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Shakey: Neil Young's Biography

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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 fascina 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.

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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 fascina 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.

30 review for Shakey: Neil Young's Biography

  1. 5 out of 5

    Barış Alpertan

    Pretty inneresting stuff y'know - heh heh heh... Shakey, aptly named after one of Neil Young's many aliases "Bernard Shakey", is the most comprehensive book ever written, and most likely will ever be written, about the enigma that is Neil Young - the definitive book, if you will, about this Canadian singer/songwriter. Perhaps in an ironic way, the book itself is a literary epitome and reflection of Young's music: it's way too long, has its own ups and downs, mostly repetitive and raises questions Pretty inneresting stuff y'know - heh heh heh... Shakey, aptly named after one of Neil Young's many aliases "Bernard Shakey", is the most comprehensive book ever written, and most likely will ever be written, about the enigma that is Neil Young - the definitive book, if you will, about this Canadian singer/songwriter. Perhaps in an ironic way, the book itself is a literary epitome and reflection of Young's music: it's way too long, has its own ups and downs, mostly repetitive and raises questions more than it answers. Reading this book fifteen years after its publishing, with the hindsight about everything that has changed in Young's life (including his recent separation with Pegi, the love of his life during the writing of the book) and knowing that he has recorded fifteen more albums since then (almost equal to the studio catalog discussed in this book) only adds up to the impenetrable, mysterious character of Young - whom I finally had the chance of seeing live on 2014, with his band of misfits Crazy Horse. Up until that time Neil Young was my musical hero, and I guess he still is even though some of the things about him that were unbeknownst to me (like his support for Reagan or his comments on gay community during his full "redneck" period) frustrated and disappointed me to a great extent. But overall impression of the book, and the message that it conveys (providing it has one), is that anger and resentment towards Neil would be redundant as you will never know which Neil Young is the real one as he is capable of changing constantly and shifting from one character to another to the detriment of people who are close to him. So, even though this might be the only book that will ever come close to revealing the true nature of Young - since nobody will ever show the patience author Jimmy McDonough has displayed with Young's twist and turns - it still falls short in terms of "peeling the onion" of Neil Young. Fully aware of his frustration and shortcomings, even McDonough finds it reasonable to plea Bob Dylan, who is as enigmatic and tough as Neil Young, to solve the mystery. Not that Neil Young consciously tries to make it harder. You can see during the transcript of his interviews that he really tries hard to bare his soul and that it takes its toll on him. It must be difficult for him that his 1979 line "it's better to burn out than to fade away", featured in his mega-hit "My My, Hey Hey" and, ironically, in Kurt Cobain's suicide note, still taunts him today - giving that he remains the only survivor in a cut-throat business who claimed lives much younger than his. In 2017, Young still goes on strong, releasing new stuff almost at the pace of Buckethead. And I am glad that he is because I know I will be heartbroken like never before when he is gone. I could have gone forever on Neil Young and his music but at this point I would like to share some notes on the book itself for future readers. Roland Barthes once said "If one looks at the normal practice of music criticism (or, which is often the same thing, of conversations 'on' music) it can readily be seen that a work (or its performance) is only ever translated into the poorest of linguistic categories: the adjective", and I tend to agree. It was personally annoying whenever I saw the author strived to characterise an inconsequential Neil Young performance and inserted his subjective opinions on Neil Young's work. I mean, how can one really downplay the music on Harvest. I understand that after listening to all these bootlegs from long-forgotten shows at somewhere in Midwest in sometime, makes one feel compelled to comment on them but you have to distinguish between being a rock critic and writing on Spin magazine and writing and interpreting an actual, objective autobiographical data. I don't care how the author and other rock critic cronies like Richard Meltzer feel about the state of rock in late-nineties and how they feel Neil Young tanked this album or how they put down Pearl Jam - and, frankly, it comes across little pretentious and arrogant, like Pearl Jam is phony but they are the real deal. I would much rather read ten chapters like the one on Young's model-train hobby than reading another word about how Young's performance on one song was terrible because the former actually pertains to the actual life of Young and not about a live song he didn't even released. Having said that (a segway a-la-Jerry Seinfeld), author McDonough's research on Young's life is impeccable. He had talked with every person that had been close to Young at some time or another and he discussed every theme imaginable to bring both the best and worst of Neil Young. And it was quite nice that this project went hand-in-hand with Joel Bernstein's Archives effort because both projects celebrate the good times and bad times of Young's life without leaving anything out in two different mediums. Yet, whether you listen to him on tape or read on a book, Neil Young continues to remain as a mystery. A mystery that is better left unraveled as this is the driving force and modus operandi of Young's art.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Bill

