By Aaron Davis (for JHWeekly.com)
‘Waging Heavy Peace’ with a Psychedelic Pill
They were released and consumed in the perfect sequence—the book before the album. If you love the music of Neil Young, which spans forty years and thirty-four studio albums, the near simultaneous release of his autobiography Waging Heavy Peace and his second album of the year with Crazy Horse, Psychedelic Pill, is as complimentary as these two mediums get.
Young is a free bird, a true improviser, yet an obsessive-compulsive creator and completer of things. Like an unabashed, epic Crazy Horse jam, the book reads like a giant stream-of-consciousness journal entry, taking unexpected turns, bouncing from era to era, and over-emphasizing the heaviest riffs in his life until you get it. The purging flow gives introspect to his most important relationships—his quadriplegic and non-verbal first son, Ben, to which the book is dedicated, his wife Pegi, his Ontario childhood as son of an author, his brotherhood relationship with Stephen Stills, and close collaborators that passed before their time—Wyoming native and producer David Briggs, Buffalo Springfield guitarist/singer David Whitten, film maker Larry Johnson, producer Jack Nitzsche, and pedal steel player Ben Keith.
Young stopped drinking and smoking weed before starting either of these projects, both of which he indulged in, along with cocaine, during his career. Though he mentions getting stoned and getting drunk off tequila regularly in the book and how it went hand-in-hand with his writing, the subject does not dominate. He’s excited to be sober: “Now I want to see what it’s like to not do it. It’s just a different perspective. The straighter I am, the more alert I am, the less I know myself and the harder it is to recognize myself. I need a little grounding in something and I am looking for it everywhere.”
It’s his passions and obsessions that get the most ink in Waging—collecting classic American cars, film-making, boat building, developing an electric car, his range of health issues, and especially Pono. Young developed Pono as a music service and portable player to house super high-quality audio, waging war against the poor quality of mp3s. Of course, there’s loads of colorful insight into his songwriting escapades and recording career, many stories of which are surprising, educational and inspiring.
More apologetic than score settling, he sheds light into the book’s title, perhaps his profound end goal.
“I am now a very successful musician with a lot of stuff and things of value…and have become somewhat of a hard person to work for, or with, because I have high standards and have lost some patience. Success has made is possible for me to form some bad habits, to lose respect for those I work with, to skirt certain responsibilities, and to make my own way in the world. I am trying to find myself again and reconnect with the values I had in the beginning.
In between late chapters, I’ve been rocking the double-disc Psychedelic Pill in high-resolution (FLAC) format and it sounds huge, Neil’s 1952 Gibson Les Paul, “Old Black,” wailing and sustaining. The album, which sometimes tests patience, feels more like three—disc one, disc two, and the opener, “Drifting Back,” a dreamily dense, 27-minute trip that reflects sentiments in the book. Young’s guitar playing is extremely experimental and angular through many of the nine tracks, unleashed to the rock ‘n’ roll muse made famous in the classic Crazy Horse track, “Like a Hurricane.” He still has it.
How do Young and Dylan keep doing it? Good album. Great book.