Shakey: Neil Young’s Biography by Jimmy McDonough Download (read online) free eBook .pdf.epub.kindle

Shakey: Neil Young's Biography

Neil Young is one of rock and roll’s most important and enigmatic figures, a legend from the sixties who is still hugely influential today. He has never granted a writer access to his inner life – until now. Based on six years of interviews with more than three hundred of Young’s associates, and on more than fifty hours of interviews with Young himself, Shakey is a fascina

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    Barış Alpertan

    Mar 20, 2017

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    Pretty inneresting stuff y’know – heh heh heh…

    Shakey, aptly named after one of Neil Young’s many aliases “Bernard Shakey”, is the most comprehensive book ever written, and most likely will ever be written, about the enigma that is Neil Young – the definitive book, if you will, about this Canadian singer/songwriter. Perhaps in an ironic way, the book itself is a literary epitome and reflection of Young’s music: it’s way too long, has its own ups and downs, mostly repetitive and raises questions

    Shakey, aptly named after one of Neil Young’s many aliases “Bernard Shakey”, is the most comprehensive book ever written, and most likely will ever be written, about the enigma that is Neil Young – the definitive book, if you will, about this Canadian singer/songwriter. Perhaps in an ironic way, the book itself is a literary epitome and reflection of Young’s music: it’s way too long, has its own ups and downs, mostly repetitive and raises questions more than it answers.

    Reading this book fifteen years after its publishing, with the hindsight about everything that has changed in Young’s life (including his recent separation with Pegi, the love of his life during the writing of the book) and knowing that he has recorded fifteen more albums since then (almost equal to the studio catalog discussed in this book) only adds up to the impenetrable, mysterious character of Young – whom I finally had the chance of seeing live on 2014, with his band of misfits Crazy Horse. Up until that time Neil Young was my musical hero, and I guess he still is even though some of the things about him that were unbeknownst to me (like his support for Reagan or his comments on gay community during his full “redneck” period) frustrated and disappointed me to a great extent. But overall impression of the book, and the message that it conveys (providing it has one), is that anger and resentment towards Neil would be redundant as you will never know which Neil Young is the real one as he is capable of changing constantly and shifting from one character to another to the detriment of people who are close to him. So, even though this might be the only book that will ever come close to revealing the true nature of Young – since nobody will ever show the patience author Jimmy McDonough has displayed with Young’s twist and turns – it still falls short in terms of “peeling the onion” of Neil Young. Fully aware of his frustration and shortcomings, even McDonough finds it reasonable to plea Bob Dylan, who is as enigmatic and tough as Neil Young, to solve the mystery.

    Not that Neil Young consciously tries to make it harder. You can see during the transcript of his interviews that he really tries hard to bare his soul and that it takes its toll on him. It must be difficult for him that his 1979 line “it’s better to burn out than to fade away”, featured in his mega-hit “My My, Hey Hey” and, ironically, in Kurt Cobain’s suicide note, still taunts him today – giving that he remains the only survivor in a cut-throat business who claimed lives much younger than his. In 2017, Young still goes on strong, releasing new stuff almost at the pace of Buckethead. And I am glad that he is because I know I will be heartbroken like never before when he is gone.

    I could have gone forever on Neil Young and his music but at this point I would like to share some notes on the book itself for future readers. Roland Barthes once said “If one looks at the normal practice of music criticism (or, which is often the same thing, of conversations ‘on’ music) it can readily be seen that a work (or its performance) is only ever translated into the poorest of linguistic categories: the adjective”, and I tend to agree. It was personally annoying whenever I saw the author strived to characterise an inconsequential Neil Young performance and inserted his subjective opinions on Neil Young’s work. I mean, how can one really downplay the music on Harvest. I understand that after listening to all these bootlegs from long-forgotten shows at somewhere in Midwest in sometime, makes one feel compelled to comment on them but you have to distinguish between being a rock critic and writing on Spin magazine and writing and interpreting an actual, objective autobiographical data. I don’t care how the author and other rock critic cronies like Richard Meltzer feel about the state of rock in late-nineties and how they feel Neil Young tanked this album or how they put down Pearl Jam – and, frankly, it comes across little pretentious and arrogant, like Pearl Jam is phony but they are the real deal. I would much rather read ten chapters like the one on Young’s model-train hobby than reading another word about how Young’s performance on one song was terrible because the former actually pertains to the actual life of Young and not about a live song he didn’t even released.