    I'd started out with this in a state of exhilaration, and found myself carrying it in airports, reading it in cabs and generally just gripped by Young's story, but it began to fade for me, just like Young's music can. There was a stretch in his career when I found that every side he laid down was essential stuff, then, like Dylan, he went through a prolonged drought, then he bounced back, and was essential again. Some time ago (six years ago, thereabouts) I cracked that if we were going to have I'd started out with this in a state of exhilaration, and found myself carrying it in airports, reading it in cabs and generally just gripped by Young's story, but it began to fade for me, just like Young's music can. There was a stretch in his career when I found that every side he laid down was essential stuff, then, like Dylan, he went through a prolonged drought, then he bounced back, and was essential again. Some time ago (six years ago, thereabouts) I cracked that if we were going to have a Bush in the White House we could take consolation in the fact that at least we'd get some decent music out of Neil Young-- unfortunately it hasn't happened yet. I was surprised at how much I knew about Young, and how much I'd known but forgotten. Part of the initial rush of the book came from seeing this enigmatic figure come into focus-- and part of the letdown came from the fact that once he is in focus, it is clear that he is really kind of a jerk. In fairness to Young, McDonough's portrait injects a great deal of McDonough into the process, and McDonough seems pretty burnt out about Neil Young by the time Young is into his fourth or fifth renaissance. At first McDonough's strategy of injecting himself into the narrative seems brilliant. He often starts chapters about a portion of Young's life off by describing his contemporary impression of some person who was important to Young at some time in the past. He then weaves that individual's recollection into a narrative that also includes excerpts from his interviews with Young conducted over the course of the project, other third party accounts, and omniscient narrative drawn from other sources. This works well for a while, but gradually McDonough becomes a more and more important character, and we find that we are reading more about McDonough's impressions of a particular gig or recording than we are about anyone else. Since these impressions are frequently negative, the appeal of reading them pales pretty quickly. Another problem is that quite a few people who you'd think would be important to talk to declined to be interviewed. Bob Dylan might or might not have something interesting to say. Stephen Stills would certainly. Robbie Robertson. John Lyndon. Young's wife Pegi is virtually absent-- McDonough cites her desire for privacy, then moves on, and we are left with a void. David Geffen is not heard from. McDonough provides a list of these and others, and probably anyone who is interested enough in the subject could supplement the list themselves. (Where's Bill Graham, for example?) Not too many people come off well. Nils Lofgren does, which makes the absence of his Spindizzy catalogue from print feel all the more painful. (My copies reside in the Antipodes, except for Nils' final Grin album, "Gone Crazy", recorded at about the same time as "Tonight's the Night" and concerning more or less the same things.) Stills comes off badly, hardly a surprise. David Crosby is not particularly vivid-- I get the sense that he was pretty strung out when most of this was written, but it is just as likely that he is a self-absorbed jerk. Graham Nash is a wimp-- but that is hardly stop the presses stuff. Jack Nitzsche seems distant and dangerous, also hardly a surprise. Young's first wife, Carrie Snodgrass, (who died last year)comes off as a sad case-- a bright, talented and attractive person who got sucked into the worst of the Sixties. Young divorced her because he felt she was unfaithful, she denies it, weakly, and Young's infidelities are glossed over-- hey, that's rock'n'roll, baby. Similarly, the incredible amount of drug use is just staggering. It is not glamorized, particularly, but it is plain that the drugs took their toll on everyone. Norman Mailer talks about how drugs affected his creative process in "Advertisements for Myself" in a knowing way, essentially concluding that drug use is borrowing from the future at a high rate of interest. It isn't hard to conclude that the same conclusion can be drawn with Young, but McDonough doesn't draw it-- or any other real conclusion, for that matter. Finally, how a book like this can exist without even a stab at a discography is a mystery. For that matter, very little effort is put into noting what the critical response to particular albums was, which would have been interesting. "Shakey" will be a good starting place for the definitive Neil Young bio, but that book is a long way from being written.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Paul Lyons

    Jimmy McDonough does an amazing job going through the ups and downs of a very complicated and unpredictable artist. A good book enthralls you with it's story, while a great book truly inspires you...SHAKEY is a great book, It delves so deep into Neil Young's persona that you truly believe you know him like you know yourself. My understanding and appreciation of Young's music is now not only enhanced, but ingrained in my system. Even the structure of McDonough's book is a knockout. In each chapte Jimmy McDonough does an amazing job going through the ups and downs of a very complicated and unpredictable artist. A good book enthralls you with it's story, while a great book truly inspires you...SHAKEY is a great book, It delves so deep into Neil Young's persona that you truly believe you know him like you know yourself. My understanding and appreciation of Young's music is now not only enhanced, but ingrained in my system. Even the structure of McDonough's book is a knockout. In each chapter, the author goes into detail about various events in Neil Young's professional and personal life...from The Squires and The Mynah Birds, to Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young to Crazy Horse and to the many solo albums. Yet just when you think the story can't get any more compelling than it already is...we hear from Neil Young himself, in conversation with the author, commenting on his actions...and inactions. What's also great, is that Jimmy McDonough is a true fan of Young's music...yet also is Young's biggest critic, and often challenges Young directly if he feels Young's music, or performance is below par. I was sad finishing the book. Who knew? I mean...I've never been a big Neil Young fan in the past. I had one or two of his records when I was a teenager, I think. Being a concert whore in my younger years...I first saw Young perform at Live Aid in 1985, then attended three Neil Young concerts in 1986, 1988 & 1991. Plus I saw him perform at the Bob Dylan 30th Anniversary show in 1992. Last time I saw him was 9 years ago at a Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young concert in Los Angeles (which sadly was an extremely unpleasant experience for me, due to a disruptive audience). At the start of 2009, I owned a total of two Neil Young CDs...and only one of them I bought for Neil Young's sake: the 1970 classic AFTER THE GOLDRUSH. The other CD, MIRRORBALL, I only bought because it featured Pearl Jam as Neil's backing band on the entire album. What changed? Books! I'd been trying to change my reading habits for years. I'd been very attached to a series of small, pocket books called 33 1/3...a series of books focusing on individual records, by a variety of musicians and bands. I've read over 30 of these books...everything from The Beatles LET IT BE to David Bowie's LOW to Guns N' Roses USE YOUR ILLUSION 1&2. Granted, not all of the books are good, and some are just plain awful (Jethro Tull AQUALUNG is among the worst). Despite this, I love these books so much...and have even been inspired to buy an album, just so I can read the 33 1/3 book. My rule is...I won't read a 33 1/3 book unless I have the album. So, with that in mind...I bought Neil Young's HARVEST album (which is great)...as well as the 33 1/3 book. The book, by Sam Inglis, was just okay...hampered by the fact that Inglis didn't seem to like the album very much...making a point to let people know that TONIGHT'S THE NIGHT is Neil Young greatest album. Nonetheless, the book got me thinking about Neil Young...and soon enough, I bought a few more Neil Young albums. Which lead me to picking up SHAKEY (on a whim) at a Borders book store in Century City...which lead to even more albums. I now have close to 20 Neil Young albums, and counting. So in essence...the music inspired the books, which inspired the music. Who knew reading could be so much fun!

