“Waging Heavy Peace” by Neil Young

“Waging Heavy Peace”
by Neil Young
read by Keith Carradine
Published by Penguin Audio
approx. 12.5 hours

Being a classic rock fan, when I heard that Neil Young was publishing an autobiography I had to read it, then when I found out that it was in audiobook form, I jumped. Reading, or in this case, listening to, a biography of someone famous can be a bit tricky and especially so when it comes to an autobiography. Most of the time when the biography is written you get a person that has interviewed and/or followed a person or sometimes just did some research and interviewed people surrounding the subject. As a consumer of the biography you are then subject to the writers whims on what goes in or not and not always get the full picture of their subject. In the case of an autobiography you are sometimes only treated with what the person wants you to know. They can still be informative and give some insight to that person but keep in mind there’s always another side of the story.

I know that since Neil Young wrote this himself he may or may not have glossed over some parts of his history. But once the book is started, a feel for the determination of Mr. Young to get out everything he finds important is clear. Neil has written this book in a manner that seems like, as the listener of the audiobook, you are just hanging out with him and he is telling stories of his life, past and present, and of his interest. The book is very conversational in delivery and sporadic as to which part of his life is being discussed. It is definitely not a linear biography listing all his achievements from birth to present.

The book’s reader, Keith Carradine, superbly captures the voice of Neil Young and delivers this audiobook with great passion. When I first saw that it wasn’t read by Neil himself I was, to be honest, a bit upset. I would have loved to hear him tell his story. However, just a few minutes into the book and I soon forgot all about that and was relieved that Keith Carradine not only presented the material perfectly (after all he is a great actor) but he also was able to portray Neil Young’s life from these words that at times it seemed as though you were listening to Neil Young trying to do a Keith Carradine impression. No, Carradine doesn’t try to impersonate Young, it’s just that he is able to use his acting abilities to bring out the emotions of the stories that make this book a great listen.

Okay, so, where to start? Basically this book is Neil’s life from his early days as a teenage musician in Canada to his life today where he has many interests that mostly center around his love of music, both creating and listening. The way the book is laid out is as though the listener/reader is just having a conversation about what is going on in his life now and every once in a while a memory is stirred up and a backstory has to be told.

The book contains a very nice history of Buffalo Springfield, a bit of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, and a lifetime of events with Crazy Horse. Throughout the book I felt as though Neil and I were walking around on his ranch and he was showing off his current interests and something would spark up a memory and we’d be launched into a story of the past. This is especially true when he talks about cars.

Neil Young loves his cars, and has a collection on his ranch of various cars throughout the years. He loves his cars so much that he names every one of them, there’s the old tour bus, which was severely modified, named Pocahontas, a car named Nanoo the Lovesick Moose and lots of others. Each vehicle would spark a story of how it was acquired and what was going on in his life at the moment.

What I found to be most interesting was the LincVolt which is a 1959 Lincoln Continental that has been modified to be a Hybrid with a biomass fuel run generator. He’s trying to perfect the LincVolt to prove that environmental conscious vehicles don’t have to be tiny battery run cars. He and a team of engineers are perfecting this dream of his. Not only does he care about the environment he’s gone so far as to develop this project to do something about it.

At first you may think, yeah he’s just a rockstar with money to throw at a project but you may be as surprised as I was to find out he was part owner of Lionel, LLC, a company that makes toy trains and model railroad accessories. In 2008 Lionel emerged from bankruptcy and his shares of the company were wiped out, But he was instrumental in the design of the Lionel Legacy control system for model trains, and remains on the board of directors of Lionel. He also has been named as co-inventor on seven U.S. Patents related to model trains. The beginning of the book has Neil talking about this love of his, and when he transitions to creation of the LincVolt it all makes sense, rather than just thinking “That guy that sang ‘Old Man’ invented an electric car?”

That’s not all he’s into, he’s also working on a music delivery sound that will enable to allow the listener to hear the full sound of music just as though they were in the studio with the musician. Since the release of CDs into the music industry the sound quality of recordings as dropped severly. While CDs have serious sound loss, the advent of mp3s has made things even worse. Mp3 files are so compressed and lossy that the listener is only getting about five percent of the actual sound. This is what is meant when audiophiles say that vinyl records are warmer sounding, since vinyl is analog the compression doesn’t exist and the quality of the recording is near perfect. Neil has created a system that was originally called PureTone but since that name was taken the name had to be changed. The system is now called Pono and reportedly able to deliver the full sound of a recording.

This autobiography could have stopped there but when he talks about his life with and love for his children made him seem like a great human being. His two sons have Cerebral Palsy the youngest being a paraplegic because of the disease. His love and care for his sons shows in the words chosen and the things he’s done for them. His battles with epilepsy mixed in with his battles with record labels rounds out to show that Neil Young is his own person and nothing will stop him.

Musician, inventor, philanthropist and humanitarian, Neil Young has lived a life of interest and this book brings it all into the light, the good with the bad, and ends with him contemplating the meaning of life. One of the best autobiographies I’ve ever read or heard.