    Having said that (a segway a-la-Jerry Seinfeld), author McDonough’s research on Young’s life is impeccable. He had talked with every person that had been close to Young at some time or another and he discussed every theme imaginable to bring both the best and worst of Neil Young. And it was quite nice that this project went hand-in-hand with Joel Bernstein’s Archives effort because both projects celebrate the good times and bad times of Young’s life without leaving anything out in two different mediums. Yet, whether you listen to him on tape or read on a book, Neil Young continues to remain as a mystery. A mystery that is better left unraveled as this is the driving force and modus operandi of Young’s art.


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    Bill

    Jul 16, 2008

    rated it
    really liked it

    I’d started out with this in a state of exhilaration, and found myself carrying it in airports, reading it in cabs and generally just gripped by Young’s story, but it began to fade for me, just like Young’s music can. There was a stretch in his career when I found that every side he laid down was essential stuff, then, like Dylan, he went through a prolonged drought, then he bounced back, and was essential again. Some time ago (six years ago, thereabouts) I cracked that if we were going to have

    I was surprised at how much I knew about Young, and how much I’d known but forgotten. Part of the initial rush of the book came from seeing this enigmatic figure come into focus– and part of the letdown came from the fact that once he is in focus, it is clear that he is really kind of a jerk. In fairness to Young, McDonough’s portrait injects a great deal of McDonough into the process, and McDonough seems pretty burnt out about Neil Young by the time Young is into his fourth or fifth renaissance. At first McDonough’s strategy of injecting himself into the narrative seems brilliant. He often starts chapters about a portion of Young’s life off by describing his contemporary impression of some person who was important to Young at some time in the past. He then weaves that individual’s recollection into a narrative that also includes excerpts from his interviews with Young conducted over the course of the project, other third party accounts, and omniscient narrative drawn from other sources. This works well for a while, but gradually McDonough becomes a more and more important character, and we find that we are reading more about McDonough’s impressions of a particular gig or recording than we are about anyone else. Since these impressions are frequently negative, the appeal of reading them pales pretty quickly.

    Another problem is that quite a few people who you’d think would be important to talk to declined to be interviewed. Bob Dylan might or might not have something interesting to say. Stephen Stills would certainly. Robbie Robertson. John Lyndon. Young’s wife Pegi is virtually absent– McDonough cites her desire for privacy, then moves on, and we are left with a void. David Geffen is not heard from. McDonough provides a list of these and others, and probably anyone who is interested enough in the subject could supplement the list themselves. (Where’s Bill Graham, for example?) Not too many people come off well. Nils Lofgren does, which makes the absence of his Spindizzy catalogue from print feel all the more painful. (My copies reside in the Antipodes, except for Nils’ final Grin album, “Gone Crazy”, recorded at about the same time as “Tonight’s the Night” and concerning more or less the same things.) Stills comes off badly, hardly a surprise. David Crosby is not particularly vivid– I get the sense that he was pretty strung out when most of this was written, but it is just as likely that he is a self-absorbed jerk. Graham Nash is a wimp– but that is hardly stop the presses stuff. Jack Nitzsche seems distant and dangerous, also hardly a surprise.

    Young’s first wife, Carrie Snodgrass, (who died last year)comes off as a sad case– a bright, talented and attractive person who got sucked into the worst of the Sixties. Young divorced her because he felt she was unfaithful, she denies it, weakly, and Young’s infidelities are glossed over– hey, that’s rock’n’roll, baby.

