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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Judgement Not To Pre-Judge "Waging Heavy Peace"

In yet another case of deja vu all over again, it seems that there's a rush to judgement on "Waging Heavy Peace", Neil Yong's upcoming autobiography.

Just weeks ago -- before anyone had even heard a single note -- folks were taking shots at "Americana" for all sorts of reasons which led us to The Judgement Not To Pre-Judge "Americana".

Admittedly, we're finding this debate about a 3-5 page excerpt to be well... perplexing, but not so surprising.

As BIGCHIEF commented: "I think it's a little premature to judge a 416 page book by a 2 1/2 page snippet ... I mean, that's not unlike dropping a needle on a LP for three seconds and saying "this thing sucks"".

So here's a comment of the moment from Waging Heavy Peace: Excerpt, Patti Smith Will Interview Neil Young:
I haven't read the excerpt, and may not. I'll probably wait for the book.

As for "no one's comments", he's certainly entitled to them, and is very eloquent in stating them. If the book is terribly written, I'm not surprised; Neil is a songwriter and musician, and from what I've gleaned from following him for 40-odd years, has never passed himself off as a writer of prose.

Also, sometimes in interviews he can come off sounding a little...simplistic. I by no means mean he is simple, some people just speak simply. If my observation is true, who cares? I don't buy his records in the hope of reading, or watching, or listening to, an interview. It's all about the music.

The problem with artists of Neil's stature is, sometimes we have exceedingly high opinions and expectations of their every move, defending them at every turn. I guess I'm what you'd call a Neil "fanatic", yet I am unafraid to admit that he's made some shitty records; hell, in all these years the law of averages practically dictates that he would, as has Dylan, and many others. Who cares?

I think the book will be fascinating, whether it's badly written or not. But, goddamn people, quit being so snarky (whether you think "no one" is an asshole or not) in defending the as-yet unread book by a rock star. There are many bigger fish to fry if you want to get riled up (current events, anyone?). Fuck me (and, given the comments by some of you, I'm sure you'll toss that back to me, with a different meaning).

Peace out.

Peace out, indeed.

As for us? We can't wait to hear what Patti Smith has to say on all of this when she discusses at the Book Expo event next month.

More on the what seems to be the appropriately titled book "Waging Heavy Peace".

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At 5/23/2012 09:06:00 PM, Blogger Pinto(or Flounder) said...

That was well written, but I think in the rush to worship at the altar of Neil, a few points are being missed.

Bigchief, who writes extensively and very well about Neil's music, is simply wrong when he compares analysis of a few pages of a written work to dropping a needle in the middle of a recording. It is entirely possible, even likely, that there will be passages in a Neil Young record that will be poorly written and/or recorded. It is also a historic fact that the artist has recorded entire albums that were poorly written and/or recorded. (Let's digress for a minute and recall a couple years ago when a shitstorm was raised on this site when a very skilled and prescient writer opined that Fork in the Road and other post-Greendale works were lacking in some of the traits that characterized the artist's earlier masterpieces, those traits namely being melody and quality of lyrics. He went on to gently suggest that an artistic renewal might be the result of Neil's following the examples of Dylan, Springsteen, etc. and recording an album of cover material that had inspired him as a young artist. The flaming reached nuclear proportions - go back and reread the threads if you doubt me - yet, lo and behold - we stand on the threshold of Americana a(gasp) album of cover material that inspired the young artist) But we forgive the passages/albums of mediocre material because the artist has proven himself a thousand times over to be a genius OF MUSIC.... but not, obviously, of prose. And yes, it is possible to make a judgment about the quality of a piece of written material from a multi-page sample. It is unlikely that the prose will suddenly develop wings, that imagery and emotions will emerge and that the narrative will begin to move in a way that actually makes sense.

I don't care if anyone likes the excerpt or not. Like has nothing to do with it. For those who truly love the artist, they (we) owe it to him to tell him when he's not wearing any clothes. He can certainly publish this thing as written and, as he did throughout the eighties, he can shrug off the inevitable firestorm of criticism. But he also still has time to take a hard look at the work, as he has done so many times before with his music, and decide that it is unworthy of his talent and legacy. His albums did not spring into life without the help of people like Briggs and Crazy Horse and there is no reason why the volume that's going to the marketplace labelled as his story of his life shouldn't be given assistance from someone who is more skilled in shaping thoughts into a coherent, involving narrative. His life and talent demands no less.

At 5/24/2012 02:46:00 AM, Blogger peter d. said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 5/24/2012 02:47:00 AM, Blogger peter d. said...

