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
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