"Writing this book, there seems to be no end to the information flowing through me."
"The past is such a big place." Neil Young.
Here it is in a nutshell. If you're a Neil Young fan, and want to read a book written in a conversational style, and want to know more about Young-straight from the well-buy this book. It's 497 pages of Young talking about just about everything he sees fit to talk about.
There's no Contents page, no Introduction, the Preface is two sentences in length, there's a Dedication Page (to his son Ben, "my warrior", and Young's family), and there's no Index. There's a black and white photo at the head of most chapters and a few others here and there (including a spaghetti recipe belonging to Young's father), but no separate section of photos. There's 68 chapters, most of them a few pages in length. The end papers have a photograph of a guitar that's been graphically altered four different ways. All in all, this is a simply produced looking book that fits Young the man/musician, and his writing style. His story is laid out simply, almost in a matter of fact style-like you hoped it would be written. Along the way there are many side roads that add depth and interest to Young's story.
Beginning at his ranch in 2011, with Young talking about his model train collection, and sharing it with his quadriplegic son, Ben, the story shifts to David Crosby and Graham Nash coming over to make some music shortly after Crosby got straight-"...still prone to taking naps between takes." Then it shifts to Young's love of old cars and anything dealing with transportation. His cars sit in a garage, where Young sits and thinks about his record company, and how he wants to improve the sound we hear on recordings. And that's just the first few pages.
From that point Young writes about a collection of Crazy Horse recordings that he's been working on ("The Early Daze"), that will tell the band's story. He also relates that he has recently quit drinking and smoking weed for his health. It's interesting to read that Young liked writing this book because it kept him (gladly) off the performing stage-he says he needs to "replenish". This isn't Young's life laid out chronologically-he goes back and forth depending on what's on his mind as he writes.
The entire book is like that. It flows along from one era, one set of circumstances, the people he comes into contact with along the way, what happened and what he thinks of it all. In some ways this is similar to Dylan's "Chronicles"-yet obviously different in many ways. It's a book you'd expect from Neil Young. For an inside look at the various stages of Young's life and career (growing up in Ontario, The Squires, The Mynah Birds, Buffalo Springfield, CSN&Y, Crazy Horse), the people (his father, his wives/children, Danny Whitten, Elliott Roberts for example), the music ("Thinking is the worst thing for writing a song."), his medical challenges ("They make me who I am. I am thankful for them. They scare me."), including walking ("Maybe I should call this book 'The Shoe Chronicles'."), and a lot of other major and minor happenings along the way, sometimes bordering on minutiae, the book is always interesting.
And in the end, after reading this book-it really is the story of Neil Young. This is Neil Young being Neil Young.
With all the books of late (Leonard Cohen, Neil Young, Pete Townshend, et al), by living legends, you might also want to check out "The John Lennon Letters", edited by the well known Hunter Davies (whose writing on The Beatles was largely disowned by the band). It's 386 pages of Lennon's writings from throughout his life and career,divided into 23 parts, "Part one-Early Years, 1951-58", "Part three-Beatlemania Begins, 1963", "Part five-family and Friends, 1965-66", "Part twenty-Letters to Derek Taylor, 1973-78", and so on. The book is stuffed with good reproductions of hand/type-written notes/letters/postcards/telegrams/etc.-with the oftentimes hard to read pieces printed in full next to each for legibility- along with many drawings by Lennon, and a number of photographs throughout. Also included is a very brief biography (11 pages) on Lennon's life. Davies occasionally adds short texts to help put things in correct context. One minor drawback (if you like keeping your books nice looking), is the stark white cover, printed on a fairly rough paper stock that attracts dirt and smudges like a magnet. But combined with the minimal graphics-it is cool looking. I immediately covered my copy in a clear plastic bookcover. Hardcore fans of Lennon (especially) will no doubt find some interesting pieces in this nicely presented book. Others will see this as another attempt to drain more $ from the Lennon name. To each his own.
on September 27, 2012
When an artist as venerable and important as Neil Young decides to sit and write an autobiography you hope for something special. An immensely prolific musician, Young has something of a reputation for being gnarly, cantankerous and difficult - after all this is a man who was once sued by his own record company for making music "that was uncharacteristic of Neil Young". As it turns out, despite it's jumbled narrative and occasional cul de sacs, the easy conversational style that Young employs in "Waging Heavy Peace: A Hippie Dream" makes the book both immensely readable and enjoyable. It's like listening to a grandparent reminiscing - the stories don't come in any particular order, occasionally they take strange tangents and they vary from the fascinating to the mundane.
