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Only Love Can Bring You Down: Why Neil Young and Pegi's Split Broke My Heart

09/02/2014 01:32 pm ET | Updated Nov 02, 2014
Jeffrey Mayer via Getty Images

She was Such a Woman. Once an Angel. His Unknown Legend. Once upon a time, he ordered just to watch her cross the floor.

There are some things in life you count on to be true and constant, and I suppose I placed Neil and Pegi Young in that category.

Yet there I was, brought to tears in front of an iPad screen. "Neil Young Files for Divorce." A classic image of a snarling Neil, clad in black T-shirt reading EARTH, gray sideburns, ripping his beat-up black guitar like a wild cat-- all blurring before my burning eyes.

I Googled and Googled, but every story could only offer the same bare bones: "Neil Young has filed for divorce from Pegi Young, his wife of nearly 37 years." "A petition for dissolution of marriage was filed by Young in their hometown of San Mateo, Calif., on July 29. A hearing is scheduled for Dec. 12."

The facts remained; only the pictures changed:

Neil and Pegi at a benefit, Neil and Pegi at a concert; a young gangly Neil and grinning makeup-less Pegi. Photos that now read like a sad slideshow. In memorium. Headed for the big divorce, California-style.

Pegi, his "Unknown Legend," the inspiration for some of the most staggeringly poetic love songs; the songs I grew up with, that shaped me, molded my construct of love, like water over soft young rock. She had been his muse and siren, but also his musical partner, his background singer, the mother of two of his three children. I'd seen them together on various tours--he convulsing with music, she softly beside him. Don't call Pretty Pegi. She don't live here no more.

I had grown up with Neil from the cradle--one of the Big Four who made up my childhood soundtrack, and today, makeup most of my iPod: Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, John Prine, Neil Young.

I could quote any of their words like a Southern preacher quotes the Bible. My rock and roll apostles. All, to me, spoke Truth. But while the others had been divorced too many collective times to count, Neil and Pegi stood tall and strong, always. A classic love, I'd always thought.

So no matter how many stories I Googled, I couldn't find the answer to my only question: Why?

It's none of our business, I know that. But like a little kid I couldn't help but look up at Neil and ask. What is the color when black is burned?

Because when a rock you thought solid suddenly crumbles, like a child--eyes darting, lips quivering-- you question everything around you. What's real and what's just a cardboard screen? What's love and what's just a paper valentine, up there with the barkers and the colored balloons? Neil taught me you can't be 20 on Sugar Mountain, yet here I am at 32, realizing maybe I haven't learned that yet. Ain't it funny how you feel when you're finding out its real?

Maybe the world on a string doesn't mean a thing. Only love can break your heart.

But of course, divorce happens in any dozens of ways. There can be fault and blame. But then, there is sometimes, natural fault--a gorge in rock; an organic divorce in rust and strata. A primeval sculpture, born of storm, thrust by forge or fire. The heart of the rock is torn away, the lava pulses through, eons later, eddies of the tide. An organic split in ancient limestone, a natural fault, umbers and oranges parting for green water.

So here I am singing for the Stringman who lately lost his wife. But I'm also singing for his wife.

All those strings to pull.

We know from his own admission, from CSNY-- from any number of accounts, really--that Neil is not an easy guy to deal with. A Mercurial Poet. Difficult. Perfectionist. Visionary. His own man.

"I've done things I know you'll never understand." You get the sense if he wore a mood ring, it would change like a strobe light. "Is it strange I should change? I don't know; why don't you ask her."

Love is a rose, but you better not pick it. Love is a rock, but rocks change. Here a pink boulder, now red sand. Bronze, iron, nitrate, rust, limestone. A gallery of history in a band of strata. The river parts through the clay. The canyon crumbles wider. The split where the lava spit through, splits and fizzes, wanes, flickers, dies by the turfy bowl. Bones grind into glass. Colliding with the very air they breathe.

Love is a rock, but rocks, I suppose, are mercurial as poets.