Bookends

The one who got away with it

22 November 2012

2:00 PM

22 November 2012

2:00 PM

The first track on Neil Young’s latest album lasts nearly 28 minutes, for while he usually has no problem starting, he sometimes struggles to finish.

Some of the same prolixity characterises his memoir, Waging Heavy Peace (Viking, £14.75). No ghost writer has been allowed near this: it’s Young in all his ragged glory. The narrative — well, there isn’t one. Over several hundred short chapters, he darts hither and thither, telling stories, loving his family, remembering old friends and tour buses he liked, ranting about the quality of the sound on CDs and MP3s.


If you like his music — and there’s little reason to pick this up if you don’t — you’ll have a fascinating insight into a very particular creative process. Business and politics keep his intellect going, while making music is purely instinctual, somewhere between relaxation and an escape.

Unfortunately the tunes have dried up, so he writes this book instead, in a good old-fashioned stream of consciousness. ‘There seems to be no end to the information flowing through me. There is always more waiting to come out, whereas songs are nowhere to be found at the moment.’

He emerges as a mass of contradictions: ruthless operator and lovable old hippy, passionate environmentalist and dedicated petrolhead, free spirit and workaholic. But the overwhelming impression is of a man who has seen and done pretty much everything, and got away with it. He may even get away with this book. I am not sure that anyone else would.

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