the taping, it became very clear to me how all of this - the MM show, Rust, tape trees, the MB shirt, the banner, etc., etc. - stems from the talents of one person. Our fascination with Neil centres on his ability to express himself in music so honestly and intensely that we're captivated by everything he does.
As I walked home later that night, I thought how great it was not only that Neil was still making music, but that he was still making *great* music. Die-hard fans of other musicians who have passed on (whether it be Handel or Hendrix) can never experience the unique thrill of listening to a new piece of music, or wonder what the future holds in store. But for us, Neil is still in his prime, and we can only dream about what the future will bring.
Sorry if this all sounds a bit over-dramatic, but it's what I thought about after my MM experience. Instead of jumping for joy, I kind of withdrew into myself, and realized just how fortunate I am (and we are) that Neil's musical gift hasn't left him, and that we should never take for granted what that means. So as much fun as it was to see Neil live and all, the whole experience served more as a reminder of what all this is about.
Thanks to Mark, Mary, Dave, Trish, and Darren for making that day one I'll always treasure. Thanks also to all the other Rusties who sent me words of congratulations and encouragement. And, of course, thank you Neil for an experience I'll never forget!
Love In Mind
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