Viking, £25 Order at a discount from the Independent Online Shop
Waging Heavy Peace, By Neil Young
The rock legend writes a fine memoir about his Crazy Horse days and the sober aftermath
Saturday 20 October 2012
Rock'n'roll memoirs range from the fast-food accounts of a Lemmy or Ronnie Wood – books that go down without touching the sides – through Keith Richards's hefty left hook of a book, folding the life in with the legend, to Dylan's masterly Chronicles, revealing of many things but himself. But there is none quite like Neil Young's eccentric, sprawling, absorbing telling of his life.
It's a bit of a struggle at first, with more detail than you need on model railroads, but once you've sunk in Young's conversational, late-night fireside tone and acclimatised to his style – a prosaic stream-of-consciousness dictated through the hands, the writerly equivalent of naïve painting and beyond the powers of any ghost writer – the book takes off in pretty well any direction that comes to mind. Before you know it you're past page 400 and wishing there was as much to come. He's talking to you, not at you, unravelling himself as well, and you don't want it to end.
Young's an old rocker with complex preoccupations: music, trains, guitars, family, buildings, cars, loyalty, weed, sound reproduction, lines of cocaine at all the right viewpoints in life, following the muse, feeding the Horse – Crazy Horse, the band he turns to find his unwritten songs, whole herds of them roaming like buffalo (Young's image). The root passion is to make his ideas become real. His is the voice of the original hippie, but one who gets stuff done. He's a material guy, rewarding himself with vintage cars after finishing a record, and at the same time he's roaming around with the Great Spirit as if it was his favourite roadie.
Stories and stars from his musical life bubble up – the first mind-blowing taste of Haight Ashbury, writing "Ohio" for CSNY, the master take of "Like a Hurricane", recording "Tonight's the Night" with Joni Mitchell weighing in, smashed on tequila. For Young, these showstoppers are on the same level of significance as what hat to wear, what car to drive to a gig or finding your life's work in a box on the floor of a second-hand music store, and feeling a bit empty. You see "rock * roll history" from the inside out, and in the present tense. It can't be ghosted.
The book, we discover, was written straight. For the first time in decades, no drugs, no drink. No songs either, though they have since come with a new album, Psychedelic Pill. The impetus was breaking his little toe in a pool with his wife and quadriplegic son, Ben. His family life and its needs figures large – they're the guy ropes that peg his inner life down. This book draws you in to the inner circle of this singular artist's interior life, so that you're almost stumbling with him over old equipment and new designs, drawing hit after hit from that warm, involving voice, the mix of crazy hippie humour, cosmic wisdom, and an upright, Henry Fonda-like moral rectitude.
There's something dead straight about Young, however quixotic his music, or his muse. "What the hell is that cloudy stuff in my brain?" he demands. "I wish I'd never seen that shit." It's stuff in his MRI scan but he's unflinching about facing his fears – or following his aims. Throughout there's an urgency beneath the laid-back vibes, a need to deal with the good and the difficult, head on. And the cool stuff too, like this lesson from the Neil Young school of interior design. Take three Indian arrows, throw them with force into the redwood panels of your latest north Californian backwoods trap, and that's it. You're home.
Glastonbury Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend will perform with Paul Weller as their warm-up act
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Katie Hopkins gives rare glimpse of sensitive side with heartfelt open letter to her children penned in case she dies from epilepsy
- 2 Rihanna's Met Gala dress took one Chinese woman 2 years to make, was reduced to omelette meme in 2 seconds
- 3 Top Gear: Jodie Kidd, Philip Glenister and Guy Martin 'in advanced talks' to replace Jeremy Clarkson and co
- 4 #JeSuisEd: People share photos of themselves eating awkwardly in solidarity with Labour leader
- 5 Women think Irish men are the sexiest, survey finds
Penny Dreadful, series 2 episode 1, review: It is still gloriously silly
Top Gear: Jodie Kidd, Philip Glenister and Guy Martin 'in advanced talks' to replace Jeremy Clarkson and co
Eurovision 2015: What date and time is the song contest and who are the favourites to win?
How the Other Half Eat, Channel 4 - TV review: Swapping food trolleys shows how food and class are closely connected
Indiana Jones sequel confirmed by Lucasfilm - but will Harrison Ford return to the franchise?
In defence of liberal democracy
General Election 2015: Post-election 'shambles' looms as 70 per cent of voters say SNP 'should not be able to veto UK government policies'
The Rothschild Libel: Why has it taken 200 years for an anti-Semitic slur that emerged from the Battle of Waterloo to be dismissed?
General Election 2015: UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power, Labour warns
General election live: SNP suspends two members for disrupting Labour rally
General Election 2015: Sturgeon claims Scots 'appalled' by Ed Miliband's refusal to work with SNP