Quill and Quire

Canada's magazine of book news and reviews

Waging Heavy Peace

by Neil Young

That a musical shape-shifter like Neil Young would take an unorthodox approach to his memoirs is to be expected. Indeed, this charming, poignant volume is much like Young’s oeuvre: sustained periods of pure delight punctuated by sudden, unexpected turns. The stream in Young’s stream-of-consciousness is more like a river that’s burst its banks.

Seemingly unfettered by editors, and certainly not by chronology, Young tells us what he can remember in the manner and order he remembers it and – as he frequently informs his readers – has a blast doing so. We get a cursory tour of his upbringing in Winnipeg and the Ontario town of Omemee, and his early days in Toronto’s Yorkville music scene. A good portion of the book deals with the 1970s, and Young writes with passionate nostalgia about his work with bands such as Buffalo Springfield, CSNY, and Crazy Horse. Inevitably, the book is in part a paean to the many people Young has lost over the years, including David Briggs, his long-time producer and best friend.

Young is an avid collector of guitars, model railways, and vintage cars (he cannot describe a journey without telling us what he was driving). He also has an entrepreneurial streak, and allots a considerable – some might say inordinate – amount of space to his current pet projects: a hybrid electric car and a master-quality digital music format.

Fans are bound to feel frustrated by the book’s many omissions. For example, we never find out when Young first picked up a guitar. And though he speaks lovingly of both parents, he fails to mention his mother’s death. Young’s sons Ben and Zeke both have cerebral palsy, despite being born to different mothers. Although Young devotes a good number of pages to Ben, more insight into his personality and the challenges of raising him would have helped round out the picture.

Young’s relative lack of attention to his personal life feels less like self-editing than simple honesty: he often describes his life as being “dedicated to the muse.” Drugs and alcohol form an integral part of that muse. Young explains that he hasn’t written a single song since going sober in 2011. He may, however, have found a different outlet for his creative side: Young credits sobriety with unleashing his inner author, and we can apparently look forward not only to another instalment in his memoirs, but a book of fiction as well.

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