Memoirs about the famous written by family members usually fall into one of two categories: hero-worship hagiography or score-settling axe job. Astrid Young’s reflections on sibling Neil, though, creates an entirely new genre: A Famous Relative book…without much of the famous relative.
That’s right. Because despite the fact that the front cover features a huge honking photo of Neil (he’s on the back as well) as the selling point, there’s shockingly precious little about the author’s brother on the pages inside. Actually, Neil is Astrid’s half-brother, as they shared a father [noted Canadian journalist and commentator Scott Young] but not a mother. And since sis is about 16 years Neil’s junior and grew up in a completely different household, those hoping for anecdotes about a teenage Shakey bent over his guitar working out lyrics (“Down by the river…I smacked my baby? No, I need something stronger…”) will be sorely disappointed.
“As I write this book,” Astrid offers early on. “I’m hoping to enlighten myself as to who this Neil Young guy is.” Not the most promising of openings, to be sure (shouldn’t she have figured this out a bit earlier?) - and one that is left unfulfilled. “He is truly rock and roll royalty, which makes me, I suppose, a princess of sorts,” she continues. Uh, yeah…
The book is mostly a chronicle of Astrid’s life leaving Canada behind to launch a show-biz career in California; the apex of which over the years is…singing background on a few of Neil’s tours and some album cuts.
She does cut one record singing lead for an ‘80s L.A.-based metal band (Sacred Child) and writes/stars in a low budget horror film, but she never gets to release her “real” record which she believes would have made her Tori Amos before their was Tori Amos. Through the pages she gets involved with booze…the wrong men…bad jobs…nervous breakdowns…but her story is never that, well, interesting (though it is funny when she relates the time Crazy Horse bassist Billy Talbot gives the then-11-year-old Astrid her first joint).
“The world doesn’t need another Neil Young biography,” Astrid writes – and that’s true, as it would be hard to top Jimmy McDonough’s masterful Shakey. Which, in typical quixotic fashion, Neil gave his cooperation and blessing to…then tried to stop publication.
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Being Young even comes a distant second in books written by Neil’s family members when considered against their daddy Scott’s Neil and Me. And while one can’t begrudge Astrid telling her own story in her own book after all, but the book is not exactly being marketed to those faithful Sacred Child fans.
When Neil does pop up in the narrative, he’s more like an icon at a distance as Astrid writes not really about any relationship or interaction with him, but about him: as employer, as host of Young family Thanksgivings, as a rock star. Though it all, there’s no lively or insightful passages about her and Neil as siblings, and perhaps tellingly, the book features not a single photo of the two of them together (the concert photo doesn’t count). Astrid seems to spend more time (and pages) with Neil’s producers, band, and even wife than big bro.
“It wasn’t a ‘normal’ brother-sister relationship,” Astrid – now a singer/songwriter/sommelier, writes. Yes, but in Being Young, the reader gets precious little hint of any relationship between Astrid and her famous brot…half-brother. And given whose mug is on the cover, that’s tantamount to false advertising. Not surprisingly, this makes Being Young is for Neil Young hardcores only. -- Bob Ruggiero
Being Young, by Astrid Young, Insomniac Press, 294 pp., $24.95