I would like to say that it's a breath of fresh air that Neil has not tried to write like 'Chronicles' or hired any ghostwriter or whatever, but just put his thoughts to mind.

Haven't been able to read the excerpt (can anybody help us not US citizens out please??? - and preferably not through Facebook...) but it all sounds to me like genuine Neil.

I like Neil.

At 5/24/2012 03:11:00 AM, Blogger no one said...

Great comment. Let's restate it a little bit ... I, who have not read the passage in question, think it's wonderful that Neil Young has not been guilty of attempting to write in an artistically pleasing manner but has instead chosen to throw his thoughts at the page randomly without regard to style or nuance or readability. You're going to find a lot of friends here, buddy. Too bad none of you will be able to tell what the other is talking about. (Clue for the clueless -this means you, Matthew- this comment is tongue in cheek.) You can look up the meaning of "tongue in cheek" on Google.

At 5/24/2012 04:15:00 AM, Blogger peter d. said...

@no one
If you would be so kind to provide me with the excerpt, I can answer you more specific. You need not be so sharp, the 'weight' of my comment relates to my statement that I haven't read it yet.

I hear somebody has posted it on Facebook. That doesn't work for me, don't know why. I do not know if it is possibe to copy and paste, to put it on Picasa or something like that. I would very much like to read it.

At 5/24/2012 07:51:00 AM, Blogger no one said...

Sorry, Peter. Mostly just irritated by the number of posters who are sure that this is a work of genius but haven't yet read it. You should be able to download a free version of the Kindle software and then the link in the original post will lead you to the preview volume that includes the Neil excerpt.

At 5/24/2012 07:54:00 AM, Blogger peter d. said...

That doesn't work for non-US residents. There just is no button 'download'. It says 'not available'.

At 5/24/2012 08:59:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Remember that is what Truman Capote said about Jack Kerouac's work: "That's not writing, that's typing." But I'm sure "no one" knew that.

At 5/24/2012 09:01:00 AM, Blogger Dan1 said...

Neil doesn't need Americana to 'rebound' ... Le Noise, produced without Briggs or CH, is a timeless classic and holds up to the highest standards ... those that want to claim Neil's work has somehow diminished are missing the regular ebbs and flows as they always have been ... I don't love every album, I didn't even buy FITR but Neil's output has been overall no less than fabulous over the past years, not to mention epic live performances.

In terms of the book if its not Shakespearean in its prose I'll survive, I'm curious 1) to hear an account from the man himself, 2) because he's experimenting with a new medium, 3) because his insights are typically thoughtful and quite novel.

At 5/24/2012 09:35:00 AM, Blogger Jonathan said...

Amen there Dan. For crying out loud - 'Silver & Gold' - 'Greendale - 'Prairie Wind' - 'Chrome Dreams II' - 'Le Noise' - with the exception of FITR he's been delivering Grade A albums in a very consistant manner for a legend his age. (I tried to like FITR but it's not happening & that's ok.)

By the time we all get to finally read this book, chances are Neil will have moved on to the next project. In fact, he already has...

At 5/24/2012 09:51:00 AM, Blogger peter d. said...

I once saw an interview with Neil in which he tells other musicians reactions to his teaming up with Crazy Horse... Some took him aside and told him quietly 'What are you doing man, these guys can't PLAY!'
To which Neil's answer was something like 'waddaya mean they can't play, they can't play like YOU'.

Still curious to read the excerpt (... somebody???) but I'm pretty sure it will be a nice read. It most surely won't measure up to all kinds of standards, but, in Neil's case, he himself doesn't even meet up to any regular standard. He's made a living out of it!
I mean, the man can't sing, can't play fast or technically 'right', doesn't know his scales. Hell, I've even heard him play the wrong notes while soloing!

So what in the hell do we expect from such a guy? I think we should be thankful that he even knows the alphabet.

At 5/24/2012 10:34:00 AM, Blogger peter d. said...

From an interview with Jimmy McDonough, winter 1989 (about the sessions following the Catalyst shows in 1984):

"Those songs live were probably the last great thing I did with Crazy Horse," says Young, who took the band to New York to record. The addition of a couple of horn players - "real musicians," as Young calls them - destroyed the session. "I can always tell when a real musician is around Crazy Horse, because a real musician always says, 'What the fuck do you play with those guys for? I can play that good. Anybody can play that good.'

We knew we weren't any good. We knew none of us can really play. Fuck, we'd get it in the first take every time and it was never right - but we would never do it any better. We're fuckin' up, we're makin' mistakes, but what happens is we get so into the music it sounds great.

