While some may be forgiven for assuming that Neil Young Nation
is yet another in a crowd of Neil Young biographies, this is neither among those officially sanctioned (Shakey
, Don't Be Denied
) nor an unauthorized facts-be-damned waste of paper. Never having met with or spoken to the man whose name forms the title (and not wanting to, for fear his role model might be a jerk on such an occasion), Kevin Chong has written a Neil Young book that is less a biography than a memoir: upon turning 29, after spending three years creating a manuscript (for a different book) that no publisher wanted, Chong decided to stop writing fiction, and looked to Neil Young--a man who has succeeded on his own terms--for inspiration on what to do next.
Chong hatched a plan to take a road trip with three friends (Geoff, Dave, and Mark), retracing the journey Young made in early 1966, when he left Canada behind to meet up with Stephen Stills in Los Angeles, where they found immediate fame with their new band Buffalo Springfield. Along the way, Chong interviewed people who had known Young at the early stages of his musical career: former band members, classmates, girlfriends, and others. While well-referenced, what makes the book most rewarding is the dry, self-deprecating humour shared by the author and his traveling companions: "It often seemed to me that Dave and Mark lived in a parallel universe where pretty female strangers, when asked for directions, offered their services as tour guides. On certain levels, I hate them." Equally refreshing is Chong's unwillingness to gloss over some of his hero's questionable attitudes and behaviour regarding relationships and politics, pointing out many contradictions throughout his career but never letting them interfere with his respect for the music and the man. --Eric Wilson
From Publishers Weekly
The deep personal commitment that millions of rock fans make to their idols is sharply illustrated by Chong's belief that "Neil Young saved my life." The author, a recent Columbia M.F.A. graduate and novelist, shares the story of a journey he and three friends took through Winnipeg, Fort William (now Thunder Bay, Ontario), Toronto and Los Angeles—all areas where Young lived and worked from his 1950s childhood to his present-day fame. Chong talks with a writer who treasures the memory of being winked at by Young and a landlady who remembers that Young left a cigarette burn on her couch. The musician emerges an enigma, a leftist political artist who antagonized left-wingers by praising Reagan, while denouncing Nixon as "hippiedom's dark overlord." Tough about firing people when he had to, yet sensitive and willing to lay himself bare, Young comes across as recognizably human, despite the author's reverential tone. Chong has a flair for colorful descriptions and bringing character eccentricities alive, and he chooses appropriate Young lyrics to quote throughout the narrative. Penetrating as Chong's chronicle is, however, it sometimes meanders and would've benefited from a deeper look at the author's feelings. Photos. (Nov.)
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