NEW YORK — Neil Young’s fans have come to expect wild swings if they have followed his music career since the 1960s. There’s the near-violent guitar solos and throbbing rock of his collaborations with Crazy Horse. Lilting acoustic melodies like “Harvest Moon.” Electronic experiments. Moments of genius and ill-advised detours.
No one should be surprised that reading his first book, the memoir “Waging Heavy Peace,” should feel the same.
Young’s scatter-shot style includes a description of Crazy Horse as a living organism that illustrates an artistic sensibility better than any non-musician can, along with a recitation of a shopping trip he took once in Hawaii and praise for his electric toothbrush.
He generally avoids specific talk about songwriting. Yet he candidly admits that his song “Alabama,” a trigger for Lynyrd Skynyrd’s answer “Sweet Home Alabama,” was ill-advised.
Young’s passions — his family, electric trains, cars and a system to sonically improve digital music files — get as much space as music.
“If you hang out with somebody, the conversation doesn’t always run out in a linear fashion, from A to B,” he said. “It’s what’s on their minds. Things happen. You see things out the window, you get interested in that. You get distracted by things. I always thought that was a natural way to go with it.”
Some free time and a broken toe led the 66-year-old Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member into the project. It was in his blood.
Young’s father, who died in 2005, was a well-known journalist and author in Canada. Young has always been a careful steward of his musical history, and it’s little surprise that he would want to look back at his life in the same way.
“My whole M.O. for doing the book was that it was going to be off the top of my head,” he said. “I wasn’t going to spend any time trying to organize anything. That’s always worked for me with everything else I’ve done.”
He also wrote with a clear head, swearing off alcohol and marijuana, the latter due to a doctor’s advice and fear that continued use could lead him into dementia, which his father suffered from.