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Response to the New Yorker Review

Helpless: On the Poetry of Neil Young

October 23, 2012 | by Brian Cullman

[see original post about the The NewYorker review]

There was a fascinating if incomplete musing on theNew Yorker website this week regarding Neil Young’s insularity and on the incomprehensible idea that he never reads. It seemed strange that someone who doesn’t read would decide to write a book, though it’s often true that writing and reading aren’t necessarily two sides of the same coin. They are often very different coins, operating in very different currencies. When you go to a bank to make change, the exchange rate is never in your favor.

I forwarded the piece to my friend Bill Flicker, out in Los Angeles, who wrote back that he never listens to Neil Young’s words, that they are simply placeholders or crumbs that are scattered on a walk through a musical forest. Actually, I do listen to his words. Not always. But when I listen, they’re remarkably visual and evocative:

Blue blue windows behind the stars.
Yellow moon on the rise.
Purple words on a grey background
To be a woman and to be turned down

How did those windows get behind the stars? I don’t know, but I can see them clearly. Sometimes as a child’s drawing. Sometimes as a reflection on an airplane window. There may not be logic involved, but there is something deeper than that. As for those purple words, they shine against the grey background much as Matisse’s goldfish shine through the water they swim in. I can see them clearly reflected on the surface of being turned down. Turned down like a bed, like a stereo, like a deal. A woman turned down. I can see that reflection even if I can’t explain it. If I could, the song might not be as powerful as it is.

What is the color

When black is burned?
What is the color?

I know what that color is but I’m not permitted to say. Joy Williams once wrote that “the children had told her once that the sun was called the sun because the real word for it was too terrible.” She was listening to Neil Young when she wrote that.

Shelter me from the powder

and the finger
Cover me with the thought
that pulled the trigger

Cover me with the thought that pulled the trigger. Not cover me with earth. Not cover me with death. But cover me with the very impulse behind my death. Cover me with the will that I should die, that I should cease. That idea, that line, is worthy of anyone you can name. Anyone. It’s large as the sky. Yet small enough to fit into a song. That’s the terrible beauty of it.

Not all of Neil Young’s songs are as evocative or as powerful. Songs pour out of him at an alarming rate, and for better and for worse they are part of an enormous work that’s still in progress, that keeps expanding. There are songs that seem ungainly or odd, that seem to have their gears showing, but I tend to think of these the way I think about those extra widgets or metal bits that come with a Swiss Army knife. I don’t know why they’re there, but they seem like they’re there for a reason, part of a larger scheme. Sometime much later, when you’re lost in the forest of the night, that useless whatsit might be the only thing that could save your life. You never know.

The elegant simplicity of Young’s songs does not seem manufactured. There’s neither a faux primitivism nor a childlike celebration of the obvious a la, say, the venerable comic strip Nancy. Rather, they combine a child’s focus and need to meet ideas head on with a zen equanimity. The sense of foreboding we feel isn’t necessarily in the songs but in us. These are reports sent back from a place beyond judgement. from a weatherman used to the cold:

Wind blowing through my sails

It feels like I’m gone
See the sky about to rain
broken clouds and rain
Big bird flying across the sky
>>throwing shadows on our eyes

According to Alec Wilkinson, who wrote the New Yorker piece, Young has missed out on “examples of language carrying complicated thoughts or feelings, the way they are carried in the poems of writers such as Philip Levine or William Butler Yeats or the prose of a writer such as Isak Dinesen.” Well, yes. And no.

We’d all be better off for having Philip Levine and W. B.Yeats and Isak Dinesen in our libraries and in our heads. But Neil Young operates in a very different and a very special arena. His songs seem to be both post-literate and preliterate in a powerful and distinctly modern way, leapfrogging over logic and seeming to come straight from the unconscious. Maybe not even his unconscious, more out of a collective yearning or out of some deep and mostly hidden national or international dream state. If swamps or lagoons could hum, they’d probably hum Neil Young songs.

Brian Cullman is a writer and musician living in New York City. He last wrote for the Daily on Nick Drake.

thanks go to dwight c. donovan.

Carradine Narrates Waging Heavy Peace

On Thursday Carradine Narrates Neil Young was a top story. Here is the recap: (Gibson) Neil Young’s memoir Waging Heavy Peace is already acclaimed. An audiobook version is out also, read by actor Keith Carradine, brother of David and part of the Carradine acting dynasty. Carradine may seem an odd choice to some, but he’s long been a musicianhimself. In 1975, he performed his own song “I’m Easy” in the movie Nashville – it won a Golden Globe and an Oscar.

Rolling Stone says, “Waging Heavy Peace isn’t a traditional rock memoir. Written throughout 2011, it addresses everything from the recent Crazy Horse reunion back to the formation of Buffalo Springfield – but it’s presented in a completely non-linear way. Young also stops the narrative from time to time to complain about the audio quality of MP3s and go into detail about his on-going electric car project. The end result is a glimpse right into Young’s brain.” – Listen to Keith Carradine reading Neil Young by following [this link on].

The NewYorker: The Vexing Simplicity of Neil Young

October 17, 2012

The Vexing Simplicity of Neil Young

Neil-Young_Waging-Heavy-Peace_cover Discussion and photos on Human

Original article by Alec Wilkinson

I was a little surprised when Neil Young published his memoir, “Waging Heavy Peace,” because he is the only artist I have ever encountered who is proud of not reading. Reading would distract him from writing songs, he once told me, meaning interfere with whatever mechanism supplied him with his melodies and lyrics.

