My first proper boyfriend — I say proper meaning we lived together and our collective underpants tumbled together in one 60-degree machine wash — was a man with little to no taste. He owned exactly two CDs. This is not because he had transferred music onto his computer and found he had no use for the CDs now that he had a collection of mp3s. No. This was a man who had purchased two CDs in his entire adult life. He was almost thirty.
CD #1 was a Gomez album. I don’t know which one. I cannot name any Gomez albums. No one has ever legitimately liked the band Gomez. He would play it on repeat any time he felt relaxed enough to kick back in his sandals, have a glass of rosé wine, and smoke a Marlboro Light. It never occurred to me at the time that I was essentially dating an aunt.
CD #2 was Neil Young’s Harvest. It would be put on whenever Gomez was not on, and would be the sole soundtrack to any dinner we ever had. My own attempts to change such things were nixed, quietly removed, and Neil Young’s Harvest was slipped wordlessly into the CD player. He would sit at the head of the table and the following scripted conversation would play out, every time, as if it were the first time he had ever thought of these words re: Neil Young.
“I mean, he’s just so — There’s just no one better. Name a better album than Neil Young’s Harvest. See? You can’t. He’s just so… Well, you know what I mean. He’s just so…”
And he would wave his hand around as if searching for the word, shake his head in disbelief at just how so Neil Young was, never ever in the time I knew him being able to think of a descriptive term to apply to this man, or this album, which I have heard on repeat circa nine-thousand times.
As a consequence of this relationship I now have Clockwork Orange style breakdowns whenever I hear a track off the Neil Young album Harvest. At work, when our newly pressed playlist chooses Neil Young’s Heart of Gold — on supposed “random” meaning roughly three times a day, ignoring the thousands of other songs like it knows — I will leap boxes, chairs, and counters just to hit that skip button. I would cross an ocean to skip a Heart of Gold. And everyone else is trained to do likewise.
Six months ago the bicycle I was riding to work fell to pieces beneath me and I flew over the handles, landed on my face, and used my mouth as an airbag for the rest of me. I don’t remember any of it, but apparently the pavement looked like a Jackson Pollock. I had a pretty major concussion, was ambulanced to A&E, and what is important to this story in particular is that all of my front teeth were pushed in. Not knocked-out, they just angled inwards so that I could not bite or close my mouth. I sounded like the Elephant Man and I had to eat soup only soup for about two months while I pushed them back into position with my tongue.
I also had to endure months of expensive dental work at the hands of German man called Lars. Lars looks like a bearded garden gnome, small and stout, sounds exactly like Lawrence Olivier in Marathon Man and has the most perfect blue-white teeth I have ever seen inside a human face. Lars likes to listen to the radio while he works — no special channel, just your regular pop/rock channel that might blast through a tinny portable at a garage while a man whose face you can’t see tinkers with the underneath of your car. He likes to sing along, his face hidden behind a white mask, while putting things in my mouth. In my anaesthesia haze I quite liked hearing his teutonic version of DeBarge’s Rhythm of the Night as he covered my face in blue plastic and inserted my blackened tooth through a slit to ready it for a root canal. The day Donna Summer died a tear of silent laughter rolled down my face and was hoovered by the dental nurse’s suction tube all because his rendition of Hot Stuff was perhaps the greatest thing I had ever witnessed. But when the first bar of Heart of Gold sounded like a Blitz klaxon my groan was muffled by a collection of stainless steel implements and Lars’ latex gloves.
“Are you alright?” he asked, concerned, switching off the drill. “Do you need more anaesthetic?”
Neil Young’s Heart of Gold. Like a shit into my open mouth.
(He didn’t turn it off.)