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Neil Young has a reputation as a loner, a rock star selfish with his muse (though generous with his time and talents--when the cause is worthy). He comes across as an eccentric recluse, famously reluctant to give interviews and willing to sink resources into various projects, like Lionel trains and dorky films.
So for appreciators of both the man and his music, Waging Heavy Peace is a bit of a treat. The book is not the tell-all autobiography for gossip hounds, nor is it the Literary Masterpiece that some writing critics would prefer. I know many folks who go to a Neil Young concert and delight in those cherished between-songs conversational moments, no matter how brief or rambling, and understand that they may not hear a single spoken word if the man doesn't feel like it. For people like them, this book is well worth the cost of admission. Young opens his heart on these pages.
What I took away from the book is that Young is not the self-centered fellow many rock fans think he is. Yes, he tends to listen to the muse at the expense of his personal relationships--this is the musician who bailed on Stephen Stills mid-tour and ditched Crazy Horse for Pearl Jam, after all. Yes, he invests incredible amounts of time in high-aiming projects like LincVolt and Pono. But like all artists, believe it or not, he is not a solo act.
Musicians, writers, painters, dramatists: we all rely on our communities. Sometimes that means our artistic peers. Young shows us that his community, while very music-centric, extends beyond music. Waging Heavy Peace is as much about his friends as it is about him. He is his friends, in that his friends seem to have shaped his existence on this earth. He turns to them when he feels down, when the muse washes over him, when he needs to eat breakfast. Young likes to talk about all the cars he has owned, but behind the wheel of each of them sits a friend--each car runs more on memories than it does gasoline.
I know many people tend to idealize successful artists--hell, I know I do. We think of them as self-made men and women, driven by their passions and talent and carried to the top by no one. Young simply, poignantly, reminds us that community is the important aspect in human endeavors, artistic or otherwise. While personal accumulation of wealth and objects and fame have their place, the human experience is more about the way we spend our lives than the money we have to spend on it. It's about who we spend it with.
Eleven days before the next presidential election here in the United States, I think we will soon cast our symbolic votes for the decision we make every day. What kind of culture do we want to foster: one that leaves each person scrabbling for a piece of the pie, or one that relies on friendships and support and community? Both have the potential to make a person wealthy. Love, or money: what is the currency of our future?
I have a feeling Mr. Young, for one, would choose love. I would too.