  4. 4 out of 5

    Eric

    Being a huge fan of Neil Young, someday I am going to return to this book. This is an enjoyable biography of a true musical master and one not necessarily required for just fans. Though, a fan's appreciation of Young will increase after reading this biography. The book details everything from Young's incredible hearing to his infuriating behavior toward his fellow musicians.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Paul Childs

    I really wanted to like this book, and for the first third of it, I really did. The problem is McDonough is about my age, so by the early 70's he's reviewing the music and putting his personal context on it, instead of putting in a biographical context only. Eventually it starts to read like a book written by Comic Book Guy on The Simpsons. Albums he likes, a qualified okay. Albums he doesn't like (hint; anything to do with CSNY, or just S) Worst. Album. Ever. The best tracks from one period? Un I really wanted to like this book, and for the first third of it, I really did. The problem is McDonough is about my age, so by the early 70's he's reviewing the music and putting his personal context on it, instead of putting in a biographical context only. Eventually it starts to read like a book written by Comic Book Guy on The Simpsons. Albums he likes, a qualified okay. Albums he doesn't like (hint; anything to do with CSNY, or just S) Worst. Album. Ever. The best tracks from one period? Unreleased and only available as a bootleg 'Homegrown'. The best tracks recorded with a pretty good album (American Stars 'N' Bars)? Never released, again except on bootleg.His first live album? Live Rust. A little surprising to hear after reading a couple of hundred pages about the dark period from 1972 to 1975 of 'Time Fades Away' (ahem, a live album), 'On the Beach' and 'Tonight's the Night' and the deaths of Danny Whitten and Bruce Berry. The best music he did in 1992? On someone else's album. Who cares that you bought Zuma just because of the cover? He also holds back on the tough questions; when Young's second son was born with severe CP he disappeared for almost two years to be a dad and raise a young child with serious health problems and told no one outside his immediate circle why. An admirable decision for anyone, for someone in the music industry, really brave. So when the first album after that period comes out is Trans, and you re-surface to tour and promote it, it's a little odd to say 'Fuck you' to people who don't get that some of the songs are a tribute to your son. We're supposed to understand the connection to something you have gone out of your way to keep private? Maybe you could have asked him about that Jimmy. All in all, some interesting insights into Young, but too much of a piece of work by a fanboy who starts to think his idol take his opinion as seriously as people he has worked with for 30 years.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Brian Bess

    Neil Young deserves a better biography than this massive piece of shit. The obnoxious author insists on inserting himself and his less than insightful critical assessments into every step of Neil Young's life. The man possess not one ounce of objectivity. While I have a lot of respect for Neil Young and love many of his earlier songs (which constitute much of what I have heard of him), I have never been a fanatic. This lack of fanaticism has limited my degree of fascination with his musical jour Neil Young deserves a better biography than this massive piece of shit. The obnoxious author insists on inserting himself and his less than insightful critical assessments into every step of Neil Young's life. The man possess not one ounce of objectivity. While I have a lot of respect for Neil Young and love many of his earlier songs (which constitute much of what I have heard of him), I have never been a fanatic. This lack of fanaticism has limited my degree of fascination with his musical journey and I must admit that the book would be more compelling if I were a devotee. However, I suspect that even if I were one of the major Neil Young fans on the planet, I would be disappointed in this book. It contains some interesting biographical information and it illuminated my lack of knowledge of most things Young. That, coupled with my stubborn insistence not to give up on any book once I get past the half-way point, is the primary reason I plowed through to the end. This author is entitled to his opinion (which includes a dismissal of virtually all of Crosby, Stills & Nash's work together and with Young, not to mention considering their own solo work inconsequential) but his arrogance not only regarding Young's contemporaries but also Young himself is truly repellent. The book possesses a journeyman prose style and a Gonzo-like "Aren't I hip?" self-consciousness that prompts one to seek someone with a more reasonable, even-handed assessment. I recommend the book only for those who really want to know the essential facts of Neil Young's life although, to be honest, one could save time and suffer negligible lack of insight into what makes Young tick, by consulting a Wikipedia article.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Nicholas Branigan

