Friday, November 16, 2012

Waging Heavy Peace by Neil Young: review

Neil Young’s elusive memories seduce Helen Brown, reviewing Waging Heavy Peace.

Neil Young's memoirs are out now.
Neil Young's memoirs are out now. Photo: KeystoneUSA-ZUMA / Rex Features
He wishes he’d never seen it, but Neil Young’s recent MRI scans show some disturbing “cloudy stuff” in his brain. His father had dementia and he’s wary of that. So on his doctor’s advice, the sexagenarian rock star has quit drinking and smoking marijuana and is now “the straightest I have ever been since I was 18”. Because he’s always used drugs to write music, the godfather of grunge embarks on his memoir as “a song machine gone awry”, a “hibernating bear”. He’s on a strange, solitary mission to find himself in the present, and leave some account of his role in rock ’n’ roll history.

But the famously cantankerous artist once sued by his record label for making “music uncharacteristic of Neil Young” was never likely to deliver a conventional autobiography. Fans seeking a chronological account of his career – including his fractious participation in Sixties-defining bands such as Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young – should stay away.

Instead, sitting alone on his Californian ranch in the huge barn where he stores his collection of vintage American cars and amps, Young has delivered a blog-like account of his daily life which meanders into tangential memories. At once intimate and frustratingly elusive, it’s hard to get into, then uniquely addictive. His prose has a childlike formality and the topics are often Pooterishly banal. I laughed out loud a lot and because of his dry, Canadian wit, it’s not easy to tell where he’s being intentionally funny.

One minute he’s fixing a derailment on his beloved train set (“Once again, my expertise at re-railing by touch instead of vision – the result of many years’ experience – saved a lot of time”) and the next back in 1975, recording the brilliant Tonight's the Night with Joni Mitchell, smashed on tequila. But don’t expect too many details on his famous friends: Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney and Bruce Springsteen remain shadowy presences. We learn more about his feet – his obsession with a certain type of hiking boot, and the toe he just broke: “I have a special pair of sandals that Dr Rock sent me with a wrap to put on my toe to hold it in place. I haven’t used the wrap yet, but the sandals are quite stylish so I wear them […] Now when I walk around every step is a loud clop. It is not a stealth thing. I am debating whether to wear them tonight to dinner next door at Greg and Vicki’s. We will be having grass-fed beef. I will keep you posted, as you no doubt have noticed.”
Full review at The Telegraph

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