The book finds Young in a drug and alcohol free state and the straightest he's been since he was eighteen. Recovering from a broken toe and needing to rest a while, he decides to both write his autobiography and start planning to record again with Crazy Horse (a band he refers to throughout in the third person, as a mystic entity) worrying a little if the muse has departed and whether he'll still be able to write songs in his new found sobriety. Despite having not written a new song for more than half a year, Young knows that patience is the key, "Songs are like rabbits and they like to come out of their holes when you're not looking, so if you stand there waiting they will just burrow down and come out somewhere far away, a new place where you can't see them. So I feel like I am standing over a song hole. That will never result in success. The more we talk about this, the worse it will get. So that is why we are changing the subject."
With a new album, "Psychedelic Pill", recorded with Crazy Horse due in October, Young's patience has clearly paid off, yet he remains a deeply contradictory person. A man with such reserves of patience he spends decades compiling his legendary archive releases or working on a definitive version of his thirty year old movie "Human Highway" yet someone who knows that first or second takes with Crazy Horse are usually the best and is not averse to "spontaneous change" waking up and halting a recording or changing musicians. As he puts it "Honesty is the only thing that works. It hurts to be honest, but the muse has no conscience. If you do it for the music, you do it for the music, and everything else is secondary. Although that has been hard for me to learn, it is the best and really the only way to live through a life dedicated to the muse. The muse says, 'If it isn't totally great, then don't do it. Change.'"
If patience is one of Young's core drivers, then his obsessive side clearly is too. A keen collector of cars (many of the stories involve one of his many classic cars, or start in Feelgoods, his garage) as well as model trains, manuscripts, photographs, records, clothes, and recordings. This obsessive ness sees Young immersed in several long term projects, including his work with Lionel, the model train company where he's searching for a method of accurately linking the sound and smoke effects of the models to the effort involved in pulling their loads; to Lincvolt, a four year project to power a huge Lincoln Continental by energy efficient means; and PureTone (currently renamed Pono) a sound system designed to "rescue my art form, music, from the degradation in quality that I think is at the heart of the decline of music sales".
Spanning his life from childhood in Omemee, Ontario up to 2011, Waging Heavy Peace takes a meandering journey, and if Young's reminisces of contracting polio aged five, of his old paper round route, or of mall shopping in Hawaii fail to grip you don't worry, shortly there'll be a chapter describing how he's illegally entering the States without a work visa heading for the golden promise of California looking for Stephen Stills and readying to form Buffalo Springfield. Or describing how Time magazine's famous photo of the Kent State shooting inspired him to write "Ohio" and record it the next day. Or, how holed up in his Topanga house semi-delirious with a fever he managed to write "Cinnamon Girl", "Down By The River" and "Cowgirl In The Sand" in one afternoon. Or, yes, how David Geffen sued him for making music "that was uncharacteristic of Neil Young" after Young delivered "Island In The Sun", "Trans", and "Everybody's Rockin' (the latter delivered in the guise of an old fashioned rocker after being told to go and make a rock and roll record).
Young goes to places he doesn't need to with a disarming honesty - be it failed relationships, his son's quadriplegia, his enduring love for wife Pegi, a brush with Charles Manson, or even to accidentally poisoning the attendees at his annual birthday party with poison oak. As you might expect in any memoir from a sixty five year old, the roll call of ghosts within the book is long. Crazy Horse Guitarist Danny Whitten and roadie Bruce Berry (both lost to heroin within a few months of each other), Ben Keith the pedal steel player, arranger and producer Jack Nitzsche, producer David Briggs and filmmaking collaborator Larry Johnson all brighten the pages when Young talks about them with love. The spectre of his own mortality also dances in the background - his near death recovering from surgery for a brain aneurysm and the worry of a potential descent into the dementia that claimed his father loom large. The book's final paragraph, which sees Young taking a nap near a creek, then in his dreamlike state enter a cafe where his departed friends Larry Johnson and David Briggs are both having a late breakfast and seemingly waiting for him simultaneously bring both a smile to your face and a lump to your throat.
