I wonder if Neil Young’s book publisher considered alternate titles. Maybe Portrait of a Restless Musical Artist, in which He Writes and Speaks in Excruciating Detail of Almost Everything in the World EXCEPT His Music. Wait…that probably wouldn’t help sell the book. OK…how about a simple modification; maybe Waging Heavy Z’sss?
The thing that struck me most about this memoir of the legendary rocker parallels much of the criticism Young has received about some of his artistic choices throughout his career. His insatiable curiosity and willingness to try new things — right now! — has cemented his reputation as restless...and worse (Trans, or The Blue Notes, anyone?). It would be easy to apply that logic to the lack of focus in the book. He is alllll over the map.
When Young dishes music, however, it’s fascinating. His recall of the recording of “Helpless” (my favorite of his songs) is full of interesting detail. And his Crazy Horse/Danny Whitten stories are sure to please longtime fans. Likewise, the chapter on his signing to David Geffen’s label and the subsequent lawsuits for delivering records that weren’t “Neil enough” is really good; he’s the guy whose viewpoint I most wanted to hear on this matter. He also sets the record straight, quite succinctly, on his “support” for Ronald Reagan in his Hawks and Doves period.
It’s just that there’s not enough of the musical moments, and we get detour after detour through his films, his love of hard woods, his trains and his cars. The dude really loves his cars, particularly the electric LincVolt. But many of these detours come to abrupt stops, just ending, leaving the reader wondering what the hell that was all about. Read Chapter 51, ironically titled “On the Road,” for a story that literally goes nowhere.
Nothing, however, trumps his obvious love and passion for PureTone, his quest and commitment to raise the digital audio bar and listener experience in the MP3 age. It’s clear he cares about his music and the quality of presentation in the digital world, even if it does get bogged down in detail at times. Curiously, some of Young’s records throughout his career seem to have been mistakenly mastered with low-quality, bad, or wrong masters.
To be fair, Waging Heavy Peace is not an unenjoyable read; in fact, it is a lot how I would expect a long afternoon of very stoned conversation with the man might be. Sometimes there is infinite wisdom or humor to be found in the simplest of things; that “Whoooah…dude” moment” of enlightenment. His admonitions as to why you never “spook the Horse” are chief among these moments; he masterly applies the metaphor to the muse and his art and it makes perfect sense, no matter how abstract (or stoned) it sounds.
And if that’s your thing; good news: apparently, there are more volumes, perhaps even fiction, to come! Too often, however, you’re left with the feeling of “that other thing,” shaking your head and laughing ruefully about all the time you’ve wasted discussing broken toes and the sandals your doc fashioned that Devo’s “Booji Boy” might have loved…
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