The Soundtrack of My Teens–Hearing Neil Young Live in 1969

This is really exciting news. On June 6, to promote his forthcoming memoir Waging Heavy Peace, Neil Young will speak at BEA, the annual book industry convention. I’ve been attending BEA most years since I got started in the book biz in 1978, back when it was still called ABA, and have usually taken a pass on the guest speakers, but not this year. I am very eager to be there for Neil’s appearance and I’m sure lots of other book people will be there too. His publisher, the Blue Rider imprint of Penguin Putnam has put out this release along with the news, explaining that he will be interviewed by someone to be named later. [May 24 update: It’s been announced that Neil’s interlocutor will be Patti Smith.] Speaking of interviews, Jian Gomeshi of CBC Radio One’s “Q” program conducted a great interview last year with Neil, and Daniel Lanois, producer of Neil’s 2011 album “Le Noise.”

I’ve admired Neil since I was fourteen when I saw him perform in Cleveland. I went with my older brother Joel–with whom I would later operate our Cleveland bookstore Undercover Books–and despite my being way under-age, Joel, who would have just turned eighteen, somehow got me past the front door with him. Confirming my memories, Jimmy McDonough’s indispensable book Shakey describes the venue as “a tiny basement coffeehouse,” though I recall it also served liquor. I recall Neil played two consecutive nights, and we even went back for night #2. This was soon after Buffalo Springfield had split up around when his first solo album was released, and before Neil released “Everybody Knows This is Nowhere,” the first album with Crazy Horse.

Neil played solo acoustic sets both nights, but he also had a backing band that opened on its own and later played with him, a tight and country-tinged outfit called Natchez Trace, about whom I’ve found a faint trace online. From that source, a Buffalo Springfield fan site, I see that the shows were on Saturday, May 31 and Sunday, June 1. I recall that the club was not crowded either night. At some point during the two nights, Joel and I availed ourselves of the opportunity to go up and say hello to him. I extended a hand and shared a shake with Neil, then so young, and a bit shy in fringed buckskins and extremely thin, as he was not many years past the polio that had defined his early years, also chronicled in Shakey. When I hear Neil speak on June 6, I’ll be remembering those La Cave gigs and the early days of Neil’s career.