Tag Archives: WAGING HEAVY PEACE

ROCK N’ READ: WAGING HEAVY PEACE

I just finished reading Neil Young’s 2012 autobiography Waging Heavy Peace and I’m feeling really conflicted.  The best memoirs are the ones that feel like you’re sitting with the author listening to their stories.  And while Waging Heavy Peace fails on a number of levels, one thing it does well is capturing the essence of Young.  Reading the book totally felt like having a conversation with Neil Young, albeit a really one-sided conversation.  I really wanted to recommend the book, but Young’s scattershot recollections and constant jumps through his life’s chronology make Waging Heavy Peace a tough read for anyone not already a die-hard fan.  I’m okay with a non-linear account of one’s life, but it has to be done correctly and Young isn’t up to the task. Young also tends to refer to his famous friends as…well his friends.  Paul McCartney is “my friend Paul” which is really cool and down to earth, but also very hard to suss-out when reading a book about someone’s life in which they meet a lot of famous and un-famous people.

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Also frustrating is the fact that a sizeable chunk of the book is devoted to Young’s passion projects: a “revolutionary” new audio system called PureTone (which is later renamed to Pono), an extensive collection of Lionel model trains, old cars that Young buys online, the Lincvolt electric car he’s building/financing to raise awareness about fossil fuels. Like a timeshare meeting where you’re given a free vacation, if you can sit through Neil’s PureTone pitches you’re free to wander about his strange life.

I don’t mind a legacy artist (as he describes himself) indulging himself and talking up his pet projects, but Young brings these things up multiple times.  Worse, he usually just regurgitates what he’s already said about them.  This gives the book a feeling as though it was patched together and not edited very well.  The looseness of the book, indeed the reason the book exists, is that Young has learned he is on the cusp of dementia. So I’ve decided to cut Young some slack in regards to the repetition in some of the book.  In the beginning, Young explains that he broke a toe and stopped smoking marijuana on the advice of his doctor.  These two events forced the legendary musician to temporarily give up music, so he sat down and wrote Waging Heavy Peace. I really did enjoy Young’s discussion of sobriety and it’s effect on his music.  He explains that he’s never written anything without being under the influence and is worried he won’t be able to access the “cosmic” world of music without drugs.  It’s a valid worry and it was interesting to read about his hopes and fears regarding his music.

As the book plods along, he writes about how long it’s been since he’s smoked or drank and correlates that to how long it’s been since he’s written a song.  Neil’s album PSYCHEDELIC PILL was my number one album of 2012 and I hope he wrote and recorded it after/during the writing of this book, but it’s not made clear.  In fact, throughout the book he talks about getting Crazy Horse back together to cut an album, but never writes about doing it…so I’m thinking the album was done after the book.  It would have been nice for him to add an extra chapter explaining how it went.  I think PSYCHEDELIC PILL is one of Young’s best albums, so if he did it sober that would be so amazing.

I admire the guts it takes to write an account of ones life, and despite being a notorious curmudgeon, Young frequently acknowledges his mistakes.  This more than honest look at himself and his career is what saves Waging Heavy Peace and refreshingly, at no point in the book does Neil Young come across as anything but authentic.

I didn’t pick the book up just to read the story about his relationship with Kurt Cobain, who famously quoted Young in his suicide letter, but at the time the book was published there were stories in the media that led me to believe this topic would be addressed in Waging Heavy Peace Sadly, Cobain is mentioned fleetingly—like just one sentence.  It was disappointing, but that’s not Young’s fault.   Young’s experiences as an illegal (undocumented) alien at the start of his career were fascinating.  I knew that Young was Canadian at a time when it was uncool to be from the Great White North, but I had no idea he snuck into the country and was terrified each and every time he got behind the wheel of a car.  He had no license or Social Security card for many years and to this day still has pangs of fear when he sees a Sheriff’s patrol car.

Waging Heavy Peace reminded me a lot of Bob Dylan’s 2004 autobiography Chronicles Volume 1.  Like Dylan’s book, Waging Heavy Peace is an unconventional and unfinished look at a legendary life.  On the final page Young says that there will be future books, which may someday surface and shed more light Young’s remarkable career.  I’m not sure if I’d pick up Young’s next book, at least, not for $30.00. If you’re a fan and still haven’t picked the book up I definitely recommend you do.  For everyone else, I’d say familiarize yourself with Young’s music and maybe pick up another biography before wading into Waging Heavy Peace.

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Neil Young Is More Bummed Out By Kurt Cobain’s Death Than You

Rock ‘n Roll icon Neil Young just released an autobiography called Waging Heavy Peace and some of the book’s more choice nuggets are becoming 30 second sounds bytes on the 24-hour news shows.   One such story found in the book (which I haven’t read yet) is about Young’s involvement in the final days (and death) of Nirvana front-man Kurt Cobain.   Cobain’s suicide note famously quoted Young’s 1979 song “Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black).”  Specifically the lyrics, “It’s better to burn out, than to fade away.”  The song was written for RUST NEVER SLEEPS and is about John Lyndon of The Sex Pistols abandoning his “Johnny Rotten” stage-persona.

Basically, a sad, sick kid heard Young’s song, which I’ve always interpreted as about creative death and rebirth, and took it more on face value.  That said, I can totally understand why Neil Young is still to this day shaken up by that.  What I didn’t know (until it came out in Young’s book) is that Young was actively reaching out to Cobain in the days leading up to his death.  Neil Young was recently interviewed by Classic Rock Magazine and reveled that “When he died and left that note, it struck a deep chord inside of me. It fucked with me.  I, coincidentally, had been trying to reach him. I wanted to talk to him. Tell him only to play when he felt like it.”

Neil Young: Rust never sleeps.

Interestingly, Cobain is not the only dead rock star to have interpreted Young’s song on a more literal level.  In 1980, John Lennon told Playboy “I hate it[“Hey Hey, My My “] It’s better to fade away like an old soldier than to burn out.”  Lennon, ever the provocative bastard who was always willing to say what most people might only think, went on to add: “If Neil Young admires that sentiment so much, why doesn’t he do it? Because he sure as hell faded away and came back many times, like all of us. No, thank you. I’ll take the living and the healthy.”

First off all, I think “Hey Hey, My My (Into The Black)” is a fucking amazing song.  I can see how various people, at various stages of life (and metal status) might interpret it in different ways…but in general I think it’s a fantastic work of art that is pretty self-evident.  But if a person is in the wrong mindset (or worse looking for a more sinister reading of the song) can certainly find some really dark shit in Young’s tune.

That said, I personally think that  Young is right, in a creative sense it is better to burn out than fade away.  Lennon’s band The Beatles are a classic example of a group that burned out rather than fade away.  Their albums progressed and their sound evolved to such an astonishingly degree it can scarcely be believed (thankfully we have the records to prove it).   There were other factors at play, but I think part of the reason they broke up was over creative differences.

But I digress.  I know my opinion doesn’t matter, but I don’t think Neil Young should beat himself up too much about Cobain’s death, because it certainly wasn’t his fault.  I can’t imagine what it would feel like to have someone quote you in their suicide note.  All of this just puts Neil Young, and his work as an artist, into perspective and makes me really want to read Waging Heavy Peace.    

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