But when a real musician enters that, it fucks it all up. It made everybody conscious that they were dumb players. The sessions sucked. It ended up a big fuckin' bum-out because we had never failed so completely to get anything. Crazy Horse didn't do anything for a long time after that."

At 5/24/2012 10:36:00 AM, Blogger SONY said...

you're (we're) all just pissin' in the wind.

6/5/12 can't come fast enough

At 5/24/2012 11:19:00 AM, Blogger Raincheck said...

I read the excerpt, but I have been hesitant to post on it. Why?

1) It is a pretty short excerpt of a long book.

2) I don't know where these passages fit in the context of the book.

3) I was really unimpressed with it and don't want to seem to be jumping on the book when I am just commenting on an excerpt.

My single biggest worry was that, frankly, it wasn't very clearly written. It seemed to need one more set of revisions to clean it up. Maybe that will happen. Maybe not. And maybe I will love the book anyway.

As for the content, it may have chosen simply because it included CSNY, and the publisher thought that would help.

It seemed odd to me that Neil's comment on the 1969 CSN album should be imbedded in a 1990s CSNY digression in a section which was really about how often he cleans his toy train showcase. But maybe that is a glimpse into Neil's mind.

I still look forward to it. I love Neil's music and his version of his story is bound to hold plenty of insight.

At 5/24/2012 02:23:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I find the excerpt fascinating. It feels very pure to me, and that's what I want from Neil. Why have it heavily edited, except for grammar, or ghostwritten when there are many books already written about Neil? Here is the chance to read something written BY him, in his own voice. I love his voice.
I'm sure this will be a somewhat untidy affair. Well has anyone listened to his albums or taken a look at Neil in the past forty years? Untidy springs to mind. And that's perfectly okay. Perfect.

At 5/24/2012 05:06:00 PM, Blogger joelookout said...

Dear folks - you all look like those politicians who start commenting the exit poll a minutes after the ballots are closed when probably at the end of the day the 'real' results are totally different!

At 5/24/2012 05:32:00 PM, Blogger Arthur said...

"....So all you critics sit alone.
You're no better then me for what you've shown." -NY

Yep. Neil's been dealing with this for a LONG time now.

But "airing out" individual opinions is what makes this place interesting. There's real passion in a lot of what is said here.

Have you ever seen the English House of Lords go at it on TV? Man, those people really hammer each other! But it's constructive criticism, and that, so far, is what I see here, for the most part.

Looking forward to reading the book and blasting The Horse in my "WESTISBESTOFALIA" Vanagon this summer!
After all, The Road Is A Song..too
And NY&CH really take me out there!
Lookin' for Americana!

Smoke 'em if ya got 'em!

At 5/25/2012 12:08:00 PM, Blogger no one said...

Really? Do you really think those "untidy" records you love so much came into existence on their own, that they emerged from Neil 's artistic womb naked and unadorned? Do the names David Briggs and Niko Bolas mean anything to you?(not sure on the last spelling). Some brilliant critic above just stated that Le Noise, produced without Briggs or CH is a timeless classic. HE NAMED THE ALBUM AFTER THE PRODUCER. (Wow, look at me, going all Shittypants with my caps lock on.)
There is this train of thought running rampant here that somehow Neil Young, working in an unfamiliar artistic medium, is better off producing a piece of crap than enlisting the aid of a professional (producer, co-author, whatever you want to call it) to write something that is A) readable and B) possessed of artistic merit. Those of us who have actually been paid to put words on paper deal with this attitude all the time - the belief that because one is physically capable of producing words and sentences that, therefore, one can "write." The answer, in almost every case is, " No. You can't."

At 5/25/2012 12:57:00 PM, Blogger Matthew L. said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 5/25/2012 01:04:00 PM, Blogger Matthew L. said...

See? Raincheck was able to deliver a viable criticism without acting like a total gasbag about it, or condemning others for disagreeing.

I suggest people who want to criticize things look to Raincheck's comment for an example of how to constructively employ ones' negative feelings on something.

At 5/25/2012 01:15:00 PM, Blogger Matthew L. said...

Nobody is pre-heralding Neil's book as an unmitigated work of genius. To suggest that that is the case is an exercise in, basically, just making stuff up for the sake of argument.

Also, @ Pinto - your points are well taken, but I disagree overall.

Now, I DON'T disagree with the validity of your opinion, I never have.

I do disagree with your (and no one's) assertions that it is somehow a universal "FACT" that things have been "poorly written" and or recorded.

It is not a FACT. It is an opinion, which you are 100% entitled to.

It is quite possible for someone to glean brilliance where perhaps you don't see it.

Which is fine. One man's garbage is another man's treasure.

