BERKELEY'S NEWS • OCTOBER 01, 2022

Descending sugar mountain

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OCTOBER 04, 2021

I never felt 17. When someone asked my age, the words felt somehow strange in my mouth; the answer would awkwardly roll off my tongue after a noticeable pause. Then one day in mid-February, I was no longer 17. I was an adult — whatever that meant. 

So I sat crying in my fifth period English class, lamenting the loss of a youth that was never truly mine. 

For as long as I can remember, I have held an uneasy relationship with the passage of time. Birthdays were not something to be celebrated so much as something to be hesitatingly acknowledged. My estrangement from my own age was never something I could put into words. Instead, it bubbled beneath the surface, spilling over in salty streams each time February rolled around.

My 19th birthday came and went with the same melancholic routine. A few weeks later, I remained in the wistful afterglow, wondering how to spend yet another spring break in quarantine. By some combination of boredom and curiosity, I curled up in bed, placed outdated wired headphones in my ears and began to listen to the new Neil Young album: Young Shakespeare

To me, Young had always existed in a sort of stasis. “Heart of Gold” was just a song on my dad’s classic rock playlist; “Neil Young” was just a name fondly mentioned in adult conversations. He belonged to a time different from mine — a time I could appreciate, but didn’t necessarily feel connected to.

But Young Shakespeare took me on a journey through the past that felt intimately tied to my present. Consisting of live concert recordings from the year 1971, the album carried the voice of a 25-year-old Young across the span of 50 years and into my childhood bedroom. His croon reverberated off the mauve-colored walls; his words touched upon anxieties I had tried and failed to articulate. 

“Old Man” uncovered beauty in the ceaselessness of time. “Tell Me Why” met me where I was — in the awkward, liminal space when you aren’t a child, but you definitely don’t feel like an adult. “Don’t Let it Bring You Down” put my worries into perspective: “It’s only castles burning,” Young sang through the fog of time. 

Young cast a light on the quiet fears that had weighed on my heart for years. I had come face to face with another young person who had also lost the guise of immortality, and as I listened to each lilt of his voice, I felt another burden lifted from my chest. I felt disoriented when I saw recent pictures of him in his ’70s — the sides of his mouth wrinkling as he smiled with his guitar. Yet, this temporal distortion gave rise to even greater beauty: I had the opportunity to learn from Young on both sides of time. 

On one end, I got a glimpse of his life on “Sugar Mountain”: an allegorical youth filled with cotton candy and colored balloons. As I listened to him reminisce on his childhood, I mentally began to construct my own Sugar Mountain. I remembered late nights eating phish food ice cream at the kitchen counter; smelling every flower on walks Downtown with my dad; and sitting on the roof of my childhood home, gazing at the stars as they hung still in the salty air. 

But, Sugar Mountain also comes with a catch. “You can’t be 20 on Sugar Mountain,” Young sings in the closing minutes of the album. 

Each moment, I come closer and closer to that random day in February when I’ll no longer be 19. Another age will slip through my fingers before it even has time to even settle in my hands. We live in the glow of Sugar Mountain for a short while, but at some point, we must descend into the world of adulthood. 

Yet, just as I saw Young on the peak of Sugar Mountain, so too did I see him at the base — still living, still smiling and still rocking well into his ’70s. For me, Young has become the voice of time, bridging the anxiety-laden gap between youth and old age. 

As I look ahead to my 20th birthday, I preemptively fight the tears I know are coming. I already feel the ground of Sugar Mountain shaking beneath my feet, and I know I must prepare for my descent. The downward journey is a long and arduous process, but I find comfort in the fact that I’m not alone. I know I have the Neil Young of past and present to lead the way. 

Contact Lauren Harvey at 

LAST UPDATED

OCTOBER 03, 2021


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