Neil Young and members of the band Crazy Horse on Malibu Beach in 1975. (Henry Diltz )
Neil Young recently described writing his first book, “Waging Heavy Peace,” as “really a different trip,” invoking the vocabulary reflected in the subtitle of his tome: “Hippie Dream.” The phrase is written on a card tucked into the band of the ragged-edged fedora he wears on the book’s cover photo.
Young’s book does move more like a dream than a linear autobiography, bouncing without warning from past to present and back again. He hopscotches from in-the-moment projects like the current Crazy Horse recordings and his passionate pursuit of a new high-fidelity audio playback system called Pono all the way back to details about his childhood in Omemee, Ontario, his parents’ divorce and his brief tenure in an R&B band called the Mynah Birds, which also featured one Ricky James Matthew, who later became ’80s funk and R&B star Rick James.
In the present day, Young, 66, has recently reunited with Crazy Horse, returning to the band that’s been a touchstone — even a cornerstone — throughout his life. He’ll play the Hollywood Bowl on Wednesday and has a new record with Crazy Horse out at the end of October.
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“Generally speaking, it’s really encouraging,” Young said over the phone of the response to his book so far. “Some of my friends have written personal notes saying that they’ve enjoyed it, and that makes me feel good. That’s the thing that means the most to me, when I hear back from the people I think of as the target audience for the book.”
“Waging Heavy Peace” has been generating positive reviews from literary critics who have praised its non-chronological structure, akin in some ways to Bob Dylan’s impressionistic 2004 memoir “Chronicles: Volume One.” Young’s book is selling strongly, with more than 300,000 copies in print, and it ranks in the Top 5 nonfiction bestsellers nationally by the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and several other publications.
Not surprisingly, Young is a fan of Dylan’s book, which includes an anecdote about the celebrated songwriter searching out Young’s childhood home in Canada so he could see the place that helped form Young’s music and overall vision of life.
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“For guys like Bob and me,” Young said nonchalantly (as if there is a large contingent of people on the same musical plane as Dylan and Young), “this is probably the only way to do it and keep it interesting.... I never really wanted to write it in the regular way from beginning to end. That’s not the way my brain works. That would make it into a job, and I’m not looking for another job.”
Young has been gainfully employed for nearly half a century as one of rock’s most respected songwriters, singers and guitarists. He first rose to stardom as a member of Buffalo Springfield, then worked with a variety of ensembles including Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, the Stray Gators, the Stills-Young Band, the Shocking Pinks, the Bluenotes and, of course, Crazy Horse.
In “Waging Heavy Peace,” he reminisces about his days in a lesser known band, the Squires, and another Canadian rock group that played the same club/hotel/restaurant circuit in Winnipeg, the Thorns.
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“Tim Rose, leader of the Thorns,” Young writes, “was one of those credited with writing ‘Hey Joe,’ later made a big hit by Jimi Hendrix. The Thorns were really great. I don’t know what happened to them. They should have been huge. But we know life has her ways. Nothing is obvious, and you never know what is going to happen. The Thorns and Danny and the Memories were great bands that could have been huge, but just disappeared. Who knows what is next or why it isn’t?”
The immediate impetus to write a book came last year when Young broke a toe, which sidelined him from many of the activities that normally occupy his time. He found he enjoyed a process that connected him in a new way with his father, Scott Young, a celebrated Canadian sportswriter and author of books including 1984’s “Neil and Me,” about his role as the father of one of rock’s biggest stars.
In his book, however, Young notes that his mother was the chief supporter — emotionally and financially — of his musical ambitions, noting that “She got really pissed when my dad did not help me buy my instruments. When my dad’s book ‘Neil and Me’ came out in 1984, she was incredulous beyond description. She would quote from the book and then say, ‘Oh, for God’s sake, what a load of …’ noting that he didn’t have any relationship with me compared to her and had done nothing to support my musical life.