…more on The New Yorker.

Shar comments:

“One of the most insightful, genius writings on Neil I have ever read. Things I never thought about.”

Book Review: WHP offers a glimpse of his life, music

Neil Young’s book offers a glimpse of his life, music
Los Angeles Times

“Waging Heavy Peace: A Hippie Dream”

By Neil Young

Blue Rider Press; 502 pages; $30

NeilYoung’s “Waging Heavy Peace: A Hippie Dream” is surely one of the most idiosyncratic rock star autobiographies ever written.

A 502-page free-form series of digressions, it is by turns exhilarating and enervating, less a memoir than a self-portrait, with all the impressionism that implies.

On the one hand, “Waging Heavy Peace” is a mess — sprawling, improvisational, like a sloppy 40-minute jam on “Like a Hurricane.” But it is also revealing, even at times oddly beautiful, a stream-of-consciousness-meditation on where Young has been, where he thinks he’s going and, perhaps most revealing, where he is right now.

“Not that it matters much,” he writes, “but recently I stopped smoking and drinking. The big question for me at this point is whether I will be able to write songs this way. I haven’t yet, and that is a big part of my life. Of course I am now 65, so my writing may not be as easy-flowing as it once was, but on the other hand, I am writing this book. I’ll check in with you on that later. We’ll see how it goes.”

The smoking to which Young refers is, of course, weed, which he has long regarded as a key to his creativity. As such, his not altogether willing sobriety becomes one of the threads of “Waging Heavy Peace,” a through line that roots the book in the here and now.

Composed in 2011, during a period when Young had stopped making music, the memoir is as much a record of his creative doubts, his fears and uncertainties about growing older, as it is the story of his years with Buffalo Springfield or Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.

“At this age,” he writes, contemplating another run with Crazy Horse, his longtime backing band, “I think relevancy is the big challenge. We need to be sure the new songs and music are ready and are meaningful to us. They are our ticket, our vehicle to the future, and without the new songs we are just reliving the past.”

As it turns out, the Crazy Horse reunion did happen; Young and the band released a cover record this year, and an album of new songs, “Psychedelic Pill,” comes out at the end of the month.

It is compelling to see a figure as prominent as Young — arguably one of the five or 10 most influential figures in the history of rock ‘n’ roll — express himself in such an unfiltered way.

This off-handed directness has long been the key to Young’s music; he’s as unpretentious as they come. Even “Trans,” his 1982 electronic album, had its roots in day-to-day experience, inspired by his son Ben, who was born with cerebral palsy and requires around-the-clock care.

And yet, Young is mercurial and easily distracted, as evidenced by the peripatetic nature of his career. He followed his most commercial record, 1972’s “Harvest,” with a suite of albums (“Time Fades Away,” “On the Beach,” “Tonight’s the Night”) known among his fans as the “Ditch Trilogy,” for their distance from the middle of the road.

He walked away from every group he ever played with, famously breaking up with Stephen Stills midtour in 1976 by sending Stills a telegram that read, “Funny how some things that start spontaneously end that way. Eat a peach, Neil.”

Tellingly, that anecdote doesn’t appear in “Waging Heavy Peace.” There’s a limit to the art of revelation, it appears. But it remains instructive, suggesting something about Young’s approach to this project as well.

Like his discography, it is a memoir without apparent shape — or more accurately, one whose shape emerges from its shapelessness, from its tendency to wander, from the ebb and flow of Young’s attention, from the play of memory.

In many ways, it unfolds in real time, with ruminations on his sobriety, on extra-musical projects such as the Lincvolt (an electric car) or PureTone (a system for reproducing digital sound in high fidelity) as well as ongoing updates on the book itself.

“I have been clean now for seven months,” he writes in one of the closing chapters. “That is a good long time. I still feel cravings … I haven’t written a song in more than half a year, and that is different for me. Of course I’ve written over ninety thousand words in this book, and that is different for me, too.”


Ottawa Citizen Review of Waging Heavy Peace

Neil Young Blue Rider Press $31.50

Linda Ronstadt once warned her protege Nicolette Larson not to get involved with Neil Young. He doesn’t live in the real world, she said.

Ronstadt was right. Young lives mostly in a world he has constructed for him-self, as is clear from the first pages of his remarkable autobiography Waging Heavy Peace: A Hippie Dream.

On page two, Young describes bringing his infant son Ben, born a non-verbal quadriplegic, into the room in which his sprawling model train railroad is set up.

“Sharing the building of the layout together was one of our happiest times,” he writes. “He was still in his little bassinet when the Chinese labourers originally laid the track, thousands of them toiling endless hours through the days and night. He watched as we worked.”

Young’s imagination is such that he can turn himself into a low-paid coolie excavating a railway, and bring his baby son fully into this make-believe world.

A few pages later, Young recalls a day when David Crosby and Graham Nash were at his northern California ranch working on an album.

“I saw David looking at one of my train rooms full of rolling stock and stealing a glance at Graham that said, ‘This guy is cuckoo. He’s gone nuts. Look at his obsession.’ I shrugged it off. I need it. For me it’s a road back.”

That passage reminds a reader of Young’s wistful I Am A Child, a song he wrote for Buffalo Springfield’s last album. “I am a child,” the song begins, “I’ll last awhile, You can’t conceive of the pleasure in my smile.”

…read more on: OttawaCitizen

Random Quote

Well its not like Neverland or anything. We just have horses, cows. We don\'t have a giraffe, we don\'t have a preschool group. We had some emus for a while. They were pretty cool.
by -- Neil Young

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