Shakey: Neil Young's Biography Paperback – May 13 2003
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Alternately brilliant, insightful, angry, frustrating, and not a little unwieldy, Jimmy McDonoughs decade-in-the-making Shakey is a biography that seems entirely appropriate for someone as contrary-minded as Neil Young, a guy who gained equal fame as both a folkie and a feedback-loving granddaddy of grunge. Though McDonough conducted hundreds of hours of interviews with Young and his intimates, he ultimately had to sue Young to allow him to publish Shakey, named after one of the singers aliases. Even before the legal battles started in 1998, the project was never likely to be hagiography; too many people--from his childhood pals in Canada to his band mates in Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and Crazy Horse to his closest collaborator, producer David Briggs--have mixed feelings about this man who stubbornly followed his muse despite the chaos it caused in other peoples lives. As Graham Nash told a producer, Guard your heart with Shakey. In one of the many heated exchanges between biographer and subject reproduced in the text, even Young admits to leaving a big wake of destruction in his path through life.
Neil Young's parents recall a boy who could be both shy and charming and who was deeply affected by the rupture in their marriage. His ambition as a musician was matched by his ability to protect his feelings, often at the expense of other peoples. Even one of Youngs earliest supporters--Ray Dee, a DJ in Fort William, Ontario, who was the first person to properly record Youngs music--ended up burned and abandoned when the teenage upstart took off for Toronto without warning. Of all the people that I left behind on my journey, Young admits to McDonough, Ray Dee got screwed more than anybody. I think I was just so irresponsible that I didnt realize what I was doing. Yet he would do the same to his friends in Crazy Horse and CSN over and over again, dropping projects and collaborations at the first sign of rust.
McDonough portrays the nascent rock scenes in Winnipeg and Toronto with as much verve as he brings to Youngs days in Los Angeles and the formation of the incendiary but doomed Buffalo Springfield. Shakey takes a twisted turn with descriptions of cocaine-fuelled, egomaniacal excesses of CSNY and Youngs salad days within Topanga Canyons community of bikers, drug dealers, actors, and artists in the early 70s. The book is full of cameos by the famous and the infamous--Bob Dylan, Dennis Hopper, and Charlie Manson among them--but Young remains the most inscrutable and fascinating of the lot. Perhaps thats because his blunders--like the unwatchable movie Human Highway and a string of 80s albums so bad and weird that Geffen Records sued him for making records that were musically uncharacteristic--were as unique as his many triumphs. They too were marked by a sense of adventure and a willingness to lay his soul bare.
Shakey maintains a delightfully profane tone throughout and is generally well-researched, though McDonough isnt enough of a Canuck to know how to spell the names of Farley Mowat or Murray McLauchlan. On the whole, it is a clear-eyed assessment of Youngs life and times, with McDonough presenting the hoary history of the American rock n roll business through a very idiosyncratic lens. As Young would say, that makes for an innaresting story. --Jason Anderson --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
From Library Journal
More than a biography, this work from journalist McDonough (Village Voice, Variety, Spin) is the re-creation of an era.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.--This text refers to the Hardcover edition. See all Product Description
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Top Customer Reviews
A dark and compelling story. Difficult to take in, yet hard to let go. Hard to believe it's Neil's. Can't put it down because it is Neil. A control freak out of control.
The book makes one appreciate his musical honesty and introspection even more as we learn of his troubled solitary torment.
He's also occasionally unsure of his dates,particularly in the area of album releases, saying it could be one year, or possibly another, depending on who you talk to. Checking with the record company or simply looking on the back of CD re-releases might have helped clear up any ambiguities.
Finally, the book is stocked with an uncomfortable amount of "I's", particularly in the final chapters. Mr. McDonough's accounts of challenging his subject ("getting in his face" in common parlance) for failing to meet the author's expectations and criteria for maintaining artistic credibility are tiresome, to say the least. Did Mr.McDonough do a bit of double-dipping and serve as his own editor? One can't help but wonder.
Though the book is not without its moments, Young and his fans deserve better.
McDonough deserves credit for researching Neil Young's life, particularly his early days. His early days in Canada are particularly revealing, showing how Neil's hard-driven personality propelled into great success.
McDonough also deserves credit for getting the always obscure Neil to be about as open as he gets. The interviews are at their best when Neil is describing events in the past. Neil is at times very candid about his failings in his personal life (two divorces) and in his professional life (over-producing "Mr. Soul").
Unfortunately, the book suffers on a few fronts.
First of all, it is poorly edited. The length of the book could have easily been cut 200 pages without much loss. Several times the book will describe events, then have length quotes from Neil exactly describing the same event.
Second, McDonough's status as a hard-core Neil Young fan makes some of his prose rather silly. His exhaltations of "Tonight's the Night" just seem silly. For Pete's sake, Jimmy, it's just Rock and Roll, not the second coming of Jesus.
Finally, the last 100 pages or so are really regrettable. McDonough inserts himself into the biography. Suddenly, it's Jimmy teaching Neil about Nirvana, Jimmy trying to save Neil from the evils of being a Lionel Trains Tycoon. Most annoying is McDonough's whining about Neil giving lots of interviews. Oh, boo hoo, Jimmy's interviews with Niel aren't that exclusive.
But, for a Neil Young fan, this book is indispensible. After reading this book, I have a better understanding of the folks in Neil's sometime backup band, "Crazy Horse". I understand more what is involved with producing an album, and what impact producer David Briggs had on Neil's work.Read more ›
Most recent customer reviews
Took a long time to read, but I followed along with the music by listening to the albums as I read. Neil comes across as a real person, warts and all. Read morePublished on Feb. 20 2013 by Rudy
I am a big fan of Neil Young; but, this book sucks.
The first chapters were actually very good...and then it really bogged down. Read more
This is McDonough's first major publication and it shows. The book meanders here, there and everywhere but never quite finds it target. Read morePublished on June 10 2002 by Enrico
This book is a fantastic insight into an enigmatic man. Neil Young provides quite a lot of replies to his own story through extensive interviews conducted by the author. Read morePublished on June 6 2002 by Zimi Ahzrix
To say that I enjoyed this "biography"of Neil Young would be sadly untruthful. While it held my interest, in a morbid way, I have come away from the subject matter... Read morePublished on June 5 2002 by William M. Schmidt
Knowing Neil Young was loathe to have his story told, this is a book I never thought I would see. I was not able to put it down until I completed reading it. Read morePublished on May 31 2002
I've only read 2 books in my life, that I was completely unable to put down. Shakey and Helter Skelter. Read morePublished on May 28 2002 by Meggie
Shakey is a great read for anyone who is a die-hard Neil fan like me. It takes you through the years starting with Neil's childhood, how he got involved in R&R, and every band and... Read morePublished on May 24 2002 by George Ciottone