I think it’s only fair if we discuss our failures as well as our successes, our dislikes as well as our likes. I encountered the former in both instances when attempting to read Shakey: Neil Young’s Biography by Neil McDonough. I gave it a valiant effort, in my opinion, and made it through over 250 pages of the 786 pages in two months. While struggling with this one book, I read about 20 others in that two months, but Shakey got the best of me.
McDonough spent a painful yet fruitful decade of researching, interviewing, and general worming his way into the life of Neil Young (and the life of anyone who knew him or worked with him or once listened to a record of his), but McDonough’s writing style leaves something to be desired. This decade culminated in a hodgepodge of often marginally relevant (or occasionally completely irrelevant) details of Young’s life and career delivered in an oscillating tone of cynicism and reverence that is peppered with clichés. At least that’s my impression of the first third of the book…
The best aspect of Shakey is, not surprisingly, the music. I confess that I’ve never been a Neil Young fan, mostly out of ignorance rather than criticism. I was positive that I had never listened to Buffalo Springfield until I heard “For What It’s Worth” again. The discussion of songs and albums is too interesting to not seek them out. Even more fascinating for me was taking music recommendations from Young himself as he discussed artists and bands that he was inspired by or looked up to, such as Roy Orbison and The Byrds.
But while I can be fascinated by the music, I just couldn’t relate to the need to know Neil Young. I don’t need to “get” every lyric, to know which woman inspired which song, to know how his parents’ divorce affected his career and to know how his epilepsy affected his songwriting. But maybe you’re a more dedicated fan than I am; I wouldn’t deny that.
**Neil Young fun fact: Young once played in a band with Rick James before either of them were famous. They were recording an album in Motown when their band was ripped apart after Rick James was arrested for draft dodging.**