Neil Young says he was a terror growing up in "Helpless" town
You know Neil Young's classic hit "Helpless," the one where he sings about Omemee, Ontario as the place with "dream comfort memory to spare"?
Turns out not all those memories are so comfortable, especially if you happen to be a turtle or an old lady who ran afoul of Young's youthful brand of mischief.
The Canadian rock icon was at the Princess of Wales Theatre Monday night, for the TIFF world premiere of Neil Young Journeys, the third in a series of musical documentaries on Young, each of them directed by Jonathan Demme.
It's mainly a concert movie, concerning Young's Massey Hall visit last May. But the music is framed by road-trip memories, as Young drives a vintage 1956 Ford Crown Victoria around places of his youth, including the Village of Omemee, celebrated in "Helpless."
Young jokes about what a holy terror he was there as kid, when he used to dress up in a homemade cowboy outfit (there's a picture of him in the movie doing just that).
He'd collect fish and turtles from the local watering hole and carry them through town on his wagon. Sometimes he'd stop at Coronation Hall, a local landmark, to make his own kind of personal statement.
"I think I killed a turtle by sticking a firecracker up its ass ... so my environmentalism roots aren't all that deep!" Young says.
He was in cahoots with a local troublemaker called "Goof," who would pay him five cents to say outrageous things.
"I'd do anything for a nickel," Young said.
"He'd give me a nickel if you'd say, 'You have a fat ass!' to an old lady."
The same pal told him that it was okay to eat the tar bubbles caused by road crews laying asphalt because "it would turn into chocolate."
Young didn't fall for that one.
A screening of Neil Young Journeys was followed by a Q&A with Young, Demme and audience members, moderated by TIFF programmer Thom Powers.
An expansive Young announced that's he's written the first volume of his autobiography -- no release date yet -- and he's working on the second volume.
The Q&A was like old home week for Young.
Former classmates stood up to offer their memories. Someone who claimed to know Goof gave Young a letter purported to be from him.
Young wondered what Goof wanted him to do now for five cents.
And his old flame from Grade 4, a woman called Mary-Ellen, stood up in the audience to say hello. He hadn't seen her for decades.
"Mary-Ellen, is that you?" Young said, incredulously.
Young topped it off by giving her a dog collar that he won in a contest.
"I still haven't lost my touch," he joked.
-- Peter Howell