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The Rock Pit - Hard rock, Metal and Blues Interviews, news & reviews from Australia and around the world
Neil Young Waging Heavy Peace Book Review

NEIL YOUNG

 

WAGING HEAVY PEACE

 

PENGUIN | VIKING

 

2012

 

 

 

TALES OF DISTRACTION

 

If you expected a book by Neil Young to be an easy or conforming read then of course you would be entirely wrong.  Neil Young is certainly an interesting character, fuelled by love and obsessions 'Waging Heavy Peace' takes you to some unusual places along the way on a ride that doesn't play by the rules...

 

 

If you expected a book by Neil Young to be an easy or conforming read then of course you would be entirely wrong.  Neil Young is certainly an interesting character, fuelled by love and obsessions 'Waging Heavy Peace' takes you to some unusual places along the way on a ride that doesn't play by the rules...

 

 


If you are expecting tales of Rock and Roll hedonism from the times when Rock Stars were Rock Stars and reality TV was known as documentary you will catch glimpses of that here, but it’s very much NOT the focus here. You will get much more about Neil’s current twin obsessions (more later) and his sons Ben than you will about CSNY for example. The book is also very episodic, conversational and flits from recollection to almost direct conversation at the drop of a hat. If you are not in the mood it is at the least distracting. What you do get is to learn a lot more about Neil than you imagined, but it’s more of the man than the music, and when it’s the music that defines the man for most of us, again we have a problem.

 

 


Hands up all those who want to know more about Neil’s love of model trains than what went into making the album of 1972 – Harvest? Who wants to know more about Neil’s classic car collection than Crazy Horse? And I guess that’s the dilemma, the focus here is Neil’s and I guess that’s the startling honesty of the book.  Neil wants to talk about the things that matter most to HIM not US.

 

 


Never what you might call the ‘average Rock Star’ I guess you might reasonably be expecting something rather different to what you are served before you open the book. To be honest even though it might be a little disingenuous to sell this as an autobiography in the context of what we’ve come to expect from that form over the years – like chronology and sufficient emphasis in the right spots it’s certainly not a work lacking in candour.

 

 


In truth there is some discussion of rock and roll – backstage fights and guitars and recording, but it all seems to be slightly wearily recounted unless there’s an obvious affection on Neil’s part for the protagonists.

 

 


One of the interesting aspects of the book is that Neil is every bit as curmudgeonly and obsessive as you might imagine him, and yes he does have that hippie/spiritual bent (talking about music finding him rather than him seemingly being able to sit and create). Indeed sometimes it’s not what he says but how he says it that offers the most interesting insights into the man. So unlike legends like Dylan who at least made an attempt to recount the ‘(his)story’ you get the feeling that no one sat down with Neil to  tell him what the plan was here and as a result he’s unable to focus, despite laying off the drinking and smoking in order to give himself over to writing this book. As a biography you get the feeling that many casual observers will come away underwhelmed, but those deeper entwined with the music of the man will reach out for and find a few telling insights. Young’s prose though is frighteningly variable, though I have to say on balance pretty engaging. One of the most intriguing things about the first read for me was that you would find passages in the book where Neil really connects and tells you something that inspires, or is simply just a beautifully written passage. The other side of the coin is that in other places his matter-of-factness becomes embarrassingly mundane and to be frank quite dull. And that is one of the conundrums for me: whether Young actually took any pleasure from this exercise at all, maybe the odd pang offset by sharp stabs of boredom and mild annoyance. Perversely it’s around the things that might be less exciting to the reader – like his trains and his cars when Young’s writing is most electric.

 

 


The other interesting aspect of the book is Young’s relationship with the digital age and yearning for the likes of ‘valve amps’ and ‘2” tape’ (though conceding plugging into pro-tools).  It’s intriguing as at times you feel Young is using creating new musical ‘product’ to finance these obsessions then simultaneously bemoaning that stance on modern music. A bit like having your organic cake and eating it in a sustainable way while complaining about cake as a whole.

 

 


At times the book takes on a sales pitch like quality especially when talking about his self-funded ‘PureTone’ project (high quality digital music) or ‘Lincvolt’ his eco-car. I am dismissing neither by the way and of course it doesn’t stop him being right either. Neil doesn’t like YouTube either, it stymies his onstage creativity…

 

 


As a casual observer of Neil Young with a particular affection for his Crazy Horse project I must say I enjoyed this unconventional ride. As Neil says at one point: "There is a lot here to cover, and I have never done this before… Also, I am not interested in form for form's sake. So if you are having trouble reading this, give it to someone else. End of chapter."  At the end this trip all I can say is that ‘Waging Heavy Peace’ is like a combination of the best and worst Neil Young albums and that’s interesting enough for me. My favourite story though is definitely the burying of the burnt out tour bus in the eucalyptus grove.

 

 

By Mark Diggins