Not many authors explain their reasons for writing books as bluntly as Neil Young does in Waging Heavy Peace. First of all there's the thing now known as the Keith Richards phenomenon: There turns out to be a large and lucrative market for memoirs from rock stars. In a two-page chapter called Why This Book Exists Young explains that his book will be a goose that lays a golden egg. He's writing it because it will earn him enough money to stay off the stage for a while, which he badly needs to do for mental and physical reasons.
It all started when I broke my toe at the pool, he explains.
There may be a large part of the reading populace that has no interest in Young's broken toe, collection of funky old cars, obsession with toy trains, plans for (he says) an earthshaking new type of sound technology, plaid shirts, favourite planks of wood or anything else. That's fine with him.
"I read up on this sort of thing, and the worst thing you can have is a book that is too long," he says, not remotely troubled that Waging Heavy Peace rambles on for 497 pages. "So if you are having trouble reading this, give it to someone else, he suggests. End of chapter.
But this isn't a book to part with. It is as charismatically off the wall as Young's records, and the recent concert films so imaginatively directed by Jonathan Demme. And however privately calculating it may be, it seems completely free of guile. Like Stephen King, whose writing is recalled by Young's frankness, small-town backbone and comfortable familiarity with ghosts, he enjoys plugging musical faves to accompany his written words. In Under the Dome King made James McMurtry's Talkin' at the Texaco a subliminal part of the experience. For Waging Heavy Peace there is, in addition to the whole honkin' Neil Young catalogue, one of his recent favourites: Hell on Heels by the Pistol Annies, that slinky trio of country girls who love old cars almost as much as he does.
"I have been with some of you for a real long time, and others of you don't have the foggiest notion what I am or what I stand for," Young writes. "I am possibly joining those legions myself.
The fear of oncoming dementia, prompted by his father's medical history and mysterious cloudy matter on his own brain MRI exam, has lured Young, 66, into an altered state: sobriety.
I am feeling very fashionable, even trendy, for having stopped smoking and drinking, he writes, but the change in him is serious. It seems to have interfered with his ability to make music while heightening a desire to get his story told right.
Among other books about Young are Neil and Me, written by his father, Scott Young, and Jimmy McDonough's authorised biography Shakey, which receives a nasty potshot from its subject. In doling out advice to any old rocker who is out of cash and doesn't know what to do next, he suggests either doing it yourself or hiring a collaborator.
Just don't hire some sweaty hack who asks you questions for years and twists them into his own version of what is right or wrong, he says. Try to avoid doing that.
But Waging Heavy Peace — with a title that echoes Waging Peace, a White House memoir by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, although Young seems neither to know or care about that – presents a much more playful, capricious portrait of the same tough, controlling person McDonough described. Young lives on his Broken Arrow ranch, a virtual fief full of friends and employees who help him with the pet projects that occupy much of his attention.
He loves to invent, build and tinker with things, to the point where Waging Heavy Peace is part infomercial: for the PureTone sound system, now called Pono, that he hopes can restore magic to recorded music, and for the Lincvolt, a hybrid with the body of a 1959 Continental that he hopes will someday be mass-manufactured and run on clean technology.
Because Young is unstoppably protean (again, King comes to mind), he promises more books, d