    Similarly, the incredible amount of drug use is just staggering. It is not glamorized, particularly, but it is plain that the drugs took their toll on everyone. Norman Mailer talks about how drugs affected his creative process in “Advertisements for Myself” in a knowing way, essentially concluding that drug use is borrowing from the future at a high rate of interest. It isn’t hard to conclude that the same conclusion can be drawn with Young, but McDonough doesn’t draw it– or any other real conclusion, for that matter.

    Finally, how a book like this can exist without even a stab at a discography is a mystery. For that matter, very little effort is put into noting what the critical response to particular albums was, which would have been interesting. “Shakey” will be a good starting place for the definitive Neil Young bio, but that book is a long way from being written.

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    Paul Lyons

    Jun 25, 2012

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    Jimmy McDonough does an amazing job going through the ups and downs of a very complicated and unpredictable artist. A good book enthralls you with it’s story, while a great book truly inspires you…SHAKEY is a great book, It delves so deep into Neil Young’s persona that you truly believe you know him like you know yourself.

    My understanding and appreciation of Young’s music is now not only enhanced, but ingrained in my system. Even the structure of McDonough’s book is a knockout. In each chapte

    My understanding and appreciation of Young’s music is now not only enhanced, but ingrained in my system. Even the structure of McDonough’s book is a knockout. In each chapter, the author goes into detail about various events in Neil Young’s professional and personal life…from The Squires and The Mynah Birds, to Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young to Crazy Horse and to the many solo albums.

    Yet just when you think the story can’t get any more compelling than it already is…we hear from Neil Young himself, in conversation with the author, commenting on his actions…and inactions. What’s also great, is that Jimmy McDonough is a true fan of Young’s music…yet also is Young’s biggest critic, and often challenges Young directly if he feels Young’s music, or performance is below par.

    I was sad finishing the book. Who knew? I mean…I’ve never been a big Neil Young fan in the past. I had one or two of his records when I was a teenager, I think. Being a concert whore in my younger years…I first saw Young perform at Live Aid in 1985, then attended three Neil Young concerts in 1986, 1988 & 1991. Plus I saw him perform at the Bob Dylan 30th Anniversary show in 1992. Last time I saw him was 9 years ago at a Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young concert in Los Angeles (which sadly was an extremely unpleasant experience for me, due to a disruptive audience).

    At the start of 2009, I owned a total of two Neil Young CDs…and only one of them I bought for Neil Young’s sake: the 1970 classic AFTER THE GOLDRUSH. The other CD, MIRRORBALL, I only bought because it featured Pearl Jam as Neil’s backing band on the entire album. What changed? Books!

    I’d been trying to change my reading habits for years. I’d been very attached to a series of small, pocket books called 33 1/3…a series of books focusing on individual records, by a variety of musicians and bands. I’ve read over 30 of these books…everything from The Beatles LET IT BE to David Bowie’s LOW to Guns N’ Roses USE YOUR ILLUSION 1&2. Granted, not all of the books are good, and some are just plain awful (Jethro Tull AQUALUNG is among the worst).

    Despite this, I love these books so much…and have even been inspired to buy an album, just so I can read the 33 1/3 book. My rule is…I won’t read a 33 1/3 book unless I have the album. So, with that in mind…I bought Neil Young’s HARVEST album (which is great)…as well as the 33 1/3 book. The book, by Sam Inglis, was just okay…hampered by the fact that Inglis didn’t seem to like the album very much…making a point to let people know that TONIGHT’S THE NIGHT is Neil Young greatest album.

    Nonetheless, the book got me thinking about Neil Young…and soon enough, I bought a few more Neil Young albums. Which lead me to picking up SHAKEY (on a whim) at a Borders book store in Century City…which lead to even more albums. I now have close to 20 Neil Young albums, and counting. So in essence…the music inspired the books, which inspired the music. Who knew reading could be so much fun!
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