The book's subtitle, A Quest, An Obsession (and a True Story) sums up author Kevin Chong's yearning to discover what it really means to be a dedicated Neil Young fan and his desire to stay youthful and passionate.
"Most of my friends were grown-ups. I didn't count myself among them," Chong writes in his introduction. And later, he confesses his "inability to grow up". Citing what Young calls "reckless abandon" to describe the way he makes his music, Chong states that's what he wants "in my life, in my art".
So, straight up you know this is self-indulgent navel gazing. But don't be put off. There's much more to Neil Young Nation.
Turning 30 the same year Neil Young turns 60, Chong decides to commemorate the two milestones with a road trip with three space-cake munching mates, tracing old Shakey's footsteps from Canada to California.
The pilgrimage by the four adventurers follows the zig-zag trail that Young took in a converted black hearse: Winnipeg, where the country rocker formed his first band, the Squires; Omeemee, Young's childhood home, the "town in north Ontario" he sings about in his sweet song, Helpless; and Los Angeles, where Young found rock 'n' roll fame.
In his peregrinations Chong visits many of his idol's former haunts. He meets other Young obsessives, people who knew Young years ago, including a vice-principle at his old high-school, a former manager of a caf? where Young made his solo debut, and a woman who made the 1966 hearse trek with Young.
The author avoids sloppy sentimentality or embarrassing hero worship. His obsession is kind of scholarly, sifting flotsam and jetsam along the journey for clues, like an archaeological sweep.
Chong uses the subject of his ideal escapism as the reference point, and by journey's end what he has gleaned about Young has also taught him a few things, too, especially about cool and aging gracefully. But, most importantly, to choose passion over precision.
Chong, of course, makes liberal use of Young's lyrics through his book, selecting the most appropriate places. There is a discography at the back as well as references and source notes.
Neil Young Nation, thankfully, is not just another biography to add to the half-dozen or so already published, not to mention the scores of web sites dedicated to Young.
This is a road book: part biography; part personal essay; part adventure tale. And it adds up to a rollicking, sometimes funny, good-time read. It goes without saying, a must-read for Rusties (obsessive Young fans). Three-and-a-half stars.