If our boomer generation was reared on meaningful music, you’ll like what you read here about Neil Young. Contributor Gary Carter has reviewed Young’s book of memoirs – Waging Heavy Peace – and has seen deeply into the heart and soul of a renaissance man.
I can’t recall with certainty when or how I heard Neil Young for the first time. It was probably through Buffalo Springfield, though I definitely recall his first solo effort in 1969. But it was the next two — “After the Gold Rush” and “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere” — that firmly implanted his voice and guitar into my soul.
Now, many years down the road, comes a finely turned memoir by the singer, Waging Heavy Peace.
What truly becomes the centerpiece of Neil’s candid book is that he is a contemporary Renaissance man. Not just a songwriter and performer, but an uncompromising artist, filmmaker, auto aficionado, environmentalist, and model train enthusiast (here’s a fun tidbit: Lionel Trains owes its survival to Neil Young’s investment).
One of Young’s ongoing projects is the creation of clean automobile propulsion technology, embodied in a 1959 Lincoln Continental dubbed “Lincvolt.” Another of his passions is Pono, a revolutionary audio system that presents to our ears the studio-quality sound that artists heard when they created their original recordings. Craving “music as it should be heard,” Neil is the driving force behind the Pono technology in an attempt to counteract the convenience and expediency that, in his knowledgeable opinion, have highly compromised recorded music.
Neil feels strongly enough about his passions and their potential that he puts his name and his money in them, and campaigns relentlessly while still also making music. And beyond all this, the book reveals a man completely devoted to his friends and family, including in particular his wife, Pegi, and son, Ben, born a nonverbal quadriplegic. His dedication to making Ben’s life full and meaningful is beyond admirable. It’s here that Neil fully reveals his heart, with some of the most emotional writing in the book about his wife: “After all these years together, I am still getting to know her. I would be an island without an ocean if we were not together in our hearts.”
This is no chronological tale, but a kaleidoscope that ricochets between times and places, people known, memories, and reflections. It’s also refreshingly honest and told in a voice that carries you gratefully along for the ride.
Of course, if it’s mainly the man’s music and musical history that draws you, there’s plenty here, from tales about various musicians and introspective insights into the origins of certain songs, to well-considered attempts to explain the metaphysics of songwriting: “Have you ever wondered what goes into writing a song? It seems to me that songs are a product of experience and a cosmic alignment of circumstance. That is, who you are and how you feel at a certain time … to me, they are like children. They are born and raised and sent out into the world to fend for themselves. It’s not an easy place to be, the world, for a song.”
Thankfully, Neil Young has sent many children out into the world, and many of us adopt them as our own and treat them well— and they return the favor. You might not like everything — even Neil admits he is uncompromising in creating what feels right at the moment and letting it go, without worrying about acceptance. But the good news is that the creative force continues to crackle, and we still have Neil and Old Black with us on the road, wherever it leads.
And we also have a very good book by the man to take along.