Young says, "Writing this book, there seems to be no end to the information flowing through me" and this theme and enthusiasm seems to still apply to all aspects of his life, be it his music, his family, or his various projects. Happily, Neil Young has neither burned out nor faded away, and long may he continue to run.
on September 26, 2012
Neil Young will always create his art a bit different from everyone else and the 68 short chapters of thoughts and memories that comprise this thick book (497 pages of Neil) represent some of what he has lived in the last 66 years from Ontario to Manitoba to many restless years calling the road his home to a migration to Los Angeles, California then to (at last!) find his home in the rolling hills of a place called the Broken Arrow Ranch in La Honda in Northern California.
From The Squires to the Mynah Birds to the Buffalo Springfield to Crazy Horse to playing solo and beyond. The music of Neil Young is touched upon where he wants to shed light. Not everything here is presented in the fashion that a normal rock biography would lay it all down. Neil, is telling stories and he tends to jump around from thought to different event. The music and the people he made it with are big part of this road he travels but his kids and his cars and his ladies and more cars and some toy trains are covered in these pages like the author is having lots of rambling conversations with you in front of a fire with the dogs at your feet. Neil, tells his story about Linda Ronstadt and Nicolette Larson singing on his great record "Comes a Time" from March 1977 in chapter 57. In the very next chapter you are startled when the floor starts moving in a hotel in Churchill in the northern part of Manitoba. Now you taken back in time to August of 1965 when Neil and the other Squires discovered a polar bear living under their room.
This is an easy read due to the fact that Neil lays down the tale and quickly moves on to something else. This book will be attacked as this isn't orthodox by any means and not presented in the normal manner and that makes perfect sense to the way Neil has lived his life and made his music as it always seems to have come from left-field anyway. I enjoyed this book and fans of Neil should enjoy this as well. Smallish black and white photos appear infront of over forty of the chapters found here and a list of shows from 1963 and notes and cues for the "Rust Never Sleeps" movie can be found here as well.
If you are going to see Neil & Crazy Horse play this fall and expect the loner to play "Heart Of Gold" I say you shouldn't buy this book because he ain't gonna play it and you are not gonna be happy with a the sonic feedback of a 24 minute version of the still unreleased "Walk Like a Giant" inserted in it's place that made some old boys boo him at the concert I attended in August. Neil, has written this book just like he presents his music as to make himself a happy guy and he wants you to enjoy the show as well. This book he was written is about as different as they way he presents his music as there is the way everybody else does it and then there is the way Neil Young does it.
I enjoyed this book a bunch.
Four & 1/2 Stars!
on October 19, 2012
I love the Springfield and a vast majority of Neil's music, but I was very much let down by this book. I didn't mind the jumping all over the place, and NO, I wasn't expecting endless stories of "sex and drugs", I WAS expecting a story of a more "interesting" life. Neil's endless, "I bought this, I bought that, I own this, I own that" his life comes across as boring...at least to me. How many "driving" and "car" stories can a person be expected to read. Add on the constant bitching about the quality of recorded sound today and I found myself clicking "next" on my Kindle at a furious pace. Neil devotes like one page to admitting he's not been a very nice person for most of his life, then moves on to promise to try and be better....how moving. Not. Okay, I'm finished...I still love the music Neil, as for your future as a "writer", don't count on my money.
on January 19, 2013
I have loved Neil Young's music for about 40 years now. I thought him to be a diverse, interesting, Renaissance man, with interests as diverse as electric cars, model railroading, & improving sound recording. I would have been interested to hear about all of that, but with a focus, of course, Neil's musical career, in particular the "good old days" w Buffalo Springfield, CSN&Y, & Neil's early solo career.
This? This is slop. Purely stream of consciousness rambling by an aged, egotistical hippie who seems to be experiencing difficulties since ceasing to take drugs. This is merely Neil speaking into a dictaphone whatever random thought comes into his head, in whatever order they happen to arise. There is no attempt at organization, no discernable editing.
