Reading Neil Young’s autobiography is like listening to his music…some chapters are short and to the point (think Welfare Mothers), others are long rambling affairs (think Cortez The Killer). The 500 page tome is a personal, often emotional look at Young’s life, his music and his passion for his cars, his friends and his family told in his own words.
The 66-year-old rocker found himself with some time on his hands in 2011 after breaking a toe and decided to write his memoir. Waging Heavy Peace is the result. In some ways, it reminds me of Dylan’s Chronicles, Young takes a stream-of-consciousness approach, writing down whatever pops into his head, with apparently little editing. One gets the feeling of being inside Neil Young’s mind.
He covers a lot of ground here, commenting on his early family life, his many health problems (polio, epilepsy, brain aneurysm) his friends and collaborators…many of whom have passed away…and of course his music.
If you are looking for a straightforward, linear telling of Young’s life, you could be frustrated…he jumps around from topic to topic and decade to decade, often within the same page. One minute he’s recounting the tale of how he shared an apartment floor with future Steppenwolf singer John Kay in Toronto in 1965, the next minute he’s plugging his new high-definition audio system called Pono.
Along with telling stories from the past, Young takes time to look at himself. At one point he addresses his reputation for being hard to work with and abruptly abandoning musical projects and fellow musicians. “The muse has no conscience”, he writes, “everything else is secondary”.
The time the Young spent writing this book was also the first time he has been completely sober…no beer, no weed, since he was a teenager. He claims that he wrote all of his songs while high and worries if he will be able to connect with his muse without the aid of an altered consciousness. He notes that he had written no songs during this time but that he has written this book. He also discusses his desire to work with Crazy Horse again…which he has since done.
Young is most passionate when talking about the people he has met along the way. He calls Stephen Stills his musical brother and misses long-time producer and musician David Briggs immensely since his death a few years ago.
I was most interested in Young’s observations on his music and found his dissertations on his vintage cars and his obsession to high quality audio to get a bit tiresome after a while…perhaps some judicious editing would have helped.
But I also came away from Waging Heavy Peace with a greater understanding and respect for Neil Young the musician, the songwriter and the man. He claims that he plans to write a second installation…there’s plenty of territory left to cover and he’s still going strong, so here’s hoping he doesn’t put it off too long. Long may you run.