Old Man

Neil Young:  Old Man

Quiz by Sharon Michiko Yoneda

The top photo is Neil Young and real Old Man, his father.

 The subject of the song, Louis Avala, the caretaker of Young's California ranch with whom Young became close companions during his time of loneliness.  


artist: Neil Young

songwriter:  Neil Young

date released:  1972 by Neil Young  

Neil Percival Young was born in Toronto, Canada, in 1945.  His father, Scott Young, was a sports writer who moved his family from Manitoba to Toronto to pursue his career in sports journalism.  When the Youngs divorced, Neil's mother moved the children back to Winnipeg where he got his early musical start.  Neil Young's literary middle name, "Percival", as one of King Arthur's legendary knights predicted the noblesse oblige in his lifeline.

 During high school, Neil Young played in several different rock bands meeting Randy Bachman of The Guess Who along the way.  According to anecdotal notes, Bachman tried to teach Young how to play the guitar but was rebuffed for his efforts.  Bachman ejected Young from his house and told him to quit the music business and try something else.  Nonplussed, Young left Winnipeg and moved to San Francisco where he joined his friend Stephen Stills in his itinerant band, Buffalo Springfield.  After the breakup of Buffalo Springfield, Neil Young and Stephan Stills hitched their musical wagons to one of the superbands of the Woodstock era, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. 

In the way of many successful bands, CSN&Y parted company, but none of the members found success in solo careers as Neil Young did.  With his new band, Crazy Horse, Neil Young released the iconic album, "Harvest" in 1972 which contained the hit single, "Heart of Gold."  The song was written as a result of a back injury where Young was unable to play his electric guitar and returned to his acoustic guitar so he could play sitting down.  "Heart of Gold" was a softer, acoustic piece, unlike his previous songs of hard-driving rock.  In 2005, "Heart of Gold" was named the third greatest Canadian song of all time on the CBC Radio One Series, 50 Tracks.  

Although many speculated that "Old Man" (1972) was his famous father, Young has since set the record straight.  "Old Man" was Louis Avala, the caretaker of his newly-bought ranch in California. In many conversations with his workhand, Young notices that the two had a lot in common, leading to the crucial line:  "I'm a lot like you were."  During that phase in his life, loneliness was a constant presence and his longing for a companion birthed the line, "That makes me think of two."

In the many iterations of Neil Young, awards and honours were countless.  Notably, he was nominated for an Oscar for his song, "Streets of Philadelphia" which was shortened to "Philadelphia" for the film of the same name.  When Tom Hanks picked up his Academy Award for Best Actor in 1993, he credited Neil Young's songwriting for the inspiration for his role.  

In his career, Juno Awards have visited Young five times and the U.S. Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with two inductions.  In 2009, Young was recognized by the Grammy Awards as the 2010 MusiCares person of the year in recognition of his musical accomplishments and philanthropic work.

Neil Young has received two honorary doctorates from Canadian universities:  a Doctorate of Music from Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ontario, in 1992 and an Honorary Doctorate of Human Letters from San Francisco State University in 2006.  These honours undid his early academic failures as a high school dropout.  Young was awarded the Order of Canada in 2009.

On a different tangent completely, Neil Young was a part owner in a company that made toy trains and model railroad accessories.  With his work with the Lionel company, Young was named co-inventor on seven U.S. Patents related to model trains.