I found myself in the middle of Neil childhood heaven while attending the premiere screening of “Neil Young Journeys.” That was definitely the theme of the evening. I felt very attached to everything that was going on. It was all so intimately familiar to me.
The concert footage which was excellent and compelling in its own right, was interspersed with footage from a road trip Neil took with his brother Bob and director Jonathan Demme. While visiting various sites in Omemee and Brock Road (Pickering), Neil reminisces about his childhood. His brother drove the lead car (an old Cadillac) and Neil and Demme followed. I’ve made numerous trips to Omemee over the past 5 years and was given a guided tour of Brock Road this past January. I’m familiar with all of the places and people that Neil mentioned. (Although I didn’t know about Bob guarding Neil’s chicken coop with a rifle after the famous chicken massacre of 1956. I took some notes.)
It was very cool to see Neil driving along Highway 401 West in his classic old car heading into Toronto with Massey Hall as the destination. He meant to take the Yonge Street exit but he got mixed up and took Bayview Avenue instead. Another driver honks at Neil as he maneuvers to quickly join the exit lane. (He also drove alongside a huge transport truck and it was really noisy.) I know that stretch of the highway where he took the wrong exit and it is really confusing at times.
As they approach Massey Hall Neil remarks, “It certainly doesn’t look like it did before. But I can smell it.” (In reference to Massey Hall). The camera then pans over the entire building from top to bottom where the triple red entry doors stand proudly.
When Neil was on-stage he made numerous comments about his childhood. He said that he was “reading a lot about his childhood lately.” He also mentioned that he attended many different schools and that during one particular year he had attended three different ones. (Neil was well acquainted with being the new kid in the class.)
Continuing with the “I Am A Child” theme, one of Neil’s ex-classmates from Grade 4 at an elementary school in Toronto was selected to speak during the Q&A session. Mary Ellen B. introduced herself and Neil’s face immediately lit up. He recognized her name right away. He said that Mary Ellen was his “first girlfriend.” I had interviewed Mary Ellen for “A Shakey Education” and she had called me earlier in the day to let me know that she planned to attend. (We were able to meet face to face — for the first time! — after the screening.)
Neil relayed an amusing story about winning a prize at a game at a community fair. He thought he had won a beautiful piece of jewellery. He had a bit of a crush on Mary Ellen so he decided to present her with a token of his affection. He went to her house but she wasn’t there. He gave the gift to Mary Ellen’s mother with instructions to give it to Mary Ellen. It turned out that the “golden necklace” was really a fancy dog collar choker chain. It was crafted in a chain-link fashion with little golden medallians hanging from it. Mary Ellen didn’t have the heart to tell Neil that his lovely gift ended up on the neck of their pet boxer.
Another classic Neil childhood heaven moment was when a large manila envelope was relayed to Neil from the audience. Neil’s old childhood pal from Omemee, Garfield “Goof” Whitney, wasn’t able to attend the screening but he sent along a memento to give to Neil. When Neil received it he jokingly remarked , “Oh, what does Goof want me to do now.”
During the road trip to Omemee Neil points out where his old friend Goof lives. (I had the opportunity to interview Goof this past April.) He reminisces about how his older friend would delight in taking advantage of his youthful naivete and general gullible nature. Goof told Neil that it was a good idea to eat tar from the road because after you chewed it for a while it would begin to taste like chocolate. Neil believed Goof and tested this out. Neil jokingly remarked that this was the beginning of his close relationship with cars.
Another member of the audience who spoke with Neil during the Q&A session had a photo with him that was taken at Kelvin High School’s 75th Anniversary Reunion in June 1987. Neil attended the event and was in the photo with some others. The reunion was held in conjunction with the Shakin’ All Over 1960s Winnipeg Bands Reunion. The audience member asked Neil if he was aware that Kelvin was celebrating its 100th anniversary next May and if so, did he plan to attend. Neil responded affirmatively.
Sharry (Up in T.O. keepin’ jive alive)
p.s. I’ll add some other highlights from the screening in the next day or two. There’s so much to report. I can’t do it all in one shot.