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Shakey: Neil Young's Biography Paperback – May 13 2003

4.2 out of 5 stars 25 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 816 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage Canada; 1 edition (May 13 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679311939
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679311935
  • Product Dimensions: 15.5 x 3.1 x 23.2 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 998 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars 25 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #62,208 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description

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Alternately brilliant, insightful, angry, frustrating, and not a little unwieldy, Jimmy McDonough’s 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 singer’s 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 people’s 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 people’s. Even one of Young’s earliest supporters--Ray Dee, a DJ in Fort William, Ontario, who was the first person to properly record Young’s 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 didn’t 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 Young’s 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 Young’s salad days within Topanga Canyon’s 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 that’s 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 isn’t 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 Young’s 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.

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
As a diehard Neil Young fan, I was surprised by just how little I actually knew about what made the guy tick and where that all fit into his music. Young is, after all, one of the most experimental rock artists ever- with each album, you never know what you're going to get, be it acoustic folk, electric grunge, country, or, god help us, synth pop. Yet he's done it all and has no apologies about it. Neil Young drips integrity, as Jimmy McDonough obviously found out the hard way while doing his research and interviews. He portrays Young as human...rarely is the book done in a "Neil Young is god" style. McDonough criticizes, praises, and, most of all, doesn't pull any punches. Of course, the best parts of the book come from Neil Young himself, as his own interjections and interview excerpts pop up all over the place, almost to the point where you could call "Shakey" an autobiography. I found the book funny because it seems like everybody Young associates with is a complete lunatic: musicians, managers, producers, roadies...except for Young himself. He comes across as being the calm in the eye of the storm, whether the storm is working with Crosby, Stills and Nash or taking Crazy Horse on the road. Yet he's had his own ups and downs, from spastic children to the deaths of some of his musical cohorts. Yet Young comes across as both humble and unrepentant: "I've left a big wake of destruction behind me," he freely admits. "Shakey" is not only a salute to Neil Young's music and general artistry, but to his survival. When reading it, you know you're reading about the life of a real human being with absolutely no superstar persona. Funny, introspective and cantakerous all at the same time, or, as Graham Nash puts it when talking about the "Better to burn out than fade away" philosophy, "You get the idea Neil is really pissed that he's survived."
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Format: Paperback
Who would have thought it, Neil Young an adult child of an alcoholic. Neil Young, who moved so often his roots were above the ground. Neil Young, the epeleptic with seizures who didn't know it. Neil Young, the lost soul looking for his mother in his relationships. Neil the loner, Neil the loadie. Neil, the father and husband of the decade, privately, heroically and futily being there for his kids. Moving on before someone passes him over, fatalistically alienating others without knowing it, yet giving back in so many ways. Living his life thru his songs, singing his life thru his music. Driven, ambitious and perfectionistic. So open and sharing in his music.
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.
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Format: Hardcover
Meredith Hunter, call home! Someone needs to tell him he wasn't killed by the Angels at Altamont afterall. Turns out it was James Meredith. At least, that's what the author of "Shakey" would have us believe.
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.
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Format: Hardcover
For Neil Young fans only. Read with patience.
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.
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