Monday, October 1, 2012

Neil Young - Waging Heavy Peace: Pretty Perfect If You Ask Me

"The weakness of an autobiography is the lack of perspective of the person who's writing it. So, for that reason, I'll never write an autobiograhy, Never." ~ Neil Young 2000
Well, Neil, so much for that. Waging Heavy Peace is the autobiography of Neil Young. 497 pages of the songwriter doing what he said he wouldn't do - and I'm damned glad that he didn't keep his word.

I've just started reading Mark Twain's autobiography - Mark didn't think autobiography was such a great idea either. He didn't think a man could possibly put down in words what was true about himself. A man's true beliefs about himself were so monstrous, and the truths so ugly that it just couldn't be done. He'd either have to lie, or he'd have to bury it - deep, where it couldn't be found. Ever.

In his attempt to write his life story, Twain wrote fictionalized accounts of his life, only expressing the basic actions, good or bad. He wrote the truth, but then ascribed it to other people in other places. He went backwards and forwards for 40 years attempting to do what he imagined couldn't be done. Finally, he gathered what he had written over so many years, in so many ways, and agreed that it could be published - but only in a way that would save him the humiliation, and his children the embarrassment. It could only be published one hundred years after his death. A brilliant solution to his fears, and his trepidation.

Of course, he hadn't counted on the fact that he'd be dead, and not around to see his agreements honored. Versions appeared a short twenty five years later in various forms. When they did appear, they did little to tarnish Twain's reputation, little to embarrass the children.

Neil Young has done as Neil Young has always done. As he damned well pleases, and in the manner he sees fit. It's all about the work. He seldom spares himself responsibility or blame, and while he accepts his absolute adherence to the belief that it's only the work that matters, he realizes that this has often come at a high human cost, and he suffers for his often brutal ways of following his muse.

Waging Heavy Peace is about redemption. It's about a man facing himself in the mirror, and not flinching. He doesn't always apologize, but he does more often than not, and he also spends a tremendous amount of time sharing the credit for a lifetime of work, and thanking those who have helped so much along the way. He gives credit where credit is due, he explains why he's done what he's done, and along the way he keeps moving forward, keeps showing you where he's going next, and why.

Neil wrote this book sober. Sober for the first time in a great many decades, not a drink, not a joint, not a single bump. Not so he could get it right, and not because his work or relationships had ever suffered for his proclivities, but rather because his father suffered dementia at the end of his life, and Young hopes to avoid the same fate. However, with the cessation of imbibing also came the the end of the music - he hadn't written a single song sober, and wasn't sure what would happen when he did. He did have the clarity to realize, though, that he was writing - and that seems enough to keep him from over worrying the scenario. He reckons that his muse is off spending time helping someone else, and shall return when the time is right.

Don't expect this book to be a chronological listing of what happened with whom, and don't expect too much in the way of bloody details - oh, there's more than enough, but he relates things in a manner that will easily allow you to fill in the blanks, as opposed to a who with, and how many times revealing.

Young holds a conversation with the reader that lasts from beginning to end. He free associates, and jumps decades without a care, or concern - this is one of the many beauties of the book. It's casual, it meanders, in fact - it comes across as maybe a the great non-musical Neil Young album. It talks about the girl, it tells you about the places, it addresses what is and what should never be, but often is. It tells you a lot about a father's love and a father's absence. It tells you about the long suffering strength of mothers, and it tells you about the cars, the records, the shows, the bands - it tells you the tale of Neil Young.

This book also is an advertisement for two of Young's dreams. The first dream starts with a hearse called Mort that delivers the young songwriter to California, that gets recognized by Stephan Stills on a crowded Sunset Boulevard and starts a musical revolution. Young has always had an obsession with old and large motor vehicles - Lincoln Continentals and custom built touring coaches that have delivered him to his appointments with his muse. The dream is that these vehicles may still be viable - the Lincvolt is a project he's been working on for years in an effort to make a car that will run very efficiently and without polluting - he's convinced he's on the right track, and he's going to make it happen in this lifetime. He says he's doing it with a large automobile to show people what is possible - if he can do it with an old, incredibly heavy Lincoln convertible, the sky is the limit.

His other dream is one that is very close to my heart, as well - this one is personal. Pono.

What the hell is Pono?

Pono is a Hawaiian word that means good and righteous. It is the name Young has given his new method of delivering music to listeners. For years, he's been on the warpath with digital audio - he has long maintained that digital playback systems whether they be CDs or MP3 files only deliver a miniscule portion of the music actually played - CDs may deliver 15% of the true content, MP3s perhaps as little as 5% of the real sound.

Young's Pono promises to deliver nearly all the information  - the soul, the sound, everything beautiful about his art as he has intended. He believes it will reinvigorate the market - it will create customers. No longer will the listening public be willing to settle for the sad state of recorded music.

Imagine if you will, the pleasures of someone having condomless sex for the first time - the sheer bliss of experiencing the feel, the sensual sensations long promised, finally delivered. Pono might just be sex for the ears. Young spends a lot of time on this issue, and I think it is the one of the book's greatest values.

There's been much talk and criticism of Neil Young lately, the accusation being that he's siding with the freeloading downloaders of the world, but I don't see that as necessarily being valid - he admits that Spotify, Pandora, and iTunes are the new radio, but he thinks that if they are given a reasonable alternative, they will again spend money on music in a manner which will fairly compensate the musicians. I agree with him, and a good part of that is realizing that you aren't going to make them go away, and they shouldn't. They simply need to be in their proper place. I know that vinyl sales are skyrocketing - I can only imagine what will happen when you have the convenience of digital, and the audio possibilities of vinyl, or better.

Waging Heavy Peace is a great book. It serves the readers, giving insights into what has happened, who it happened with, and how Youngs sees things. His rambling, non-linear approach is perfect - I feel like I've just sat down with Neil, and he's told me his tale as it occurs to him. I feel like I know the guy, and better yet, I feel inspired. He's not always successful, he's not always been kind, and he's not always understood himself. But he's always been true to himself, and has attempted, and is still attempting to improve.

When it's all been said and done, chapter 66 may be the big payoff.
It's a bit of a summation - I almost quoted from it, but I don't think I will. Buy the book, read it yourself. Neil did his job, now you do yours. This was the best twenty bucks I've given Amazon in a long time.

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