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Radical Class: A C.S. Louis book review On Neil Young’s book Waging Heavy Peace

what youth neil young

Neil Young is not a handsome man. His sharp jaw and squinted eyes sink under an overhanging furrowed brow and give him a maniacal look. At 65, he is also not a young man. But I recently trusted this old maniac for the 512 pages of his book Waging Heavy Peace. 

I trust his intentions (He wants to literally save recorded music with his latest project Pono). I trust his musical integrity. (He has bounced between more backing bands and arrangements than perhaps any singer/songwriter. They include CSNY, Buffalo Springfield, Crazy Horse, and a few other permutations.) And with each move, it was all about the music – motivated by creating the most enchanting songs he was capable of in-between dodging US immigration for over a decade, the swarms of groupies, very much enjoying some cannabis, and losing a couple of his best mates to heroine.

The language is candid and personal like a journal entry. Neil plainly states that he’s writing to avoid touring because he injured his toe, or stopped smoking weed and drinking alcohol, or to personally fund Pono, or to reunite with his songwriting — but to be honest I think he’s writing to honor his father.


Neil’s father was a working journalist all of his life — and his most memorable words of advice were simple: “write every day.”

Not every sentence formed a developed paragraph of brilliant literature, and I doubt Neil knows what a thesaurus is, and there are grammatical errors throughout. It’s the rare piece of art that is the rough draft before the editor fucks it all up. But it has plenty to say. It’s a snapshot in time when LA had a semblance of soul. I spent the entire read-day-dreaming of the era my generation and every one after will forever miss in California. A welcome break from feeling like a target audience.

So if you dig Neil Young’s music or seventies bush or music, then relax and be entertained by Waging Heavy Peace. Either way you’ll have helped pay for Neil’s Broken Arrow Ranch, his collection of classic American automobiles displayed at Feelgoods, or his mentally challenged son’s 24 hour a day caring team. And those are all better causes than useless electronic plastic encased garbage the ad wizards feel intent on pumping down our throats thoughtlessly. Coincidentally, this was my first read on iBooks. What a revelation! —CS Louis

A few quotes to get the feel…

“I got invited to Radio Recorders to see Ray Charles, and I walk into the studio, and Ray’s playin’ all the piano parts with his left hand, reading a braille score with his right hand, singing the vocal live while a full orchestra played behind him. So I sat there and I watched. And I went, ‘This is how records are made. Put everybody in the fuckin’ room and off we go.’ In those days everybody knew they had to go in, get their dick hard at the same time and deliver. And three hours later they walked out the fuckin’ door with a record in their pocket, man.”

“Honey slides were made with grass and honey cooked together and stirred in a frying pan until a black gooey substance was left in the pan. A couple spoonful’s of that and you would be laid-back into the middle of next week. The record was slow and dreamy, kind of underwater without bubbles.”

“It was an LP recorded in audio vérité, if you will, while completely intoxicated on Jose Cuervo tequila. We would not start recording until midnight, when we were so fucked up we could hardly walk. One night Joni Mitchell came in and did “Raised on Robbery” in the most sexy and revealing version that song ever had. She still refuses to let me release it.”

“The car was there for every event tied to that record. Every night after those sessions, we rode the Black Queen home to the Sunset Marquis on Alta Loma in Hollywood, weaving down Santa Monica Boulevard at three or four in the morning, completely wrecked on tequila, and we made it, so there is a God.”

“It’s very easy for people to forget what rock and roll really is. Look man, I’m forty-seven years old, and I grew up in Wyoming, and I stole cars and drove five hundred miles to watch Little Richard, and I wanna tell you somethin’ — when I saw this guy come out in a gold suit, fuckin’ hair flyin’, and leapt up onstage and come down on his piano bangin’ and goin’ fuckin’ nuts in Salt Lake City. I went, “Hey man, I wanna be like him. This is what I want.” Even today he’s a scary dude. He’s the real thing. Rock and roll.”

“Nothing else mattered to us then. I can remember singing that song with them in the studio like it was this morning. There was no success, nothing to live up to, just love and music and life and youth. That was a happy time. That is Crazy Horse.”



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