    if you have any interest in the history of, fate of, or reason for american music in any sense, then you should pick this book up. even if you aren't an obsessive fan of ned young, this is a fascinating insight into a driven maniacs passive aggressive propulsion into super-fame. shakey (n. young's nickname) made moves that alienated him from his fans and friends alike, perhaps not even knowing that he hurt anyone in the process, and came out one of the most respected and admired american musici if you have any interest in the history of, fate of, or reason for american music in any sense, then you should pick this book up. even if you aren't an obsessive fan of ned young, this is a fascinating insight into a driven maniacs passive aggressive propulsion into super-fame. shakey (n. young's nickname) made moves that alienated him from his fans and friends alike, perhaps not even knowing that he hurt anyone in the process, and came out one of the most respected and admired american musicians ever. even if you're just curious about what it feels like to drink tequila for two months straight from morning till morning, all the while taking speed and doing a thing called "honey slides"- (burnt weed mixed with honey). and if you are a songwriter that likes to mentally and verbally abuse the musicians that he works with, this book will probably make you feel better about yourself.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Greg

    Gave up on page 559. I only persevered that far because I'm a Neil Young fan. Love the music. The book doesn't describe him as a very likeable character, which from all the interviews and such I've read over the years on Young, collectively paints a better and more accurate overview of the man's character as an artist and a person. A book of this length, 778 pages, had to give some interesting details, if one wants to wade through it.

  9. 5 out of 5

    John Bastin

    I started reading this book; I found a lot of interesting material here as I read about the life of Neil Young. Unfortunately, despite the good material, this book just goes on and on and on, with the meanderings of an obvious fanboy who really needs the services of a good editor. The book would probably be really interesting at about half its length, but even though reading a biography implies that you're looking for information about the subject, this one really goes into the stage of TMI to th I started reading this book; I found a lot of interesting material here as I read about the life of Neil Young. Unfortunately, despite the good material, this book just goes on and on and on, with the meanderings of an obvious fanboy who really needs the services of a good editor. The book would probably be really interesting at about half its length, but even though reading a biography implies that you're looking for information about the subject, this one really goes into the stage of TMI to the point of becoming tiring and not enjoyable.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Richard MacManus

    Just finished Shakey, after reading it over a few weeks at night (post blogging, so around 10ish) and in the weekends (particularly on a Sunday, where my habit is to loaf around in bed and in the lounge, reading and eating and drinking tea). I really enjoyed this biography. Firstly it taught me a lot about Neil Young -- real innarestin' character, heh heh. It made me want to explore all his old music, especially the 70's stuff. I've already borrowed a number of CDs from the library. The fascinati Just finished Shakey, after reading it over a few weeks at night (post blogging, so around 10ish) and in the weekends (particularly on a Sunday, where my habit is to loaf around in bed and in the lounge, reading and eating and drinking tea). I really enjoyed this biography. Firstly it taught me a lot about Neil Young -- real innarestin' character, heh heh. It made me want to explore all his old music, especially the 70's stuff. I've already borrowed a number of CDs from the library. The fascinating thing about Neil Young is that he changes constantly, even his bands and who he records / tours with. It makes it very hard for some of his core band mates, e.g. Crazy Horse has more than once been dumped. There was a poignant bit near the end where Young recorded and toured with Pearl Jam in the 90's (Mirror Ball), which left Crazy Horse crestfallen. But Young changes so much precisely because it drives him to discover new ways to make music. There's a wide range of musical styles he's done and people he's recorded with, but at the base of it all is the artist Neil Young. If you listen to his solo records, with just him and his guitar and harmonica, you can recognize the huge natural talent of the guy -- beautifully vague lyrics which enable you to read into them what you must, great harmonies and riffs, raw real guitar playing. I've been listening a lot to his 1971 Massey Hall CD (the year I was born!) as well as his 90's MTV Unplugged performance. The author of this bio actually dismissed the Unplugged one, but I disagree. Young's rendition of 'Mr Soul' in Unplugged is riveting. The author is at pains to note that Young was the driver in most of his projects, including ego-soaked hippy supergroup CSNY. Overall, the author did a very thorough job with this book. There is a lot of commentary from Young himself throughout, but the author also analyzes his topic and music. I felt that sometimes his analysis of the music wasn't that strong, a bit overdone. For example he totally dismissed Pearl Jam's influence on modern music, which is a mistake IMHO. But overall he did describe the changes in Young's musical journey quite well, certainly enough to make me want to dive into Young's back catalog in a big way. If you're a musichead like me, you will love this book. It's a weighty tome, but well worth a few weeks poring over.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Paul

