Neil Young’s “Old Man” Lyrics Meaning

The setting of “Old Man” would actually be a property known as Broken Arrow Ranch which Neil Young purchased in 1970, a couple of years prior to this track. This was when Neil was reportedly 25 years old (or according to lyrics, 24). 

You can view the lyrics, alternate interprations and sheet music for Neil Young's Old Man at

It’s actually a massive piece of land, being 140 acres large. And as such, it wasn’t like Neil, who by this point was a divorcee, was living there alone. Instead therein was a caretaker by the name of Louis Avila who, by the looks of things, is a generation or two older than Neil. It is he upon whom the character of the “old man” in this song is based.

It appears that Neil and Louis had a few deep conversations during their time together. And as revealed in this song, “love lost” was indeed the pressing issue on Young’s mind at the time. Again, he had just divorced from his first wife, Susan Acevedo, the same year he purchased Broken Arrow Ranch. 

So on top of that, relatively speaking, being a very young age to become a divorcee, it is understandable why then, as implied in the first verse, he is looking for a sense of permanency in his life. And Neil is seeking such an item, if you will, via the old man’s advice, i.e. a figure whom he has seemingly concluded is wiser than himself.


Then as far as the chorus goes, Louis Avila was actually living on the land alongside his wife. So that would be why Neil is saying that he’s “a lot like” the old man, in that he likewise ‘needs someone to love him’.

Lyrics of Neil Young's "Old Man"

The Old Man and Neil Young

Then concerning the third verse it has been put forth that, at least in part, the vocalist is speaking from the perspective of the old man. But such doesn’t really seem like a logical postulation within the grand scheme of the song. 

So once again presuming that Neil is relaying the lyrics from his own perspective, he would be saying something like despite being relatively young, he has seen and experienced his fair share of the world. Such an assertion may be based on the story that upon first politicking with Young, Avila questioned how someone as youthful as himself could afford such an expensive property. 

Apparently, Louis wasn’t aware of Neil’s stardom. But anyway, as with the first verse, the narrator concludes by saying that he made his way to this location, perceiving it as his “home”.

All in All

Whereas this song is somewhat terse, as in being repetitive outside of the verses, it is still pretty deep.  And within context, perhaps the simplest way to describe Neil’s purchase of a large piece of the land in the middle of nowhere is at it being his remedy to mitigate the emotional pain of being divorced. 

He needs “someone to love” which, by implication, would be a wife, since he compares himself to the married “old man” in that regard. But note that he is not out looking for a spouse or any companionship per se but rather a “home”.

And again, this analysis could go on for days. For example, perhaps the companionship of the old man himself served as that “someone to love”, so to speak, in the meantime. But conclusively, we can say that the vocalist actually looks up to the old man. That is to say that Neil is able to perceive that at one point, Louis was emotionally unfulfilled in his youth, just as he is in the present. Thus it can be said that Young is envisioning himself one day standing in Avila’s shoes, i.e. resident on the land of his dreams alongside the woman he loves.

Neil Young explains "Old Man"

Facts about “Old Man”

Being released on 1 February 1972, “Old Man” was one of two singles issued from Neil Young’s fourth studio album “Harvest“. To date, Young has actually dropped over 40 studio albums. But “Harvest” stands as the only one amongst them to have actually topped the Billboard 200. And it also performed likewise on the UK Albums Chart and Canadian Albums Chart.

“Old Man”, which was put out by Reprise Records, contributed to that success. For instance, this is actually one of Neil Young’s most popular songs. And as far as its chart showing, the track performed best in Canada (where Neil was actually born), where it peaked at number four on the Top Singles chart.

A couple of other famous musicians contributed to the making of this piece. That is to say that James Taylor plays the banjo on “Old Man”, and both he and Linda Ronstadt provided backup vocals.

“Old Man” was written by Neil, and he also produced the track alongside Elliot Mazer.

Old Man


Concerning the aforementioned Broken Arrow Ranch, Neil purchased it in 1970. According to reports, he purchased it at the price of around $350,000. As of the writing of this post, that same amount of money would translate to about $2.5 million, which would presumably be a steal for 140 acres of California land.)

7 Responses

  1. Anonymous says:

    This song may have been written about Luis but it always makes me think of both my Dad and my son. Then I cry

    • Anonymous says:

      I know NY has always told the story of Luis and the subject of this song. If it’s not at least subliminally about Scott Young, I’ll eat my hat.

    • Burke says:

      Same here friend. My dad told me it always made him think of the relationship with his dad, I wonder.if he ever realized I would connect it to him and I…

  2. Anonymous says:

    It was one of my brothers favorites. He never married. We played it at his graveside service when he died in 2013. We were recently blessed to learn he left a daughter behind who is 27 and plays guitar. The song is now meaningful to her.

  3. Anonymous says:

    My son Jason died at 24 in a car crash. This song has taken on many meanings to me since that day Sept. 19, 2014. Mainly that at 70 I want him to know ” I am rolling home to him “.

  4. Anonymous says:

    The song portrays the old man in question as an individual who has lived a lengthy life and has witnessed major transformations. However, the young man, on the other hand, is depicted as someone who is at the beginning of his journey in life and trying his best to navigate through life.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Maybe the song is about our own inner child and that is what we are wanting to connect with. We dont need soneone else to hold the whole night through. Just ourcown true self is what we are all rolling home to.

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