Monday, July 07, 2003

Just finished Shakey: Neil Young's Biography by Jimmy McDonough.

Whew. Even though it focuses somewhat more on the recordings and performances and life issues during the 60s and 70s, it still manages to cover Young's life up into the late 1990s.

Stuff I learned:
  • Young's first instrument was a yukulele.
  • Young was part of the same Winnepeg scene as another famous Candian rocker, Randy Bachman, soon to be with The Guess Who and then Bachman-Turner Overdrive. I think everyone knows about Joni Mitchell being in there at the same time; I just had never thought of Bachman as a musical -- well, guitar-playing -- influence on Young.
  • Young was once in a band that backed up... Rick James. Yes, "Superfreak" Rick James, the one sampled by that poseur Hammer nee MC Hammer. Rick James and Neil Young. I told you it was a small world. One can only hope for some kind of eventual reunion.
  • Not only did Steven Stills go to military school, but during his drugged out phase of life (did it end?), he thought he had been in the Marines. In Vietnam.
  • Young's family used to vacation in nearby New Smyrna Beach, and his mom, Rassy, lived there in her later years. I'm having visions of Mr. Young making his way through the Daytona Beach airport (Warning: Bad music). And of his then tour bus, Pocahontas, making it's way down US 1.
  • Young was part of the LA / Toponga Valley scene with actors Dennis Hopper, Russ Tamblyn, and Dean Stockwell. But no mention of David Lynch, whom all three have worked with. Has filmmaker Young -- see this and this, and maybe you actually have seen this -- had any contact with filmmaker Lynch? Would such a meeting be wise?
  • Young was a major stoner. I always thought he was a straight arrow.
  • Crazy Horse (hmm: no Crazy Horse website. Should I be surprised?) guitarist Danny Whitten died of an overdose of valium and alcohol. I had believed that the story was that Neil gave him fifty bucks, and that he used that to score heroin, and that that was what he OD'd on.
  • Young is a complete and total control freak.
  • Young, however, is very responsible. He takes responsibility for his choices. He acknowledges when he's fucked up, and he does seem to learn something from it. However, since he turns his life on a dime, he also leaves a trail of upset in the lives of the people who work with him and hang around him.
  • He's a force in model railroading. He was involved in the development of Lionel's RailSounds technology and their wireless controllers (motivated, for the latter, by his two sons both having cerebal palsy, with one of them spastic, quadraplegic, and nonoral). He's a partner in Wellspring Associates LLC, which took Lionel out of receivership. Yes, that's right, Neil Young owns Lionel Trains. In some sense. See for yourself.

The book is chock full of long excerpts of interviews with Young. A piece of one of my favorites:
I wasn't moved. I wouldn't let them film me, that's why I'm not in the [Woodstock] movie. I said, "One of you fuckin' guys comes near me and I'm gonna fuckin' hit you with my guitar. I'm playing music. Just leave me out." Peace, love[,] and flowers. That's where I was at when we did Woodstock. So I was there...but I wasn't. I left an imprint [bold emphasis mine].

You gotta look at these events in rock and roll history as shit, okay? Woodstock was a big piece of shit, and there have been several pieces of shit all the way down the line since the beginning of rock and roll -- it's all waste.

The event is nothing. It's what made the event happen -- which is no longer where the event is. The event is the leftovers -- it happens so the entity, the spirit, or what made the shit happen can move on.

So all these events, no matter what they hell they are, are nothing. What is meaningful is what is left and gone beyond that. So all we have is people standing around a pile of shit, looking at it. You wouldn't expect the thing that shit to go back and sit in the shit, would you?
While McDonough clearly is a fanboy, this isn't just a quicky bio, like some instabook on Justin Timberlake. McDonough cares about his subject -- and cared for years on end -- in that same stupid way that many of us once cared about the music and the life we thought was associated with the music. He evokes a time in my life, maybe yours, and he does so in a gracious, challenging, reflective, informative, and enjoyable way. He may not be a great prose stylist -- Young's way with words dominated McDonough's, easily to my ear -- but he has gone the distance, done the work, excepted the challenges, and put together a good read.