Just a few examples:
* Young says he envies folks who have "control over their thinking processes. As you can tell, if you are still with me, I don't have control over that. I have only re-written about one paragraph so far." No kidding?
* Neil tells you about his trip to Costco: "My first big purchase was a set of replacement brushes for my Sonicare toothbrush, a product I am very impressed with... The food department was awesome..." Fascinating. That's why I bought this book. Thanks for sharing.
* "Writing is very convenient, has a low expense, and is a great way to pass the time. I highly recommend it to any old rocker who is out of cash and doesn't know what to do next." It shows, Neil.
I could go on, but this ought to give you the flavor.
There are a few interesting observations along the way, particularly about Danny Whitten. A good page or so on Nicollete Larson & Linda Ronstadt during the recording of Comes of Time (it seems Linda, about whom Neil has nothing but good things to say, tried to warn Larson off Young). These few insights, though, are few and far between.
Neil threatens to write another book. I can guarantee you one person who won't be buying that one. To paraphrase Pete Townshend, "I won't get fooled again."
on February 24, 2013
It was Madame de Montespon, mistress of Louis XIV, who declared of her memoirs that "I write as I recollect". Recollection is both truthful and deceptive in the same instant. The core problem for the reader in all autobiography is the potential for `effort justification' to resolve cognitive dissonance. "All men are liars" observed Martin Luther. We know this but still we read their autobiographies thinking we can discern reality in it. And maybe we can, within a forest of lies and dissemblances. By reading autobiographies we cast ourselves as judges of others, believing we can discern the self-delusion from the significant and even aspire to understand the significance of the self-delusion. Reading autobiography gives us this illusory superiority.
Neil Young ends his autobiography with the sentiment that he intends to change himself. He asks what for him must be a profound question : "How can I respect others' tastes while retaining my own?".
But he told the truth earlier in the book when he observed "the muse has no conscience". At one point, he tells the well-known story of how he rejected the recovering addict and close friend Danny Whitten as a player for an album. Whitten went away and over-dosed. Young can't resist defending his actions: "there was really nothing else I could have done".
You feel Young tells the truth when he says "I never really considered myself to be an activist. I just want to have a voice." and again "it feels like I am massaging my soul when I make music". You also understand his intense romanticism when he attacks the dangers of technology and thinking for music, declaring fervently "I go by feelings".
But all this adds up to a ruthless, narcissistic in-ward focused approach to his art and the main impact of the book is help us see how this narcissism also suffuses his life.
I did not believe the interior states of mind he ascribes to his severely handicapped son, Ben Young. I did believe Linda Ronstadt who condemns Young, by his own account, for not living in the real world. I grew tired of his seemingly endless narrative of his countless purchases of old cars and his interest in his yacht and investment in sound system technology. Not because these are uninteresting topics, but because Neil Young has no insight into any of them - he is just interested and the only thing that interests him about these topics is that he is interested in them.
Yet this is the point. I read Neil Young's autobiography because his music is interesting. His music has succeeded because - as the two major biographies of him both detail already - he has systematically and ruthlessly used people and discarded them to help him realise his artistic vision.
That is all there is to Neil Young - a cold-hearted, bloodied music warrior hitman, executing his mission with lots of collateral damage. The Navy Seal of folk music, living out the motto of the SAS: `Who Dares Wins!'
So here is the truth of it: to like the music of Neil Young, to have the sensibility and openness to emotion to love his words written in song between the lines of age is one thing. To think that the `someone and someone' who wrote those words can also write words in books that will matter or touch you is to misunderstand yourself. Neil Young is a banal individual who has written some great music.
That is the illusory superiority Neil Young gave me by writing this self-revealing, lazy book. But for those of us who like even his bad music because of how it aspires, this ambiguous, intense outcome is no surprise. I give this book one star, because I love the man. And thats the way he wants it.
on October 23, 2012
My first thought halfway through NY's new WHP was Truman Capote's witticism regarding Kerouac's stream of consciousness epic On the Road: "That's typing not writing". Everyone who has ever written for publication knows that good writing is re-writing and Neil has done none of that. His book reads like a blog journal put to print and , really, should have been published that way --online or pulp-- rather than sold as a hardback book.
