A review of It’s Not Only Rock ‘n’ Roll: Iconic Musicians Reveal the Source of Their Creativity by Jenny Boyd with Holly George-Warren.
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Reflections of My Life
Waging Heavy Peace: A Hippie Dream by Neil Young (Blue Rider Press, $30.00, 497 pages)
“I think I will have to use my time wisely and keep my thoughts straight if I am to succeed and deliver the cargo I so carefully have carried this far… Not that it’s my only job or task. I have others, too. Sacred things I need to protect from pain and hardship, like careless remarks on an open mind.”
Joan Didion has said that we tell stories in order to live. In Neil Young’s memoir, Waging Heavy Peace, he tells stories to document the things he has accomplished in his life, to admit his failings as a fallible human being, and to remind himself that there’s still a lot he wants to accomplish before he departs this world. It’s far from a hippie dream, as Young uses cold, calm and thoughtful Didion-like language – the lines above are a splendid example – in the re-examination of a life. At times, surprisingly, I was reminded of Didion’s Where I Was From, a look back at the early years of her life spent in Sacramento; and an acceptance of the fact that – at least in Didion’s case – one cannot go back home again.
When Young refers to the cargo he has carried in his life, I presume it’s a reference to his musical talent. But here he comes to the realization that he’s inherited some writing abilities from his famous Canadian sportswriter father:
“I am beginning to see that the rest of my life could conceivably be spent as an author, churning out books one after another, to the endless interest of, say, fourteen people with Kindles. Seriously, though, this is a great way to live. No wonder my dad did this… Writing could be just the ticket to a more relaxed life with fewer pressures and more time to enjoy my family and friends – and paddle-boarding.”
Yes, Young equates the precious time he spends with his beloved wife and children with the sport of paddle-boarding, which he learned in Hawaii. It’s a reminder of his honesty, and more documentation of a statement I happened to read in an article in The New York Post: “Everything in life is big and small in equal proportions.” Indeed.
One of the charming things about Heavy Peace is that it comes across as an unscripted conversation with the artist. There’s no agenda, no script – Neil simply tells his stories as they come to mind. This is what happens when we meet an old friend or classmate for lunch, say, or for libations (alcoholic or not) at a tavern. Some readers may be troubled by the fact that the true tales about Young’s career in music are told in non-chronological order. To which my response is, “So what? He’s still given us some inside information on his times with Buffalo Springfield; CSN&Y; and on his solo career and work with, and without, the members of Crazy Horse.”
If there’s one thing about the account that becomes a bit tiring, it’s his often-repeated rants about the poor audio quality of today’s music…“I am a pain in the ass now… I can’t go anywhere without the annoying sound of MP3s… This used to be my life, music. So I need to find or create a solution. Let everyone live, including those who crave quality. Mostly so I can stop ranting about it.”
(With music CDs) “…audio quality took a dive, with a maximum of fifteen percent of the sound of a master (recording).”
What’s strange for me is that when I listen to the recent releases of Young’s work that are supposed to be vastly improved audio editions of his earlier works, I don’t hear the improvement. In fact, some of the “new and improved” reworkings – as with the song “Cinammon Girl” – sound a bit dead when compared to the original, energetic recordings. But let’s not be a pain in the behind over it.
When Bob Dylan’s Chronicles: Volume One was released, the world was pleased to find a new and distinctive voice on the printed page. The same is true, no doubt, with the release of Waging Heavy Peace. Young’s voice is as seemingly unique on the page as it is in the recording studio.
Let’s hope that Young continues to write, for his own sake and for ours. His reflections on the successes and failures of his life are valuable reminders of the need to reflect on our own back pages every now and then; yes, to re-examine where we came from in order to see where we might be headed.
A review copy was provided by the publisher.
The Days That Used to Be
‘Cause there are very few of us left my friend/ From the days that used to be Neil Young, “The Days That Used to Be” from 1990’s Ragged Glory album
Waging Heavy Peace: A Hippie Dream by Neil Young (Blue Rider Press, $30.00, 502 pages)
Where to begin. Let’s try with Neil’s own words. How about we work backward from page 409?
“About twenty years later, in the mid-nineties, Briggs and I were making an album. I still call it an album because that is what I make. I don’t make CDs or iTunes tracks. I make albums. That is just what I do. Call it what you like. I remember how I hated the shuffle feature on iTunes because it f—– up the running order I spent hours laboring over. Having tracks available independently and having the shuffle factor sucks as far as I am concerned. Call me old-fashioned. I make albums and I want the songs to go together to create a feeling. I do those things on purpose. I don’t want people cherry-picking the albums. I like to choose the singles. After all, it’s my s—.”
That, in a nutshell is Neil Young’s amazing autobiography, Waging Heavy Peace.
The title comes from a query directed at Neil in which he was asked if he was waging war with Apple. He replied, “No, I’m waging heavy peace.”
Neil has been working on starting a company (originally PureTone, now Pono due to an alleged copyright infringement) – Neil is always in the middle of some project or another – to restore digital music to something resembling its original sound. In what I will call a companion release, whether accurate or not, the album sans CD Psychedelic Pill, a project with Crazy Horse, now leads with the song “Driftin’ Back”. A key verse starts off, “When you hear my song now/You only get 5%”. His web page contains a message touting that in 2012 record companies will release High Resolution Audio. Neil is nothing if not passionate, and he is overtly committed to doing all he can to ensure the next generation does not forget what music is supposed to sound like.
