Neil Young: Waging Heavy Peace – book review

Neil Young: Waging Heavy Peace (Penguin)
Out: Now

Neil Young has, for many years, been a mysterious and elusive figure within the world of rock. In Waging Heavy Peace he shares the long and eventful story of his life, but not in the manner which you may initially expect.

As contrary, individualist and erratic as his career, Waging Heavy Peace is a rock autobiography done Neil Young’s way and if the reader has a problem with that, they know where they can go.

It doesn’t take long to realise that the archetype of the memoir has been well and truly discarded as Young’s recollections follow a stream of consciousness which range from distant recollections to current reflections and, seemingly, spontaneous ideas. It makes for a refreshing read and oftentimes creates the feel of listening to someone directly tell you a collection of stories, rather than have them filtered through the unseen hands of a ghostwriter. Longtime Young aficionado and fan Patti Smith even commented upon this fact to the author, recently stating:

‘What I really love about this book; there’s no barrier between the reader and you. I started reading it and I felt sometimes it seems like it’s after hours, late at night, and you’re in your tepee talking by the fire.’

Whilst I, personally, have no intimate experience of Mr Young’s tepee, I can see what Smith is getting at. There is a sense of direct dictation taking place here which sometimes feels as if were getting an exclusive glimpse behind the curtain of the Canadian songwriting legend’s mystique.

There are allusions to Young’s upbringing, and in particular the figure of his father Scott Young, with whom he maintained a close relationship despite his abandonment of Neil and his mother, Rassy (who was not as forgiving in later years). He speaks fondly of his early years in Canada and the sense of excitement escalates greatly when he begins describing the early days on the road with his band The Squires.

Young writes extensively and passionately about his some life, the Bridge School which his wife Pegi established. This was spurned after the birth of his son Ben, who was born a nonverbal quadriplegic. The book is dedicated to him ‘For Ben Young, my hero, my warrior’. Zeke and Amber, his other children are often spoken of with the tenderness and pride of a loving and devoted father and family man.

Passion, indeed, plays a great part in Neil Young’s life. He is obsessive when it comes to several things, all of which are addressed in great detail throughout the books considerable 497 pages. Automobiles and locomotives are, in particular, two key areas which take up a great deal of Young’s free time and thought. The contents of his garage are examined in meticulous detail, as are the grandiose train sets he constructs, something which he and Ben bonded over. The personal interests and investment in model train companies are very candidly discussed, as are his occasional financial worries and concerns.

There may not be a huge amount of investigative anecdotes into the breakdown of CSNY, or enough ‘My drug Hell’ stories to please everybody, especially those looking for a sensationalist ‘tell all’ feature. What is on offer is a gentle and reflective pondering of an eventful and significant life within the world of music.

The book came together after a broken toe forced Young off the road for a spell. He took the opportunity to quit smoking weed and drinking alcohol. The new clarity caused a momentary respite from songwriting and his thoughts turned towards constructing this autobiography. I, for one, am exceptionally glad that he did for it is one of the most refreshing, honest and genuinely entertaining rock autobiographies which I have read to date. 

You can find Neil Young on Twitter and at his Official Site

All words by Colin McCracken. You can read more of his Louder Than War articles HERE
He writes about movies HERE and for several leading genre publications. He generally lurks around on Twitter HERE

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Colin McCracken is an Irish writer and cinematic obsessive who writes extensively about movies on a daily basis for his website He is equally passionate about vinyl (he used to run an independent record store), literature, live music and film soundtracks. He can also be found regularly on twitter as @zombiehamster.


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