BUY Neil Young’s “Waging Heavy Peace” (Blue Rider Press)
Memoirs are mostly hit-or-miss endeavors that require a lot of trust from the reader, especially since there’s no quick fact-check button in paper and ink.
Neil Young’s near-500-page memoir “Waging Heavy Peace” hits for the most part thanks to an unflinchingly honest tone that’s very comfortable taking blame and admitting wrong. Whether he’s admitting to failures in marriage or music, Young tries to balance a unique worldly wisdom with the responsibility expected from folks who don’t dig beneath the surface.
In terms of general readership, the problem with this book is that Young is simply telling his life stories. He cares that they are well-told but, like his music, this is about what interests him. When he goes on rampages about the poor audio quality of mp3s versus his new product, Pono, or his lifetime love affair with the automobile. Throw in guitar tone, recording and the industry… well, the reader needs to love music.
But as a storyteller, or even just a recaller, Young is fascinating. His personality is warm and thought-provoking. His “Hippie Dream” is worth exploring. Like Fredrick Exley’s “A Fan Notes,” there’s no dodging difficulties in life (Young had polio, seizures and an aneurysm, two of his children were both with major life issues and he’s lost many, many friends to drugs). Unlike Exley, Young has had many, many years to cultivate his understanding of life. Both Young and the reader reap the rewards.
Much like the second book in review, the cover artwork is terrific with imprinted red lettering on thick white paper. The inside of the cover features guitars and the handsome book is set for a bookshelf, if you’re a collector like Uncle Neil.
BUY Michael Chabon’s “Telegraph Avenue” (Harper)
There are writers and there are writers. Michael Chabon is the latter, the sort of artists whose way with words exceeds any manner of teaching. He’s capable of fictional feats so true-to-life they belie the genre and is simply a great American author who deserves his seat at a historical table with Raymond Carver, Charles Dickens and other great “descriptionists.”
So what about the story? It centers around two men — one black, one white — who own a record store in Oakland and their families, both known and revealed. A local boy made football superstar is back in town to build a Best Buy on Steroids and the community is divided on the issue. Throw the protagonists’ wives shared business as midwives and their children’s budding relationships, plus father figures, jazz records, collectibles and a long-ago assault involving the Black Panthers… well, it’s juicy.
Chabon is very readable, but still challenges the reader. One chapter involves an exceptionally long sentence; We’re talking pages of words sans periods. He will drop sentences on you that are only a few words but stop you in your tracks, forcing a pensive moment or two.
“Telegraph Avenue’s” artwork is splendid. The shell is metallic and made to look to a turntable. The dust jacket is A-side/B-side with a hole punched to complete the recipe for spinning the black circle (only it’s red vinyl. Collectors, you know?).