Not that I want to come down too hard on him as a new author per se as it is often hard for even experienced writers to have enough distance in their own work. Mr. Young, however, has the stature to enlist the services of some of the best editors in the business via his publisher -Penguin Group (which owns Blue Rider) the world's second largest --but clearly chose not to use one or if he had one, to tie her hands and/or stifle him.
Throughout the book, one wants to scream "EDIT", for an editor who could have helped NY in making a truly memorable work which he apparently thinks it is as he has authorized 1500 copies of it in a limited signed edition, in linen yet, to be sold for $335 each.
In fact, the book serves as a near perfect example of what a difference an editor can make in ways large and small in a published work. These are some:
-- Organizationally, Neil just meanders along and bounces back and forth across time and events with little concern with such notions as `narrative' or `chronology'. It is distracting, off putting, and for those not of a certain age, daunting as they don't have the personal history to make any cultural sense of it. Irritating also is the need to remember characters mentioned and forgotten or to relate some tidbit referencing something he has already written about. Neil, this is why we've now Cut and Paste keys.
-- Grouping: Perhaps it would have been better for Neil to discuss his pet projects e.g. model railroads, electric cars, film editing, music players, in individual chapters giving them each the attention and story they warrant rather than being interspersed throughout the text like context-less advertisements.
-- Pictures: Often books need to group pictures in the middle or end because they used different papers- usually glossier than the text- but in this case, Neil chose to just print the photos on print stock which renders many of them hard to see. Now, there is an argument for this when the author wants to place his pictures or diagrams close to the text where they are mentioned so as to not to interrupt the reader and the story flow. Neil fails to do this time and again --- and with no need to do so, as explained--as he places pictures almost randomly throughout.
At the same time key pictures which could easily be taken or found e.g. the cars, the stolen guitar, the backbrace photo playing in Massey Hall, etc. are not used. A photo editor would have been invaluable.
-- Pan or linger choices: An editor might have asked Neil to write more on certain experiences such as his brief description of his chilling encounter with Charlie Manson and his girls. This is of high interest to most readers. On the other end, an entire chapter on a discussion with some nobodies about Ronald Reagan might have been truncated or eliminated. An editor would have at least have suggested that he discuss his RR feelings with those about another Republican, Nixon,about whom he wrote specifically in "Campaigner".
--- Voice choices. It's clear that Neil enjoys crafting a certain persona for himself as a rube from the Canadian outback who's just trying to make good and follow his `muse'. You can hear a lot of that goofy,awkward humor just on the edge of sarcastic on his Live at Massey Hall album. Unfortunately, it just doesn't jibe -now or perhaps ever--with a 65 yo man, serial businessman, and music figure. An editor might have helped Neil avoid those "look, ma, no hands" wince causing expressions of naivete and wonder " Gee, you can get just about anything at Costco!". And exaggerated thank you's to minor characters (There is a place for this in publishing too, Neil, It's called the Acknowledgements). Ultimately, it doesn't play on someone who is clearly intelligent, sophisticated, and headstrong.
--- Index , what index?: I didn't understand this omission unless Neil vetoed it himself. Specially in a book with no timeline - either by calendar, issue, music, characters. An index does so much for a book - specially for its fans who will reread it or refer to it. I remember reading Greg Allman's excellent My Cross to Bear, and being grateful for the index because I am an equally big fan of the great - and unrecognized co-creator of the Allman sound--Dicky Betts, and was able to find all the references to him in the INDEX.
Now, I don't have the desire to rip the book any further specially since I picked it up at the library and read it gratis. However, I was a huge NY fan up from Buffalo S. through to Harvest Moon. More than that, as a lonely and unhappy kid for much of the 70's, NY's music was a salve and inspiration to me that made my anomie bearable. As a guitar player, I absorbed his style and `go-to' progressions and they served me well.
