What do you expect from a rock star? I just closed the back cover of
This piece first ran in Printers Row Journal, delivered to Printers Row members with the Sunday
No — Young was in a Toronto band featuring
Which is what I expect from a rock star like
Which is to say, any longtime fan of Neil Young eventually becomes a Neil Young apologist.
Indeed, five years ago visual artist Jeremy Deller began selling brown posters with no image, just the words: "What Would Neil Young Do?" That poster has since become the hipster equivalent of cat posters you see behind office desks that read "Hang in There" or "One Day at a Time" — a reminder to question your instinct.
Or just act — can't decide which.
"What Would Neil Young Do?" would have been a more accurate title than "Waging Heavy Peace" — which suggests a unifying theme that Young, never one to explain his motivations, never really explains. He also talks about smoking pot the way people talk about the weather and seems to remember faintly what a rock-star memoir includes, writing about the name of one of his vintage cars, then, a sentence later, finding a back door in the paragraph that drops us off at a boldface famous person.
Young is also generous enough to toss a little raw meat, and it's prime: Interviewed by the Associated Press about the Geffen lawsuit, he gets into an argument about
And this: Young grew up in a small Ontario town of 750 people ("That is where I remember growing up the most," he writes, a line as poetic as it is sweetly clumsy), and entered the United States illegally, through a back road border crossing. He didn't have a green card until the late 1960s: "Thank God capitalism saved me, and I was able to buy a green card. A real one! Through my lawyer!" (A lawyer with INS connections.)
Anyway — and incidentally, Young uses "anyway" as a segue as though it were a tic — now I'm suggesting a book unrepresentative of what you would expect from Neil Young. The bulk of "Waging Heavy Peace" is less interesting. It is ... stuff. During his
The obvious precedent to "Waging Heavy Peace" is
But that's a rock star rarity.
The Neil Young book you wanted is a decade old — Jimmy McDonough's rowdy, messy, 800-page "Shakey" (Young even participated in it). On the other hand, the book you get is not the work of a ghost writer, either. This is smart (Young's loopy voice comes through) and frustrating (Young's loopy voice comes through). As much as we expect great songwriters to be literary storytellers, it's not a muscle all the hero worship in the world wills into existence. Young, somewhat pragmatically, knows this.
Think digressive Christmas family letter, plus 499 pages.
Also think personal details left casually to interpretation, for us to piece together the puzzle of the man.
For instance, even if you know Young has
Indeed, if there's a theme to "Waging Heavy Peace," it's one Young has hammered since the 1960s: Do what's easy and expected in your life and you eventually give away your true self through a million tiny compromises, or stay and fight big, unwinnable battles of attrition. Pono is never going to buckle the 8,000-pound
But what would Neil Young do?
Waging Heavy Peace