    Well I not really finished, but close enough (I hardly ever use this site now). This is a book that is well worth reading if like Neil Young you like "innaresting characters". It is too long. The author got too close to his subject I think and started to think he was "cool" because of it. A great deal more is revealed about the people around Young than I would have expected. Just as much as a biography it is a (partially unconcious) depiction of obsession. I enjoyed it on the whole - except where he Well I not really finished, but close enough (I hardly ever use this site now). This is a book that is well worth reading if like Neil Young you like "innaresting characters". It is too long. The author got too close to his subject I think and started to think he was "cool" because of it. A great deal more is revealed about the people around Young than I would have expected. Just as much as a biography it is a (partially unconcious) depiction of obsession. I enjoyed it on the whole - except where he seems to glamourise the drug and crime world, which nearly stopped me finishin - but I am a chariatble sort. Many people would not be so patient.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Christine Sumption

    I felt compelled to read this book to the end, more out of interest in Young's music than any appreciation of the writing. The book's a mess, cobbled together from lengthy, meandering interviews with Young and his compadres and interspersed with the author's overblown opinions of virtually every recording the guy ever made. It's as if McDonough was trying to find a literary equivalent of Young's don't-rehearse-too-much style, but this doesn't cut it. Where's the editor who could sit down with hi I felt compelled to read this book to the end, more out of interest in Young's music than any appreciation of the writing. The book's a mess, cobbled together from lengthy, meandering interviews with Young and his compadres and interspersed with the author's overblown opinions of virtually every recording the guy ever made. It's as if McDonough was trying to find a literary equivalent of Young's don't-rehearse-too-much style, but this doesn't cut it. Where's the editor who could sit down with him and say, "Okay, you've presented us with your research. Now you've got to write the book." Maddening.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Vinny Peculiar

    Brilliant - lots of little insights into how Neil became Neil...his attention to detail, his demons and his twisted folk rock n roll genius. I'm a massive fan, I've had this book for some time and finally got around to reading it, it was well worth it.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Brandon

    Jesus. Three years later, I have finally finished this beast. It's exhausting. But, otoh, it's complete. You definitely get a sense of the dude by the end.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Laura Mckellar

    I didn't finish. I've decided, for now,he's better left a mystery.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Scott

    As a long time hardcore NY fan, I really enjoyed this book. I knew most of the framework from Neil's own writing as well as his father's, but Jimmy McDonough takes a much more thorough look and has collected a fantastic collection of quotes and anecdotes from those who have surrouned NY during his career. In a strict sense, it may not be a "good" biography - McDonough makes little attempt to be objective and freely inserts his own opinions of the highs and lows of Young's work, and apparently ha As a long time hardcore NY fan, I really enjoyed this book. I knew most of the framework from Neil's own writing as well as his father's, but Jimmy McDonough takes a much more thorough look and has collected a fantastic collection of quotes and anecdotes from those who have surrouned NY during his career. In a strict sense, it may not be a "good" biography - McDonough makes little attempt to be objective and freely inserts his own opinions of the highs and lows of Young's work, and apparently had no problem sharing those opinions with the man himself. In that sense it is a "great" biography because it seems to really capture Neil's spirit and personality, at least as much as you can capture a summer breeze. I found the book a little hard to read at first. Direct quotes from Neil are italicized, but quotes from others are not, and as Jimmy wrote this in a very first person voice, I found myself sometimes having to re-parse passages to figure out if it was a quote or Jimmy talking. But after a few chapters I adjusted to his style and it was easier to read. If you find it awkward at first I would encourage you to trek on. It's worth it. Cover's Young's work up to about 1998 - lots left still to talk about as Shakey rolls on.

