THE TRUEST OBSERVATION one can make about Neil Young's new memoir Waging Heavy Peace: A Hippie Dream is that it is a book by Neil Young. It is ornery and messy and irrepressibly enthusiastic, the book one might write if he was also the kind of person prone to, say, spending three million dollars to rent a Hollywood soundstage in order to make a bizarre comedy about nuclear destruction co-starring Dennis Hopper and Devo. Or develop a mid-life obsession with model trains and end up buying a major share of Lionel.
They are the same whims that have also borne the 66-year-old Young through a five-decade career, careening between mournful folk and silvery feedback sessions, and define the central mystery of his music. Using his 37 proper albums and endless bootlegs to try to reverse-engineer the person behind them, one might end with a somewhat reasonable idea of just who Neil Young is. But even that probably can’t adequately prepare a reader for the experience of spending nearly 500 pages inside Young’s head. For reasons having little to do with sex or drugs, Waging Heavy Peace might be the most authentically demystifying rock memoir yet ever penned.
"There is a lot here to cover, and I have never done this before," Young notes at one point. "Also, I am not interested in form for form's sake. So if you are having trouble reading this, give it to someone else. End of chapter." And the chapter ends.
Indeed, Waging Heavy Peace batters relentlessly at the structure of a memoir and what we might expect out of one — short chapters, long chapters, some titled, some not, chapters on end that read like diary entries detailing his current projects, a vastly jumbled chronology, occasional pronouncements about other books he'd like to write (Dogs and Cars, some fiction, a biography of producer David Briggs), characters introduced without context, and no index. Where we might yearn for personal reflection, Young is more apt to provide the details of the car he was driving at the time. Like the best (and worst) Neil Young albums, all of Waging Heavy Peace's quick-reading pages capture Young's mood at the very moment of creation, and — to that end — capture Young himself. It is Young’s first and best take philosophy in book form. Anything less would have been a disappointment anyway.
Rarely, though, does Waging Heavy Peace match up with the power of Young’s best music. Neither the high, quivering tenderness of his voice nor the loose transcendence of his jams with Crazy Horse come through in anything other than homeopathic quantities. In some ways, Young’s inability to translate his most renowned qualities to print only underscores their beauty. At its best, Waging Heavy Peace conveys a much deeper part of Young’s personality.
For all its chaos, the book has several remarkably sturdy plot lines — and more than a few mundane ones — keeping Young's tumble between past, present, and future in the air with spurious grace. There's the present-tense year-in-the-life of Neil, which involves the writing of Waging Heavy Peace, trips to Hawaii, and adventures with the family dog. "This book is one thing that I am doing to stay off the stage," he admits.
As a storyteller, Young is, of course, holding all the cards, and he's got a lot of past to parcel out. Eventually. In doing so, he ably covers most of the major points of Jimmy McDonough's 739-page 2003 ...read more