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Saturday, January 11, 2014

Neil Young looks back

A cliché about the 1960's is that if you remember them you weren't there.  This always struck me as not only untrue but confusing because it implies that the notorious substance use of that decade would have wrecked the memories of the participants.  Maybe so if the substance was alcohol, but the dominant drugs of the sixties were marijuana and LSD.  Like a lot of us, Neil Young discovered marijuana in the sixties, and he continued using it until recently yet remembers most everything.

His memoir is casually conversational, and at times he speaks directly to the reader in a stream-of-conscious manner.  He mentions once that the sequence of the songs on any of his albums is important to him, so I assume the sequence that he recounts his life is likewise deliberate.  It certainly isn't chronological.  It probably also isn't an oversight that he doesn't furnish an index, something I find useful in any nonfiction, but he may have decided an index might encourage picking and reading subjects at will when he wants to reader to go through the book in order.  My initial reading was slow because I sometimes put it aside to do some reading for my classes, not because it was ponderous.  Indeed, it was a fun read, and when I completed it I went back to the beginning and skimmed back through it.

Neil Young strikes me as a sincere man who is honest about his faults. When he tells about first driving from his native Canada to California with a small group of young men and women, he describes deciding with another traveler to abandon the rest of group without warning.  He doesn't express any guilt over this, but a few pages later he recounts a conversation with fellow musician Stephen Stills years later in which they discussed the concept of loyalty and the conflict with the drive to be continually moving forward.  He also admits to avoiding confrontation many times in his life.

Young's life has not been entirely one long hippie joy ride.  Since childhood, he has been beset with serious health issues, and the health issues he has had to deal with regarding two of his sons have been daunting.  By many accounts other than his own, he has faced these issues with courage and persistence and has been a loyal and loving father and husband for over thirty years.  He continually expresses love and praise for his friends and family and has very few negative things to say about anyone.

The reader hears a lot of detail about things of importance to Young:  guitars, model trains, cars, but ultimately it's the music, always there in the background when it isn't the dominant subject.  I think I'll listen to some Neil right now.

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