  17. 5 out of 5

    David Drum

    Jimmy McDonough’s Shakey: Neil Young’s Biography, is a masterful, warts-and-all portrait of an elusive singer and musician who does things his way and usually makes it work. The Canadian singer-songwriter with the quavering voice that seems always in danger of breaking was one of the giants of the Sixties, an age when music meant so much to so many. First published in 2002, McDonough’s book is a sharply-etched portrait of the man nicknamed “Shakey” who has made memorable music for almost 50 years Jimmy McDonough’s Shakey: Neil Young’s Biography, is a masterful, warts-and-all portrait of an elusive singer and musician who does things his way and usually makes it work. The Canadian singer-songwriter with the quavering voice that seems always in danger of breaking was one of the giants of the Sixties, an age when music meant so much to so many. First published in 2002, McDonough’s book is a sharply-etched portrait of the man nicknamed “Shakey” who has made memorable music for almost 50 years. Through the years, Young developed a personal, passive-aggressive style along with an eye for the main chance. While a lot of people admired and respected his musical integrity, this was not always true of some of his closest acquaintances he several times left in the lurch. The 738-page book is the product of about ten years’ labor. McDonough takes us through Young’s life, beginning with his irascible mother and journalist father moving him from town to town in Canada. After their acrimonious divorce, young Neil, a quiet observant kid, lives mostly with his mother, the spirited Rassy, who was a major influence on his life. McDonough leads us through Neil’s early musical career in Canada’s coffee houses, as a penniless singer driving a mechanically-challenged old hearse from gig to gig. We immigrate with him to Los Angeles, a kid with a dream and a few songs in his pocket. We’re with him when he meets Stephen Stills, another huge talent, and after some twists and turns becomes part of one of the biggest rock groups of the Sixties, Buffalo Springfield, where he contributes “Mr. Soul,” and a few other of the group’s well-known hits. When this immensely popular group falls apart, Neil goes solo for a while, has more success, and then joins Crosby Stills Nash & Young for another hugely successful triumph. Somewhere early in his career, even while suffering from occasional disabling bouts of epilepsy that sometimes caused him to faint on stage, Neil figures out how to get control of the train. If he doesn’t like something that’s going down, or if he has a better idea, he walks away, often without explanation. This pattern he repeats throughout his career, leaving many of his closest friends shaking their heads, and others hurt and resentful. Going his own way, Young is forever moving on to the next thing, often without telling the studio full of musicians waiting for him that he’s decided to go. We see his peculiar early shyness around women, a riotous marriage to the actress Carrie Snodgrass, who inspired several of his songs, and then his second much happier marriage to Pegi Young. We get a sense of Young’s devotion to his three children whom he obviously adores. Young gives a biographer a lot to chronicle, and McDonough isn’t afraid to mention certain embarrassing details, such as a sizable ball of cocaine that was prominently dangling from Young’s nose during the filming of “The Last Waltz.” The two gram rock of cocaine (somebody weighed it) was removed from the film at great expense. And McDonough tracks more of Young’s drug use, which was never quite as extensive as that of his many burned-out contemporaries. We don’t hear much about groupies in this book although McDonough does let us in on Neil’s obsession with toy trains. On his 2,000-acre ranch in Santa Cruz County Young built a separate building to house his toy trains, and another for his collection of old cars. The singer spent a lot of time developing a sound system for toy trains at great personal expense, and he eventually bought the Lionel train company. Along the way McDonough tracks the singer-songwriter’s many memorable musical projects, some as enormously popular as the early soft-rock album “Harvest,” and some ultimately forgettable. Neil Young’s mammoth and still growing body of work includes 46 albums from 1967 to 2001, seven of which were certified platinum and nine gold. Over that time period he wrote more than 400 songs, most of which are instantly identifiable as his work. He became a hero of MTV, an organizer of Farm Aid, and the Grandfather of Grunge, collaborating with groups such as Pearl Jam and throwing many benefit concerts at his ranch. Neil Young, the author makes clear, has despite some peculiar detours remained clear-headed enough to get things done his way. To some, he seems a nit-picking perfectionist. To others, he can seem unpredictable in chasing a sound that he can’t find but knows is there. And after being written off by many during the 1980s, after a string of unpopular albums, out of Neil’s hat comes “Freedom,” and he is restored to popularity again. At this writing, eleven years after his biography was published, and still changing with the times, Young is one of the best-known musicians in the United States, and certainly one of the most innaresting, as Young himself might say. McDonough follows the up-and-down roller coaster of Young’s life, his changing music, his personal relationships, his obsessions and business affairs. He seems to have listened to every cut Young ever recorded, and Young records everything. Jimmy McDonough has produced a comprehensive, many-layered book which reflects the many-layered eccentric genius of his elusive subject. One technique McDonough uses frequently is to first set up a situation, giving us several points of view from other people involved, and then layer in an interview with Young, which is illuminating and makes some odd or rude behavior comprehensible. Surprisingly, perhaps, we learn that Young is a heckuva businessman. His business acumen and need for control is obvious even on the copyright page of McDonough’s book, where Young shares the copyright equally with McDonough, with all subsidiary and ancillary rights owned by Neil Young. The singer reviewed and approved the book’s contents prior to publication but made few substantial changes, McDonough notes. Anyone interested in Neal Young would enjoy this long, readable, richly-detailed book which is now a few years old, but like its subject, seemingly timeless. ###

  18. 5 out of 5

    Laura

    3.5/5. Interesting but far too long. This book could definitely use some editing. Just because you found someone who went to high school with Neil who knows what color shoes he wore, doesn’t mean you should put it in your book. TMI, Jimmy! I really didn’t like the biographer at all. He’s not the least bit objective, totally dismissive of other artists (unless they’re The Horse!) and comes off as an arrogant douchebag.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Rod Hunt

    A marathon, but a great read. I enjoyed the forensic detail. As the author’s personality and musical judgements emerged more and more over the 740 odd pages I found myself disagreeing more and more. Still, great to get his perspective- even if I thought a lot of it wrong and a bit “insider” exclusive at times. In some ways this is an inspirational book - encouraging self belief and artistic confidence. Any NY fan worth their salt read it long ago.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Barb G

    Over 700 pages long, and I was still sorry for it to end. What an "innaresting" character Neil Young is - not always nice, but definitely a genius. A man who is willing to admit his faults and apologize for his mistakes, but not dwell on them. A crazy inventor. A loving father. A maker of great and not so great music, but always open to trying new things. This book changed my views on music.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Rob

    Great read for Neil Young fans.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Shannon DeRespino

    A very good biography from a man who clearly loves the subject. Neil is truly one of a kind.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Kiko Libertino

    Wow. ¿Hay alguna leyenda que no se un hijo de perra?