This book is as close to honesty as one can get without it becoming too uncomfortable. Yes, Neil likes cars and trains. He loves his wife, Pegi. But, how about finding out he needs brain surgery only to go to Nashville to record one of his finest works, Prairie Wind, while waiting for surgery on the aneurysm because he can’t sit still? How about vacillating between being a young guy who strands a woman in New Mexico to find her own way home because she is grating on his nerves, matter-of-factly describing incidents and leaving compatriots dead in the manuscript due to various indiscretions, and describing incidents such as David Crosby visiting with a yacht disguised as a meth lab, and yet revisits such scenes with candor, honesty, tenderness, love, and loyalty, that he comes across as eminently noble and likeable?
This is some book. Neil has two children with handicaps. Many people know this. Throughout the book, he continues to refer to his son Ben as Ben Young. Always Ben Young. At first this seems as quirky as Neil himself, until the reader eventually discovers the respect behind the moniker.
Neil tells you he’s writing the book as he writes it. He confides that he is attempting to produce art sober for the first time in his life. He has tremendous allegiance and affinity for fellow musicians, explains why Buffalo Springfield could never continue in its burst of brilliance, and admires Jimmy Fallon for doing a better Neil than Neil.
Some have compared this book to Bob Dylan’s Chronicles. Understandable, I guess, but Bob is Bob, and Neil is Neil, and this book is so captivating and fascinating that I cannot compare it to anything.
I rarely lapse into first person in any formal writing, but this book moved me. It hit me in the gut and remains stuck with me somehow, like Neil’s music. I could refer to Neil as Young, or Mr. Young, like The Wall Street Journal would. But I cannot. Neil is too personal to me. I’ll never meet the man, but if he goes first, I’ll never forget him.
Thanks, Neil, for staying true to your art in good times and bad, and creating such moving and unique tales of humanity that will last forever – and for writing one helluva book.
Dave Moyer is an educator and the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel.
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Over and Over
“I said over and over and over again, this dance is going to be a drag…” Over and Over (Bobby Day)
Up All Night: My Life and Times in Rock Radio by Carol Miller (Ecco, $26.99, 272 pages)
There are books that you really, really want to like or love but – like a blind date – sometimes it just doesn’t work out. This memoir about New York City FM “radio legend Carol Miller” promised to offer some juicy information about “the history of rock and roll.” Unfortunately, it does not deliver the goods.
The best, most direct and honest, part of this autobiography is when Miller tells us about her battles with breast cancer. But there’s so little here on topic, and the relevant sections are separated by so many pages, it might well have been condensed into a decent magazine article for The New Yorker.
What’s frustrating and confusing about this supposed “tell all” account is that it’s more like a “tell virtually nothing” account. Miller writes about the many people who have done her wrong – like a female doctor who misdiagnosed her breast cancer; a radio station chief who constantly groped her; a prospective second husband who bailed on her, etc. – but then fails to tell us who, exactly, are these people. She tells us that they are entitled to their privacy. Maybe so, but then the question arises as to how on earth the folks at Ecco Press fact-checked this book? If we don’t know who Miller is writing about, how do we know what portion or portions of her story are true?
Further confusion is added to the mix when she does describe the specific faults of her ex-husband, MTV V-J Mark Goodman. (Don’t get your hopes up, it’s pretty dull stuff.) And she spills the dirt when it comes to her time spent with Steven Tyler of Aerosmith and record producer Jimmy Iovine back in the day (the late 70s). Since she’s been hiding identities throughout the memoir, why list their names unless it’s because, as she acknowledges, they are well-known to the followers of TV’s American Idol? Are young viewers of Idol supposed to buy the book just to get the dirt on Tyler and Iovine?
“And so I spent the night in David Cloverdale’s suite. I’m not going into the details. You already know what happened.”
Ah, and then Miller tells us about her one-night stand with a known rock star while informing her readers that she won’t go into details as they already know what happened… Maybe we would not have been interested in the personal details in the first place, so – Why bring it up at all?
As if this wasn’t crazy making enough, Miller also offers some personal opinions that might lead one to question her judgement skills. She says of the band Led Zeppelin that they “were the definitive act of the rock format.” Wow, really? (Ever heard of a band called The Beatles? The Rolling Stones? Queen?) And she tells us that Manhattan rock jock Howard Stern is “brilliant.” The very same Howard Stern who would “speculate as to the color of my (Miller’s) panties that day… (while) making obviously false but all-in-fun claims that he had a stack of naked pictures of me.” This is what passes for fun and brilliant these days? How sad.
To her credit, Miller offers a few engaging stories such as one about how nice Paul McCartney was to her after hearing her state on the radio that the band known as Wings was actually a very good set of musicians. She also relates a story about Guns N’ Roses and Slash that might be true, although it made me think of the line attributed to Rod Stewart: “Most of the great stories in rock and roll’s short history are false.”
If Up All Night were a song, I’d say that it doesn’t have much of a beat and you can’t dance to it. Mr. Clark, on a scale of 1 to 100, I give it a 64. Yes, “over and over and over again, this dance is going to be a drag.”
A review copy was provided by the publisher. Kids, don’t try to read this book at home.
Note: For those wondering who rock star David Cloverdale is, he sang lead with Deep Purple before founding Whitesnake.