Waging Heavy Peace, by Neil Young
image via neilyoungnews.thrasherswheat.org
Neil and I go back a long way. Not that we’re pals, you understand, or musician-comrades. Part of the phenomenon of ‘sixties/‘seventies rock and folk music was that these musicians wrote songs that we could not only understand, but ones we could relate to from our own lives. They were visionaries, a step or two ahead of the rest of us – partially because they had already exposed themselves to a broader spectrum of society than that of those of us hunkered down in jobs, marriages, families, or other social structures that limited our life experiences, and partially because they were able to articulate their feelings toward a world that seemed yet to be born from that broader view of modern life. We attached ourselves to these musicians and their art in an emotional manner, trusting that by doing so we could not only understand this strange, new world that seemed to be emerging, but that we could thrive in it by doing so.
I’d be the first to say that these musicians would have had apoplexy at the responsibility inherent in embracing such ties to all of us, and that’s why, I think, the best of them kept on changing their bands, their musical styles, the tone and nature of their lyrics. By doing so, they were tacitly saying, “This is me, but if you can relate to bits and pieces of me, then take what you need and leave the rest for someone else.” I think we all realized very soon that the “me” in this was a grander sense of self, a self all or some of us could share as true parts of each of us.
Neil’s writing in this book is very much like a lot of his music: off the cuff, casual (sometimes to the point of being inarticulate in a writerly sense), emotional. The trick to “understanding” Neil, Dylan, and so many others, was to absorb a feeling from them, something non-verbal, something that perhaps only music could properly communicate. Still, toward the end of this book, I began to understand what Neil Young had been up to all those years – not in terms of music, but that of life itself. It took me quite a few pages to understand that this book isn’t prose per se; it’s a conversation in a Picasso-like, multidimensional way, with all of us who had followed his music through the years, and with those dear, personal friends of his who were now departed, and with those like his son Ben, who through birth defect, can’t talk or walk.
I want to go on – in detail – and mention how I and my closest friends of that early era related to some of his albums: “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere,” “After The Goldrush,” his earlier work with the Buffalo Springfield band, and later with Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, and his Rust Never Sleeps tour. Then, as he began to assume senior status in the music world, his mentoring of younger talent. But I won’t go into all that. It’s ll in the book, at least to some extent.
Neil’s still out there, searching, looking for relevance in both music and in a world drowning in its own leavings. He uses the book partly to promote a new sound system that captures the fuller aural spectrum that musicians hear, a palate once available on vinyl, but not in the current digital world. And he’s passionate about alternative energy to drive vehicles, something he experiments with himself.
This isn’t a memoir, as you would expect one to be written. Neil doesn’t talk down to anyone. He’s simply an everyman with a voice larger than most, and he hasn’t let that go to write this book.
My rating: 16 of 20 stars.