Thursday, March 18, 2010

Neil, Mort & Bert

Bert has spent the better part of his life in Blind River. He retired after years of owning his own mechanical and body shop. He raised a family and built a reputation as a fair and decent businessman.

In the summer of 1962, Bert was a young man just learning his trade and working in the same garage that one day he would own. He recalls that business was not all that great sometimes and there were days that there was not enough work and Bert would be sent home.
On one particular day however it got pretty busy (and as it turned out quite strange) when his boss pulled his truck up to the front doors with a black hearse in tow. Inside the 1947 Buick Roadmaster sat three young men, long and shaggy haired and looking tired and disappointed. Their trip from Thunder Bay to Toronto was interrupted just outside of town, when the drive train on the car snapped.

Bert recognized the men as musicians by the equipment heaped in the back of the hearse. Of course, he had no way of knowing that a few years down the line, one of the men would become a household name - a major star. The young musicians were Neil Young, Ken Koblun and Jeff Wuckert. At the time they made up the band known as the Squires.

One of the men wore an old style German army helmet and all of them wore the uniform of the 60’s – the psychedelic shirts, beads and headbands. Certainly standing out in a small northern Ontario town.

It was determined that the part needed to repair the vehicle would have to be specially machined and since it would take a few days, the young men had no choice but to plan on staying around. The problem was that they were pretty well broke and the local restaurant refused to serve them because of their appearance. Bert said that the garage owner allowed the trio to sleep in the garage and his wife made sandwiches for them.

In the evening Bert would drop by with his guitar and the four of them would jam. When the car was ready, the owner refused to give the boys the keys until the bill was paid and Young had to get on the phone and call his father Scott Young, a sports reporter with the Toronto Star, and arrange for money to be sent.

Shortly afterwards, the group was on their way. To this day a ton of myths surround the episode.

There are those who say that the hearse never left town and was in fact stored behind someone’s house. Bert says that this is untrue. The vehicle had been repaired and was full of instruments (Young liked the hearse because he claimed that the instruments were easy to load and unload). Bert saw the car- which Young dubbed ‘Mortimer Hearseburg’ - leave town.

I too fell victim to the rumor that the hearse never left town. I was walking past the parking lot of a local transportation company when I noticed an old rusting hearse parked in the back. Curiosity got the better of me so I walked into the yard and started checking the old wreck out. It was a Cadillac. But just for the briefest moment I thought that I might be onto something.

Of course the whole episode was immortalized in Young’s big song, “Long May You Run” which was released in September 1976 on a Stills-Young album. More recently he sang the song during the closing ceremonies of the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

Because he mentions Blind River and speaks of the hearse in such emotional terms, at least one unofficial biography makes the absurd claim that Young was born in Blind River and that he was really singing about an old girlfriend. All untrue, of course. Young was born in a suburb of Toronto.

The story still circulates around the internet and Bert says that once in a while he’ll get a call or a visit from someone who wants to get a first hand account.

Well, it was
back in Blind River in
When I last saw you
But we missed that
on the long decline
Long may you run. Long may you run
Long may you run
Although these
have come
With your chrome
heart shining
in the sun
Long may you run.