It should go without saying but Neil Young’s memoir, Waging Heavy Peace, is not for the casual fan. It’s also – possibly – not required for the super-keen fans. There are a bunch of bios already and obviously Shakey by Jimmy McDonough should be your first (and, probably, only) port of call. Still, I enjoyed Young’s book. It is odd and rambling and occasionally beautiful and as a writer he is funny and then stubborn and, at times almost comically prosaic – so it’s a bit like his music really. It’s easy to see the consistency in his writing voice across songs and prose.
There’s not a lot about the music here – but Young manages to tell a few tales, to get a few things of his chest and to give the insight that he never seems interested in offering to the mainstream media in his promotional interviews.
There is more about his prototype for a better-sounding iPod (Pono) and his love of cars than about any of his albums. But most people reading this will know already about the death of a roadie and a guitarist; about the Honey Slides that were consumed when making some of his best music; about his label suing him for making music unrepresentative of Neil Young. Then there’s Pearl Jam introducing him to the grunge audience and the on/off relationship with Crosby, Stills and Nash. What, really, do we need to know about that? Young gives it all lip-service, often fleetingly. But he’s better at sharing family stories and talking about his motivations.
The book was written to earn some cash. The book was written to kill some time. The book was written, most interestingly, as part of a writer’s block that had Young, in his sixties, off weed and booze for the first time in his professional life; that had him admitting – very candidly, very concernedly – that he is struggling with writing new music. This book of course arrives in-between two new Neil Young and Crazy Horse albums, the first a set of covers – lazy, knocked-out back-shed rock – the second a trace-around of what Crazy Horse has always done best. It’s enough of an insight from Young that he turns to Crazy Horse when he needs a hand. That is his way back into music.
So there are nuggets of information scattered throughout the book.
I loved it. Because I really felt like I was hearing Young’s voice. I followed him through this rambling journey. Even the mundane stories had me eager to follow – not so much to find out what came next as to see where he would go next. Wildly divertive, often close to baffling, it is sometimes profound. And sometimes stupid. And if you go back through your Neil Young record collection, which the book made me do, you’ll find a Re-ac-tor for every Ragged Glory, a T-Bone for every Love And Only Love and, well, you get the point…or you don’t…either way this book’s for you. Or it’s not. And Neil Young means more to you as a result. Or he doesn’t. You get the feeling he doesn’t care either way – but he’s given you enough of himself here to make it worthwhile if you want it to be. The question, then, is how much of yourself you plan to bring to this book.