Jimmy McDonough - Shakey: Neil Young's Biography

Over the past few years I've read a lot of books that I haven't reviewed for this website. For instance, I'm going to be in Denmark for over a month next year so recently I've been reading books related to Denmark. With my son I've read Don Quixote, Lord of the Rings, the Amber series, the Harry Potter series, Treasure Island, etc. On my own I've read a few novels, Neil Peart's books, etc. None of these have shown up as reviews here. What can I really add about Lord of the Rings, Don Quixote, or Harry Potter that hasn't already been said, anyway? (Actually, I had this great idea of Don Quixote as analogy for Mormonism, but I don't really comment on Mormonism anymore so I never wrote it down.) Anyway, this Neil Young biography was another that didn't seem to fit this site and hence was going to be skipped over, but since I have a biography section, and I feel like a review has to come out of me on this one before I move on, I'll write one anyway.

Neil Young is an enigma. This biography doesn't change that fact. He is as mysterious after reading more than 700 pages about him as he was before. The great thing about this book is there are tons and tons of facts, stories, and interviews with Neil Young. The bad thing about this book is the author. I like my biographies to be as objective as possible. The interviews and stories are nice. The author's subjective opinions are curious at first and quite annoying by the end. Near the end of the book it almost turns into a Jimmy McDonough autobiography in which McDonough is the brilliant one that Neil has to come to for inspiration and advice. I had to laugh. I doubt anyone could come away from this book thinking that McDonough is anything but an arrogant a-hole.

I still loved the book though and found it to be a real page turner. What I would really love is for someone else to come along and write a new Neil Young biography. The new biography should leave out the pretentious Jimmy McDonough stuff, update us on the past decade + (Neil has put out a ton of material since Year of the Horse which is where this book ends), and have an editor. McDonough, for a professional writer, needs to take some basic grammar lessons.

While all of Neil Young's stuff doesn't do it for me, it was fun to revisit some past CDs (including bootlegs I have about 30 Neil Young CDs), in chronological order, as I was reading about the events happening in his life at the time. Many songs now have additional and more potent meanings for me. (I have to disagree with McDonough's assessment that Tonight's the Night is by far his best--it wouldn't crack my top five list of his best.) Also enjoyable was reading the early part of this book while I was on a trip in Ontario. That experience really brought things to life. Plus, the radio in Toronto was doing promos for his return to Massey Hall for three nights. The book, combined with the local radio at the time, had me smiling from ear to ear as I drove down the freeway in my rental car.

"Neil was buying ice-cream cones. He touched my hand and looked at me and told me he loved me, simple as that, out of the blue. I didn't know how to handle it, didn't know what to say ... I said, 'You love me and I love ice cream!'" -- Pam Smith, Neil's first girlfriend, as quoted on page 90
One of my favorite Neil Young tunes

from the publisher:
Neil Young is one of rock and roll’s most important and enigmatic figures, a legend from the sixties who is still hugely influential today. He has never granted a writer access to his inner life – until now. Based on six years of interviews with more than three hundred of Young’s associates, and on more than fifty hours of interviews with Young himself, Shakey is a fascinating, prodigious account of the singer’s life and career. Jimmy McDonough follows Young from his childhood in Canada to his cofounding of Buffalo Springfield to the huge success of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young to his comeback in the nineties. Filled with never-before-published words directly from the artist himself, Shakey is an essential addition to the top shelf of rock biographies.