Friday, February 8, 2013
Neil Young's "Waging Heavy Peace" - an old friend's ramble
Neil Young's memoir, Waging Heavy Peace, is a 497-page sit-down with the man who has written much of the sound track to my life. I love Neil Young and I was excited to read his book.
I started it right after I finished reading Patti Smith's memoir Just Kids. To say the transition was jarring would be an understatement. Where Patti is literary, sober, and driven, Neil is an old man sitting on a porch. He rambles, has only recently sobered up, and wonders if he'll ever write another song.
It took me about 50 pages to adjust to Neil's pace, but once I gave in to a visit on his terms (has there ever been any other way for Neil?), I enjoyed the stay.
At one point Neil writes, "I needed a car. It was in original condition, faded red, well-worn, but nice. This was and is still my favorite combination: beautiful, original, and worn." Beautiful, original, and worn - not a bad description for Neil himself.
Readers will learn - or be reminded of - things about the man through this peek into his life: he is fiercely proud of his work, and also honest and self-deprecating. He laughs at the times he messed things up and he wishes he had been a better husband, father, and boss. He is overly! enthusiastic! (he loves exclamation points!), crazy about his wife and kids, and in awe of the gift of life. He loves model trains and old cars. His creativity knows no bounds; he makes movies as well as music. He is working on a fuel-efficient system for big cars and also a way to deliver full musical sound through computerized systems. He grieves his friends who are gone and acknowledges their importance in his achievements. He tells why Buffalo Springfield broke up. He talks briefly about his charitable projects - I wish he had written more about them. He has energy - he tells about making music while he was high or gravely ill. Most folks who are stoned or sick just sit or sleep.
Neil appreciates capitalism; he's happy he's been able to make money. From a purely voyeuristic standpoint, it was interesting to get a taste of life with big bucks - boats and cars and houses and beaches and travel and toys. How wonderful to be able to afford a care team for a beloved child who is a quadriplegic.
I never thought so much about sound as when I read this book. Neil explains Phil Spector's wall of sound - very interesting. He also explains why young people today get only a tiny fraction of the sound of original recordings. MP3s aren't the same as records. I proved it to myself when I finished the book and played my vinyl copy of Harvest. Except for the skips and scratches, it's lovely as always.
Just as there are gems in Neil's songs, there are gems in the book. They illustrate his honesty, his logic, and his gift for turning a poetic phrase:
"It is not offensive to me that the MP3-quality sound is traded around. It is, in my opinion, the new radio and serves a great purpose: making music lovers aware of the content that is out there to buy."
"I learn to accept change through nature and the way of things.... The horizon speaks to me in my time of need, sharing the ultimate story of the moment of change. I accept the horizon for what it is. This is my religion."
"I have looked up many other words I could have used in the thesaurus, but that is not my style. I prefer to be boring and use the same words over and over, because that is more true to who I really am."
[about doing a guitar solo] "I knew I was doing something that had just come out of me, not something I learned, but something that was me."
"I am involved in a lot of things and I am capable of screwing every one of them up without even trying."
[about his friend Elliot] "He is not perfect, and neither am I. If we shipwreck, we jump in the same lifeboat and row like hell."
[about David Geffen] "He played a deal like it was a Stradivarius."
"I think I was growing up and didn't notice it...."
"Headlights were crossing the bridge in the fog like diamond water drops dripping from a hanging leaf, continually forming and falling; commuters heading to work."
"I am realistic about what people want in this country. Small cars will never be what everyone wants, so big cars and pickup trucks need to be environmentally friendly."
"Having no knowledge is sometimes exactly what is needed to find a solution, so I qualified. I have come to think that electric power generated from natural sources like wind and solar is the optimum solution, but we need something created domestically to keep the power flowing, a fuel from the United States that does not require wars."
"Seriously, though, there are still quite a few boulders to climb out from under."
"Since that album, with few exceptions, I have only done minor overdubs for color on some tracks, mostly just a chord here or there; the rest has been playing live with other musicians in the same room at the same time."
"Music was more important than 'making it.' It seemed to be more down-to-earth to me, and I think that is why I was more relaxed hanging there with the Rockets at the Laurel Canyon house. It was so cool, with everyone sitting in a big circle talking and sharing songs together or playing solo. Music was our language. We passed the guitar like Native Americans passed the pipe. It really was our language of love, our shared interest, our common bond, our own. That is the feeling we shared with our audiences back then, too. We had a bond."
"I still have and always will have tinnitus, ringing in the ears, from mixing too loud with low-quality digital sound." [Just FYI Neil, I have had hearing loss ever since my ears rang for three days after I was at one of your concerts in the 80s.]
[about composer-arranger Jack Nitzsche] "'Expecting to Fly' was just one of his masterpieces, played by real people and captured on analog for the ages, at a time when no one anticipated what was going to happen to sound. We couldn't know that our beloved tones and recording techniques would be just part of the past, a forgotten art."
"So yes, there has been a lot of loss. It is important to remember the times when life is in full bloom. Those are the moments that give us the faith to move through the darkness when it falls."
"...I am trying to find myself again and reconnect with the values I had in the beginning, find the love in the music with others again, return to the camaraderie that we all enjoyed back in the day, respect others, have empathy for them, be considerate, love myself again, and through that, be more true to myself and others...."
"How do I avoid being short with those I love and respect? How do I try to make people feel good about what they are doing for and with me? How can I respect others' tastes while retaining my own? This is the knowledge I am searching for."