So what started for me was the idea that it would be a really good thing to have my jeans covered in patches like Neil’s. Back in 1970, feminism hadn’t really connected that properly for me, so my first thought was that I would have to find a woman who was willing to do the job for me. I didn’t have any money to pay for the work, so they’d have to do it out of love for me – like Susan must have done for Neil, until she divorced him after two years of marriage. Unsurprisingly, I didn’t manage to find a woman who was willing to patch my jeans for me out of love, so in the end I thought I’d better learn to do it myself.
Because I was a boy, I never got a chance to do needlework at school. I had to do metalwork instead, and I don’t know why because metalwork has never been the slightest use to me in all the years I’ve lived since then. And because I was a boy my mum didn’t think it would be appropriate to show me how to do needlework, because she probably thought that sooner or later I would marry a woman. And then it would be her job to do any needlework I needed doing out of love for me. So I got a woman who was a friend of mine to show me how to stitch on a patch, and I got a sewing needle, and some thread, and some random scraps of patterned coloured materials, and I started sewing my own patches on my own jeans.
It was easier to sew on patches by hand than I thought it would be, except where you had to sew through a seam and it was really hard to push the needle through all those tight layers of denim. Mostly, I discovered that I quite enjoyed it. The bit where you have to pin the patch on before you start sewing was kind of a drag, but once you had thread on your needle and you were pushing it through and pulling it out over and over again, that part was kind of soothing. You could listen to music or watch TV even, and that repetitive action – in and out, pull it tight, in and out – just had its own pleasant flow. And when you were done, got right the way round to the point where you started and tied the end in a knot so the thread didn’t start to work its way out of the material, well then you had a fine patch to show for all that time and energy.
And after a few years of wearing holes in my jeans and sewing on those multi coloured, patterned patches over those holes, I had one or two pairs of jeans that were starting to look just like Neil’s did on the cover of ‘After the Goldrush’. Whenever I saw pictures of him or saw him on TV, I kept watching out for those jeans. Had he got any more patches sewed on as more bits of the original denim carried on wearing away like they do? But I never saw those jeans again. In fact, after that I never saw Neil Young wearing patched jeans at all. Not ever. Maybe it was the trauma of being divorced by Susan after just two years of marriage, but he seemed to go right off wearing patched jeans altogether.
Actually, what it was really was something I hadn’t taken into account. Fashion. I thought that, once we’d got away from our parents and stopped wearing the kinds of clothes that they thought we ought to wear, we’d find the kind of clothes we decided we actually liked and carry on wearing them for the rest of our lives. And when they started to get a bit worn, we’d repair them as best we could for as long as we could, and when they were really shabby we’d just wear them for doing messy jobs in ‘til they fell apart and we used them for rags. How wrong I was! I hadn’t taken fashion into account at all.
In fact, by the end of the 70s, people were actually buying new pairs of trousers that were ready ripped at the knees. And they wouldn’t have even dreamed of putting patches over those rips, though sometimes I remember they did sort of join them together with safety pins. I don’t think Neil Young ever did that, though. Not even when he wrote that song that mentioned Johnny Rotten.
But fashion can get under your skin. It can change your perception. I hadn’t taken that into account either. By about 1975, even I was starting to think my multicoloured patched jeans looked a bit silly. Intrinsically, they probably didn’t at all, but I just couldn’t shake the feeling. The trouble was, I still didn’t want to throw away a pair of jeans just because of a little bit of wear and tear. I liked my jeans. They were friends. So I started doing my patches with just other pieces of blue denim, from even older pairs that had worn out or that I’d grown out of. With all the different tones of blue and levels of fading, that looked kind of good - and it didn’t look silly at all to me. It still doesn’t, and I still do it. So it really doesn’t matter these days whether I see Neil Young wearing patched jeans or not. Though I’m quite glad he still sometimes wears those kind of checked shirts he’s always worn. That shows some sort of integrity.
As for me, when I go out wearing my patched jeans, I do sometimes feel a bit self-conscious. It would help to see at least one or two other people doing the same. But there we are. I don’t intend to stop. And if ever it does become fashionable again to patch your own jeans, I shall be so far ahead of the pack, I will be feted as a fashion icon. Everything comes around. All I have to do is to live that long.