  24. 5 out of 5

    Scott Turnbull

    Another 5 star fanboy review

  25. 4 out of 5

    Gangstagal Valdes

    What a great biography. It has everything that happened in his life, since his early years until this moment. Simply a great real life story.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Cynthia Harrison

    Some really interesting stuff here but sometimes the structure is a little loose. Like when McDonough asks interview questions and simply records pages and pages of responses. He also sometimes goes a bit too far out of topic. Still I am learning so much about NY. It's amazing to see what he had to overcome to get where he is. His first band in L.A.(Buffalo Springfield--or Stephen Stills in particular)would not let him sing his own songs because his voice was too weird. I am glued to it in fasci Some really interesting stuff here but sometimes the structure is a little loose. Like when McDonough asks interview questions and simply records pages and pages of responses. He also sometimes goes a bit too far out of topic. Still I am learning so much about NY. It's amazing to see what he had to overcome to get where he is. His first band in L.A.(Buffalo Springfield--or Stephen Stills in particular)would not let him sing his own songs because his voice was too weird. I am glued to it in fascination except for the times my eyes glaze over when McDonough name drops record execs and hangers on for pages at a time that I know nothing about and care even less. Just give me Neil! He's hilarious (there is also extensive quotation from him and his voice is incredible) and such a survivor. May be spoilers... So many things I thought I knew were wrong. He talked about Southern Man and Alabama, also Sweet Home Alabama. He loved the line "I hope Neil Young will remember, southern man don't need him around anyhow." Here I spent years indignant whenever I heard that song and Neil says it's a better song than Southern Man. He apparently does a mash up of the two songs live. He admired Lynryd Skynerd and heard that when one member died he was buried in an old Neil Young concert t-shirt he loved. I love all that insider stuff. It's called "Shakey" because of Neil's epilepsy, another thing I did not know about him. When he was in Buffalo Springfield, he'd invariably have a fit during their closing song and someone would have to hustle him off the stage. Strobe lights could also set off a fit. He is a weird character but in a really interesting way. I do hate "A Man Needs a Maid" (So does a woman, Neil), and "Down by the River"--I always thought that was an old blues song so I let Neil off the hook. But nope he wrote it. And he says it is not about murder but a break up. "Dead, I shot her dead" is apparently a metaphor. (Way to go with imagery, Neil!) He took far less dope than his cronies and never did heroine, while I thought he'd been a junkie for a while. We find out who he was referring to in "The Needle & The Damage Done." Lots more to come. I'm not even half way in. At about 80% this book is becoming a bit of a slog for me, mostly because Young is so prolific that there is a lot of his music I didn't even know about. I really wanted to know how Rust Never Sleeps came about and that was a great section with some real insights but now I'm onto a period of the "Country" Neil, his fights with Geffen Records, his love/hate relationship with CSN, Crosby's drug issues. Stills' drug issues. Neil's flirtation with cocaine and tequila which didn't last too long. There is some interesting stuff (or as Young would say) "innaresting" about Young's reaction to his two sons from two different women being born with cerebal palsy, all he went through, the dark nights of the soul, and just the heavy sadness of that. Young's wife Pegi seems to be (finally) the "one" but other reports of Young go from sweetest/meanest guy in the world. He could be a real jerk, and he could be a real sweetheart. Let's just call him human. I think in the end, I will be glad I read this book, even though it is really for more hard core fans than I am...that or else it could have used a good edit and cut of about 25%. Young, however, never likes to cut out anything. He likes rough drafts, he likes leaving in the mistakes, and although he is not the author of this book, it is very much in his style. Much to my dismay. And yet I read on because I want to know what happens next. Where I'm at now he has done 4-6 bad projects in a row, so I want to get to the Silver & Gold times:) The book ends abruptly sometime in the 90s before Neil's "Silver & Gold" album or tour when his wife Pegi joined the band! In the end, I liked it very much despite that. I feel like I know Young inside and out. As for the writer's structure, it is much like Young's career with its ups and downs.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Bruce

    For McDonough, rock is best when it's loud and trouble-making, and he has very little time for the part of Young's oeuvre that I like best. Young, meanwhile, comes across as someone with persistence and talent and other admirable qualities, but not someone you'd want to be close to.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    McDonough's exhaustive and exhausting bio of Neil Young simultaneously made me appreciate Young's best records more and hate his guts as a person. I can't think of many people in rock'n'roll who've left a bigger wake behind them, filled with buddies, women, session musicians, a son, all thrown to the wayside at Young's slightest musical or personal whim. Still, those records from '69-'78 are some of the best anybody has ever made. Notes: Young is both more of a rock star and less benevolent than y McDonough's exhaustive and exhausting bio of Neil Young simultaneously made me appreciate Young's best records more and hate his guts as a person. I can't think of many people in rock'n'roll who've left a bigger wake behind them, filled with buddies, women, session musicians, a son, all thrown to the wayside at Young's slightest musical or personal whim. Still, those records from '69-'78 are some of the best anybody has ever made. Notes: Young is both more of a rock star and less benevolent than you'd hope. Young had a much more exceptional youth than I expected from his everyman image - the son of a novelist and semi-pro golfer. It's great when McDonough connects events in Young's early life with specific lyrics from his songs. Young's a loner, as you'd expect, but also something of a lady's man, which you would not expect. Young's influences are a revelation in their omnivorousness, ranging from Jimmy Reed to Rick James. The trip from Toronto to LA strikes me as something right out of a Dennis Hopper movie. Young's time in Buffalo Springfield is tortuously chaotic and unhealthy, so there is no wonder he quit. McDonough presents Young's story as the story of those around Young - CSN, Roberts, Briggs, Mitchell, Crazy Horse. Young's an outsider even among an outsider culture, like the hippies in Topanga Canyon. Young's and Dylan's take on the excess and superficiality of the Woodstock festival is eye-opening. Young, with The Broken Arrow Ranch, created a world of his own, completely separate from the rest of the universe. Neil's darkness always seems to be controlled, almost as if he says "I need to be trashed to do this right" and then gets trash in a very controlled, calm way. He comes off as a pretty big dick who doesn't care much for his family. Young's extreme drug use and partying lifestyle is a bit disillusioning for someone who has no use for drugs. Neil is not only inconsiderate to his family, but also to his closest friends and musical companions. Young, unlike most of his peers is both prolific and consistent and has never stagnated in one particular style for too long. It takes the diagnosis of his second son, Ben, with cerebral palsy to bring Young down to earth, to knock him on his ass.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Mark

