Toronto Mike

One Helluva Fever

Fear not, I'm not feverish. In fact, I feel great. I just finished a chilly 25km bike ride and now I'm listening to Neil.

Neil's the guy who had the fever. In late 1968 Neil Young had a 39.5 °C fever and in this state wrote three of his best songs. When I have a high fever, I just sweat and sleep, but Neil wrote Cinnamon Girl, Down By the River and Cowgirl in the Sand. No fooling, these are three of my favourite songs of all-time.

Here's what Neil wrote in his memoir, Waging Heavy Peace:

I had been sick with the flu, holed up in bed in the house. I was delirious half the time and had an odd metallic taste in my mouth. It was peculiar. At the height of this sickness, I felt pretty high in a strange way. I had a guitar in a case near the bed. I took it out and started playing; I had left it in a tuning I was fond of, D modal, with the E strings both tuned down to D. It provided a drone sound, sort of like a sitar, but not really. I played for a while and wrote "Cinnamon Girl." The lyrics were different from how the song eventually ended up, but all those changes happened right there, immediately, until the song was complete. Then I took the guitar out of D modal and kept playing. At the time, there was a song in E minor on the radio that I liked, "Sunny" or something like that. I remembered hearing it in the drugstore at Fairfax and Sunset while I was shopping for something to ease the flu. The song kept looping in my head, endlessly, like some things do when I’m sick and maybe a little delirious. So I started playing it on the guitar, and then I changed the chords a bit, and it turned into "Down by the River." I was still feeling sick, but happy and high. It was a unique feeling. I had two brand-new songs! Totally different from the last album! Then I started playing in A minor, one of my favorite keys. I had nothing to lose. I was on a roll. The music just flowed naturally that afternoon, and soon I had written "Cowgirl in the Sand." This was pretty unique, to write three songs in one sitting, and I am pretty sure that my semi-delirious state had a lot to do with that.

Here's Cinnamon Girl.

Here's Down By the River.

Here's Cowgirl in the Sand.

Like I said, it was one helluva fever.

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