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Shakey: Neil Young's Biography Paperback – May 13, 2003

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Editorial Reviews Review

Cantankerous and secretive, Neil Young has banished authors from his inner sanctum--until now. In Shakey, Jimmy McDonough distills more than 300 interviews (including guarded yet revealing interrogations of Young himself) into the definitive biography: the skyrocket success, willful disasters, health horrors and triumphs, stunning comebacks, and highly colorful scuffles with equally impossible characters like Stephen Stills, David Crosby, and the incompetent yet brilliant musicians of Crazy Horse. Young is not quite the noble soul some thought--he's an astounding control freak. But he is never less than fascinating. "As ruthless as I may seem to be," Young tells McDonough, "you gotta do what ya gotta do. Just like a f-----' vampire. Heh heh heh." --Tim Appelo --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Library Journal

More than a biography, this work from journalist McDonough (Village Voice, Variety, Spin) is the re-creation of an era.

Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 786 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor (May 13, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679750967
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679750963
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (183 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #493,410 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Jimmy McDonough's biography of Neil Young, Shakey, was critically acclaimed The New York Times bestseller. He has also written biographies of Russ Meyer and Andy Milligan, and has written for publications including The Village Voice and Variety.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

78 of 88 people found the following review helpful By Dan Ryan on June 8, 2002
Format: Hardcover
For Neil Young fans only. Read with patience.
McDonough deserves credit for researching Neil Young's life, particularly his early days. His early days in Canada are particularly revealing, showing how Neil's hard-driven personality propelled into great success.
McDonough also deserves credit for getting the always obscure Neil to be about as open as he gets. The interviews are at their best when Neil is describing events in the past. Neil is at times very candid about his failings in his personal life (two divorces) and in his professional life (over-producing "Mr. Soul").
Unfortunately, the book suffers on a few fronts.
First of all, it is poorly edited. The length of the book could have easily been cut 200 pages without much loss. Several times the book will describe events, then have length quotes from Neil exactly describing the same event.
Second, McDonough's status as a hard-core Neil Young fan makes some of his prose rather silly. His exhaltations of "Tonight's the Night" just seem silly. For Pete's sake, Jimmy, it's just Rock and Roll, not the second coming of Jesus.
Finally, the last 100 pages or so are really regrettable. McDonough inserts himself into the biography. Suddenly, it's Jimmy teaching Neil about Nirvana, Jimmy trying to save Neil from the evils of being a Lionel Trains Tycoon. Most annoying is McDonough's whining about Neil giving lots of interviews. Oh, boo hoo, Jimmy's interviews with Niel aren't that exclusive.
But, for a Neil Young fan, this book is indispensible. After reading this book, I have a better understanding of the folks in Neil's sometime backup band, "Crazy Horse". I understand more what is involved with producing an album, and what impact producer David Briggs had on Neil's work.
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65 of 74 people found the following review helpful By Brian D. Rubendall HALL OF FAME on June 25, 2002
Format: Hardcover
I'm a huge Neil Young fan, with over two dozen of his albums in my collection. But I'm not a fanatic, and as a result I found his biography, "Shakey" to be as stimulating, but as frustratingly erratic as the artist himself. One thing Neil Young could never be accused of is self-censorship, and author Jimmy McDonough writes about him in the same vein, telling in nearly 800 pages a stoory that could have been more succinctly and powerfully conveyed in about half that number. McDonough spent over ten years working on the book, however, and I guess he felt that his huge investment of time justifies the book's length.
The book is a rambling narrative of Young's life, mainly as seen through the eyes of his closest associates, but is told in the Hunter S. Thompson "gonzo" style of journalism as McDonough frequently inserts himself into the story. There is nothing necessarily wrong with this approach, in may have in fact been necessary, but it ends up padding the length. The main story is interspersed with a hundred or so pages of text from McDonough's various interviews with Young in which the artist is quoted verbaitim. It is a fascinating and unprecedented look into Young's mind, but again it starts to become wearing after awhile. Lengthy passages about such relatively uninteresting subjects as Young's passion for model trains slow things down even further.
Ultimately, "Shakey" is likely to be endured only by Young's most ardent fans and will not win the artist any new converts. But I get the feeling that Young would prefer it that way. As McDonough recounts, the quickest way to get Young to drop a song from an album is to tell him its going to be a surefire hit. He is that rare rock star who actually eschews popularity. Young remains a startlingly original talent after nearly four decades in the recording busines and for all of its flaws, "Shakey" manages to capture his essence.
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 5, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This book seems to polarize readers--they usually love it or hate it. I lean toward the former, but it's far from a perfect book. But as a lifelong Neil Young fan, I couldn't put it down, even when it annoyed me. The depth of McDonough's research is impressive, and he comes up with scores of fascinating facts and quotes about Neil's past. I've read books on Young before, and was surprised by how much I *didn't* know about him before reading this book. The accounts of recording sessions--often from David Briggs, engineers, and musicians--provide important insight into the finished products. And they helped me understand why Neil never releases "perfect" albums.
But it's hard to ignore the shift in the tone of the book when the story gets to the point where McDonough entered the picture (late '80s). While earlier in the book the author revealed his opinions on the music, CSNY, Neil's treatment of people in his life, etc., he kept the narrative moving in a relatively objective way. But that gets thrown out the window later, making the book read like two different manuscripts merged awkwardly. The latter part of the book isn't necessarily bad (though I could live without some of the author's more ignorant rants, like saying Pearl Jam is Jethro Tull without the flute), and it's often fun to read his attempts to antagonize Neil by playing devil's advocate, but the more objective biographical account of the first three-quarters of the book is better.
As for Neil the human being--he's an artist, not necessarily a nice person. We already knew that, but this book captures it in much more detail. I came away thinking no less of him (but also no more), but understanding his artistry better.
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