Rock­ing-chair rem­i­nis­cences of

Wag­ing Heavy Peace

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - Iain Shed­den

By Neil Young Vik­ing, 497pp, $39.95

IT has been a boldly pro­duc­tive year for Cana­dian rock veteran Neil Young. An al­bum of cov­ers, Amer­i­cana, and a dou­ble al­bum of orig­i­nals, Psy­che­delic Pill, both recorded with his band Crazy Horse, have been re­leased in re­cent months. This au­to­bi­og­ra­phy (of sorts) is just one of sev­eral projects that have oc­cu­pied his time away from the stage and record­ing stu­dio in the past 12 months.

Just as Young’s mu­sic has tra­versed many gen­res in the past 45 years — from coun­try­rock and folk to retro rock ’ n’ roll and paintstrip­ping me­tal­lic grunge — so too this book ducks and dives through a va­ri­ety of topics and eras, with lit­tle thought to chronol­ogy or nar­ra­tive thread.

One minute he’s in Win­nipeg in the early 1960s try­ing to make a liv­ing with his band the Squires, the next he’s in the fam­ily re­treat in Hawaii, present day, bang­ing on about the poor qual­ity of dig­i­tally for­mat­ted record­ings and play­back and how he’s go­ing to turn that around with his own patented tech­nol­ogy, called Pono. Early men­tions of his rev­o­lu­tion­ary prod­uct — which he claims will repli­cate stu­dio record­ing qual­ity to about 95 per cent — re­fer to it as Pure­tone; that’s un­til he finds out the name has been used al­ready and has to change it.

Young hopes Pono will en­ter the mar­ket next year and if it doesn’t it won’t be for the lack of spruik­ing it here. He is ob­sessed by it, or at least by the idea that he can erad­i­cate bad dig­i­tal play­back qual­ity, what he con­sid­ers to be a blight on the record­ing in­dus­try.

Wag­ing Heavy Peace is part rem­i­nis­cence, part di­ary, part man­i­festo and just as of­ten a post­card to close friends, alive and dead, who have en­tered the singer’s heart for one rea­son or an­other dur­ing his 67 years.

‘‘ Writ­ing this book, there seems to be no end to the in­for­ma­tion flow­ing through me,’’ Young writes on page 139. Such a rush of in­spi­ra­tion can be a good thing. There are some won­der­ful mo­ments in this book as Young dips into sig­nif­i­cant times and im­por­tant foun­da­tions of his life, from his early years grow­ing up in parts of On­tario in­clud­ing Toronto and in Win­nipeg, Man­i­toba, through to the Bro­ken Ar­row ranch that has been the Young fam­ily home in the Wood­side Hills of Cal­i­for­nia for decades.

There’s men­tion also of his ships-in-thenight rock ’ n’ roll en­coun­ters with women and more de­tailed ac­counts of his re­la­tion­ship with ac­tress Car­rie Sn­odgress and with his wife of many years, Pegi.

He writes with love and com­pas­sion of his artist daugh­ter Am­ber and his sons Zeke (from his re­la­tion­ship with Sn­odgress) and Ben and of the dif­fi­cul­ties and tri­umphs both sons have en­coun­tered be­cause of their cere­bral palsy.

There are vivid de­scrip­tions of piv­otal mo­ments in Young’s ca­reer. In par­tic­u­lar, he ap­pears to en­joy delv­ing into that for­ma­tive pe­riod af­ter he moved to Cal­i­for­nia in the 60s, when he and Stephen Stills broke through with Buf­falo Spring­field dur­ing a cru­cial stage in rock’s devel­op­ment, both men team­ing up soon af­ter with David Crosby and Gra­ham Nash. One can pick up on the sense of ex­cite­ment as op­por­tu­ni­ties open up to him just when pop­u­lar cul­ture is go­ing through a rad­i­cal change.

On the down­side, many of his re­flec­tions on phases of his record­ing ca­reer are fleet­ing; as are his ob­ser­va­tions on song­writ­ing. A twopage chap­ter (none of them are very long), sums it up thus: ‘‘ I have writ­ten a lot of songs. Some of them suck. Some of them are bril­liant and some are just okay. Those are other peo­ple’s opin­ions. To me they are like chil­dren. They are born and raised and sent out into the world to fend for them­selves.’’

Those look­ing for more en­light­en­ment on Young’s craft and the back­ground de­tails of his ex­ten­sive out­put would be bet­ter served by Jimmy McDonough’s thor­ough 2007 bi­og­ra­phy, Shakey.

In Wag­ing Heavy Peace, Young in­dulges him­self, jot­ting down what­ever comes to mind. The re­sult is of­ten charm­ing, if not par­tic­u­larly re­veal­ing. He goes off ran­domly,

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