    Shakey is the fascinating story of Neil Young's life, exhaustively researched by the author, Jimmy McDonough and presented in a way that differs from many other biographies. It is not the usual one-sided compilation of facts presented from an outside perspective, but a long and detailed journey of Young's whole life, with Young's input, thoughts and opinions included for nearly every event. Almost every other page contains dialogue from Young, gathered from hundreds of interviews with the author Shakey is the fascinating story of Neil Young's life, exhaustively researched by the author, Jimmy McDonough and presented in a way that differs from many other biographies. It is not the usual one-sided compilation of facts presented from an outside perspective, but a long and detailed journey of Young's whole life, with Young's input, thoughts and opinions included for nearly every event. Almost every other page contains dialogue from Young, gathered from hundreds of interviews with the author. This allows you to read between the lines and, seemingly, get an understanding of what kind of person Neil Young really is. From his early days as a shy kid growing up in Canada to the path that made him one of the most influential people in 20th century music, Shakey draws a picture of the events and people that shaped Young's life. And still there's mystery about Neil Young. It's clear that no one could guess what he would do next, or why after the fact. Although this book does give great insight into Young's motivation for the drastic changes he made musically. When everybody expected a record just like his latest hit, he'd make something absolutely different, because he wanted different, he wanted change. But most of all, Young made music that he felt, not music that others thought he should make. He didn't force it, he didn't try to make something that wasn't there, he felt his music and played it how he wanted. Shakey is an incredibly detailed journey through Young's life, from his early struggles at home, to his reserved persona during his early career, the very good and very bad times with CSN, the raw, powerful feeling of the music with Crazy Horse, his constantly changing recording styles, and so much of his personal life. This is not a particularly easy book to read all the way through. I found myself looking forward to the end as it got nearer and nearer. And unfortunately, it seemed like McDonough became a little repetitive in his writing in the final few chapters. However, I think Shakey does much of what Young stated he wants in a biography: the fantastic things and the shit, the highs and all the lows that paint the true picture of his life, including the details that make it most interesting.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Craig

    I started reading this book because I've been a little obsessed with the Ditch Trilogy for a couple months now, so perhaps it's a little unfair to fault this aspect of the book, but it seems like a lot of Neil Young fans are really into certain periods or facets of his career at the expense of others in a way that Dylan fans don't seem quite to be. You have a lot of Neil Young fans that will listen to anything Crazy Horse has every recorded but can't stand Harvest, or who love a song like "Needl I started reading this book because I've been a little obsessed with the Ditch Trilogy for a couple months now, so perhaps it's a little unfair to fault this aspect of the book, but it seems like a lot of Neil Young fans are really into certain periods or facets of his career at the expense of others in a way that Dylan fans don't seem quite to be. You have a lot of Neil Young fans that will listen to anything Crazy Horse has every recorded but can't stand Harvest, or who love a song like "Needle and the Damage Done" but can't stand "Fuckin' Up," and so on. Jimmy McDonough is definitely someone who prefers Neil Young at his noisiest and most obtuse, things like "Tonight's the Night" and "Will to Love." While I love that music too, his inability to appreciate Young's collaboration with Crosby, Stills & Nash, the Harvest album, and a number of other cornerstones of his career works to the detriment of Shakey's overall quality. McDonough also seems to privilege certain aspects of Young's career and private life, such as his working relationship with Crazy Horse or his romantic entanglements with Carrie Snodgress, to the detriment of others, such as his first marriage, which seem as if they could be equally significant were they given a comparable portion of the narritive. McDonough has certainly been able to capture Young's mercurial nature in a way that will probably not be equalled, but I can't help but feel disappointed in Shakey as a work of scholarship in comparison to rock biographies like Heylin's Behind the Shades Revisited or Cross's Heavier than Heaven. That being said, I started reading it for the chapters on Tonight's the Night, and those definitely did not leave me unsatisfied. This is a great introduction to the arc of Young's career, and contains a lot of very interesting information about some aspects of his recorded work that I am looking forward to investigating.

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