Thus my disappointment in reading such a superficially written and sloppily produced book by someone whose music meant so much to me, is very real. If you're a fan, I suggest you read this with small expectations and that you read the most excellent Shakey by Jimmy McDonough or Neil and Me by his Dad, Scott Young. Neither is definitive but are sincere and well presented.
I'm having a mental flash on the bookcover that inspires the protagonist in Disney's Ratatouille : Anyone Can Cook. Of course that is technically true but doesn't mean everyone should - at least not without guidance.
In the end what I can say for sure is that Neil's Dad's spaghetti recipe is indeed delicious - thanks, Neil, for publishing that.
on January 9, 2014
I am highly shocked at the vast amount of 5 star ratings. How could it be? Have they actually read this book?
Regarding music, Neil is a master, a genius, a Godfather.
In writing- well let me address what this book is and is not . Though it says it is on the description- this is not a "memoir". It has no story line, no purpose, no goal and goes nowhere. Just chapters of rambling and painfully dull stories. Stories of sex, drugs and rock and roll? Nope- only brief mentions. But there are excessive stories on his car collection, his possesions, and assorted stories that have nothing to do with anything you would want to know. Unless you are interested in school board meetings. Where was the editor on this? What is most painful, is finally he begins to delve into history (and in bland and non descript sentences) and then in the same paragraph switches to talking about a current car, or shopping or a tv show. It is intolerable. With so many good rock documentaries, and such a creative mind- how could he let a book be published with such a format. This book rambles more than David Lee Roth in 1985. Torturous. A sucker is born every minute. Proof when I purchased this.
on February 12, 2014
My husband didn't like this biography much because it appears Mr. Young didn't have an editor who could stand up to him and tell him how to write a book. Very disjointed and seemed more focused on his current "inventions" and non-music musings, rather than talking more about his music.
on December 19, 2012
What I've always liked about Neil Young's music is his sincerity, and that's what I like about this book, too.
Neil Young couldn't possibly write a "typical" autobiography, and I don't think we'd want him to. If you're looking for the facts of his life, laid out in a linear chronicle, you're going to be disappointed. What you get, though, I think, is something way better. Young rambles his way through this book, as if he were sitting down for a while every day and just saying what happened to be on his mind -- nostalgic memories, diatribes about modern recording, enthusiasm about model railroading, expressions of love and appreciation for his family and close friends, . . . . whatever has struck him that day. You're as likely to find a story about his childhood or his early days with the Squires in Chapter 60, and one about the recent loss of a close friend in Chapter 3 or 4.
That's not to say that there are no consistent themes. Here are the ones I picked out:
Family and friends -- Young has no illusions that he has been a perfect friend, husband, or father. It may be something that has come with age, but he takes special care not only to tell about his flaws, but to give his appreciation for what so many people have given to or shared with him, whether it be his wife, Pegi, his children, special musicians like Ben Keith, or the collaborators and friends like David Briggs and Larry Johnson that have meant so much to him.
Pono and the future of digital music -- This is probably Young's greatest professional passion right now. He rants about the degradation of music through MP3 compression at the same time that so much music has become available as never before. His own response is Pono, an un-degraded format that retains all the data from original master recordings. He loves the wowed reactions he gets from listeners who have only ever heard digitized, compressed recordings when he plays Pono recordings.
Lincvolt -- Young has merged his lifelong love of old, big cars (Lincolns, Cadillacs, . . . ) with his environmental concerns and passion for self-generating, electrically powered cars. You'll hear over and over about the Lincvolt project. He seems to have little regard for the newer hybrids, but a true love for the art of bringing those old, big cars of the 50s and 60s back to life with new, environmentally friendly power plants.
The Muse -- Young's music has never been predictable, and he makes little attempt to explain why he has taken this turn or that turn. He truly regards himself as guided by "the Muse" and taken wherever it wants him to go. It's made him "difficult" both for his musical partners and for his professional managers and recording companies. That's just the way it is -- the deal you make with the Muse.
What comes through the whole thing is a self-portrait of a flawed person who knows that he is flawed, tries to overcome his flaws, knows he never will be perfect and is appreciative of the people who work with him and care about him anyway. It sounds a little defeatist, but let's face it -- we're all flawed, and there's virtue in not pretending otherwise. There's that sincerity again.