I happen to love Fork in the Road. I think it's quite well-written, and even approaching a certain innovative genius in places that a lot of other people miss.

Does this make me wrong, and you right?

No, it just makes your opinion different than mine.

That doesn't make you right and everyone else a blind fanatic.

Your feelings are valid, but not universally true.

The same thing applies to criticism of the 3 page excerpt from Waging Heavy Peace.

Some people think Neil's ramblings constitute good writing, others don't.

Nobody's wrong. Get it?

At 5/25/2012 01:39:00 PM, Blogger Matthew L. said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 5/25/2012 03:44:00 PM, Blogger Matthew L. said...

As an interesting example of viewing art through a different subjective, though equally valid, lens, I'd like to offer up my assessment of LeNoise vs. my appreciation for FITR.

This may seem divergent, but just bear with me. It comes back around:

I don't think Le Noise is better than FITR. In fact, I don't altogether enjoy Le Noise as a whole, while I can quite happily rock out to FITR from start to finish.

That isn't to say that Le Noise isn't without its moments of glory, or that I don't recognize its artistic merit.

My problem with it is that Lanois' spaced out innovations, while quite artistically and conceptually captivating and interesting (and praise-worthy as an attempt to create in an inventive paradigm), detract from the experience of the electric tracks as a whole for me. Call me old fashioned, but I'd much prefer the aesthetic of the Horse or Neil's Electric Band to Lanois' fractured clouds of accompaniment.

I do think that Lanois' does a beautiful job with the acoustic tracks, though, and PVB is a great song in terms of writing AND production, which combine to make it Neil's best acoustic track in a LONG time.

That said, while again I do appreciate the challenging artistic and conceptual innovations for what they are, and I think it's awesome that Neil and Daniel created this fascinating project, to be honest I can't get through 2 or 3 electric tracks without turning it off. After a couple of songs the novelty of the whole fractured sound cascade wears off and it starts to grate on me.

FITR, on the other hand, has a rich sonic quality that I find pleasing, and I love Neil's tongue-in-cheek songwriting and social critiques. I never get bored with the album, which I find alternately funny, infuriating, heartfelt, silly-yet-serious, and just highly emotive. Also, some of the arrangements (Cough up the Bucks and When Worlds Collide are so happily off-kilter in a way that really works for me) are strange and fun, and the title track is extremely infectious.

Now, having diverged from the topic of the book excerpt, I'd like to relate this all back to the topic at hand by putting forth the following questions:

Am I violating some kind of universal rule about what makes music or art "good" or "bad" by saying that I think FITR is a better album than Le Noise?

Is my subjective view of what constitutes good or bad art any less valid because it doesn't reflect what appears to be a general consensus among other people?

Or is beauty really in the eye of the beholder?

Can art be judged as a matter of fact on its adherence to established "technique" or commonly-held institutional ideas about methodology as either UNIVERSALLY and OBJECTIVELY good or bad?

My answer is, absolutely not.

In fact, Neil Young's immense library of creative output generally DEMANDS that one discard established principles and rules in order to appreciate what he does.

Just take a look at the sloppy, detuned insanity of Tonight's the Night. That album takes every established or commonly accepted "rule" about what constitutes "good" music and breaks them over its knee with such artistic abandon and irreverence that if we all agreed with those narrow precepts, it would be universally hated.

But it's not - it's considered by many to be among the greatest musical achievements of its day.

It's living proof that art can only be judged on a level of subjective reasoning. If good art, to you, has to adhere to institutional or social standards of technique or production, then that is only your subjective (and I would say, unfortunately narrow) point-of-view.

And THAT is the only universal fact in play here.

At 5/26/2012 10:37:00 AM, Blogger Matthew L. said...

Raincheck said:

"It seemed odd to me that Neil's comment on the 1969 CSN album should be imbedded in a 1990s CSNY digression in a section which was really about how often he cleans his toy train showcase. But maybe that is a glimpse into Neil's mind."

This is what I get out of it, too. It's written in the nonlinear processes of Neil's psychological meanderings - which I think is probably reflective of how most people think - in tangential interrelations. One thought opens a window to another, which opens a window to another as you travel deeper and deeper into the mind.

I hope the whole book is filled with that kind of nonlinear traveling. While it might not appeal to some, it will certainly appeal to me, as I am happy to have a clear, unsculpted window into Neil's mental processes.

At 5/26/2012 11:01:00 AM, Blogger Thrasher Wheat said...

@Matthew - "how most people think - in tangential interrelations"

Well put. Probably pretty accurately captures Neil's thinking... or least as well as anything else anyone has ever come up with.



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