Sunday, November 11, 2012

Waging Heavy Peace: A Hippie Dream by Neil Young

Perhaps it goes back to my brief but memorable “groupie” days, but I enjoy books about aging rock stars. Two of my favorites are Chronicles: Volume One by Bob Dylan and Life by Keith Richards. I only recently started enjoying Neil Young’s music and when I saw that his autobiography Waging Heavy Peace was out, I knew it would soon join the stack of “must reads” on my nightstand.

Unfortunately, I made the poor decision to take Young’s memoir with me to read on a flight to Key West. This 500-page tome was just too cumbersome, in every sense of the word, disjointed and irritating. Young jumps around and never gives us a firm fix on context, sequence or the people who populated his life. Truman Capote said that Kerouac’s work was “typing, not writing.” I agree. Stream of consciousness writing may be a good mind dump, but it doesn’t necessarily tell the story. About halfway through, I tossed it to the side.

After I got home from Key West, and got over being mad at Young for not giving me a beach read, I picked it up again and just let his words fall on me with no expectations. Wading through his somewhat surreal droppings, I learned more about what Neil Young likes to talk about, than who he is.

Here’s what I gleaned from Waging Heavy Peace
  • Based upon the amount of time given in the book, it is pretty apparent that Young, above all else it seems, loves to buy things – especially cars, houses, electric trains, guitars and drugs. He worships his electric Lincoln Continental “LincVolt,” (pictured right) and his electric trains.
  • It would seem an omission on my part if I didn’t mention that he has a quadriplegic son. Although it is very apparent that he loves both his son and daughter (pictured above right), I found it strange that he talks more about LincVolt than his kids. 
  • Young is feeling old and wants to get some belated apologies, compliments, and appreciation out there before he kicks. A lot of the book is spent praising people who died before he adequately appreciated them, and complimenting others before they die.
  • He recently gave up drugs and alcohol and is concerned about whether or not he can write songs and music now. (If this book is any indication, he should be concerned.)
  • He thinks that the sound quality of music we hear on mp3 players is very low quality compared to what we used to get on vinyl and tape, which sounded suspiciously like an old codger “we used to walk 10 miles in the snow to school” reflection. He has apparently invented a new iPod-like player called Pono that gives us the aforementioned quality, and which he relentlessly promotes throughout the book.
  • He loved to take road trips.
  • In spite of the fact that Young’s father, Scott Alexander Young, was a fairly famous Canadian journalist, sportswriter and novelist who wrote 45 books, he speaks very little about him.
  • The book title Waging Heavy Peace has no apparent connection to what Young wrote.
What made me finish this book, were the few bright spots that captured my heart, like this excerpt:
“Of course, our little cabin has grown, and if you listen really closely on a misty morning you can still hear little Amber’s footsteps running gingerly down the long hall to the living room. At night when a fire is flickering in the lava rock fireplace, you can see those time-aged and untreated redwood planks glowing in the warm reflection – pierced by two arrows from Albuquerque. It’s odd, but the way Pegi (his wife) likes those arrows, makes me feel like she knows me.”

Sorry Neil. I’m sure this was a great therapeutic exercise for you, but it wasn’t a particularly enjoyable one for me.


  1. Rule No. 1 for me: Mama isn't always right.
    Don't you EVER never accept the first table the hostess offers. Unless a metaphor for not accepting less, it is an inconsiderate unwritten code of conduct. People who do it look like self-righteous assholes to the lowly worker.

    1. Thank you for your comment. If your goal was to make me feel bad, congratulations. As is always the case, observations are never absolute. I've been given some wonderful tables by host/hostesses, and accepted them happily. But when I walk into a restaurant and the first table offered is the least desirable, when there are many other nice tables available, it is irritating. Unfortunately, that happens a lot. I also want you to know that I always tip 20% and more, even if the service is just adequate, and have been known to tip host/hostesses up to $40 if the host/hostess is pleasant and/or gives me a particularly good table. I don't think restaurant workers are lowly. I think they work incredibly hard and put up with people, which to this recluse, seems the hardest thing in the world. I am very sorry I offended you, and can see how my comments sound self-rightous. I learned something from you and that is a good thing. Being kind is always more important than being right

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  3. Wow, you are such a natural writer. I could read your words all day long, they flow so well. Thank you for writing this review about Young's book since I am a fan of his. Your perspective is spot on and explains a lot about his actions throughout his life. Makes me wonder if he has ADHD or ADD. His 'all over the map' ramblings explains why he used to quit bands and shows in the middle of a tour and his narcissism of having an affair and divorcing Pegi after 36 years of marriage, just walking out leaving her the responsibility of caring for their disabled son without a care in the world. In 2016 Neil states he has "no regrets". Since Pegi was a waitress at a restaurant back in the 70's, had to chuckle at the connection of whoever who commented in Nov 2015, lol. Thanks again for your thoughts on his book, Superb!