Just exactly what makes Neil Young tick always has been one of the great
mysteries of popular music.
Now, the rock icon has gone from enigma to open book.
Mr. Young, who performs at the Petersen Events Center in Pittsburgh, Pa., on Tuesday, has managed the rare feat of simultaneously releasing an autobiography and a new album.
It shouldn't surprise anyone that the 497-page "Waging Heavy Peace" takes a rambling, nonlinear, episodic approach to his life. Like Dylan's fine "Chronicles," it certainly doesn't begin with "I was born in Toronto in 1945" and proceed chronologically from there. He jumps around through his life and career, sometimes stopping to rant about the poor quality of MP3s, rave about a favorite artist, offer a requiem to an old car or clear up a long-standing misconception -- like his alleged support for Ronald Reagan, which he claims was exaggerated by a pair of pushy AP reporters.
The book, clearly edited with a light hand, offers a world of insight into the artist's restless creative spirit and his deep-seated insecurities.
What was it like to be Neil Young living out the rock 'n' roll dream in Laurel Canyon in the late '60s?
This man, who could get on stage in front of thousands of people, was so wracked with anxiety he couldn't even conquer the Canyon Country Store. "I would go down there and stand in the parking lot," he writes, "working up the nerve to go in, hoping I would not get anxious and paranoid and freak out, leaving whatever I had chosen to buy inside and bolting for the door."
Acknowledging what a private person he is, he recalls a hipster party at his home in Topanga Canyon, when married to his second wife Carrie Snodgress, where he became so anxious he literally climbed out the window.
With his genius came a body that often refused to cooperate. When he was 6, he nearly died from polio, a condition that would later require having vertebrae removed from his back. In his prime years, in the midst of a crowded Hollywood record store, he experienced this: "... the sky started to spin a little and I felt a bit sick to my stomach. I started to fall... Lying on my back on the pavement, I saw the faces looking down on me. It was like I had just been born, and I recognized no one. I didn't really even known my own name." It was the first of his epileptic seizures that would continue to plague him, sometimes even on stage.
But, he pushed through it, driven not only by his love of music but his passion for innovation -- from his campaign to save Lionel (which grew from his therapeutic use of train layouts for Ben, one of two sons with cerebral palsy) to his efforts to build an electric car to his latest crusade, the "sound" of music.
Years ago, he famously equated CD technology to taking a shower with ice cubes. He's equally unimpressed with MP3s, claiming that the compressed sound quality has squeezed the spirit out of music, lessening the emotional impact on the listener. His response is to take it upon himself to launch a company called Pono, which will issue digital music with the warmth of analog.
Mr. Young doesn't leave any ground untouched. He writes openly about his relationships with his parents, spouses, children, band mates, cars and guitars. He talks about song inspirations, like writing "Ohio" after seeing
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