Neil Young Firmly in the Driver's Seat on Special Deluxe

Special Deluxe: A Memoir of Life & Cars By Neil Young Blue Rider Press, 384 pp., $32.

Fans of Canada's Greatest Musical Export were happy to hear that he would be delivering a second, meaty memoir just two years after the well-received Waging Heavy Peace. Take that, Dylan! We've been waiting over a decade for the promised follow-up to the slim Chronicles, Vol. 1.

However, the news that Young's second volume would be recollections of the noted gearhead's large collection of cars he has owned, did not seem so enticing. Fortunately the book's 40 chapters, each illustrated with Young's own hand-colored vehicle drawings, use cars and his adventures with and in them simply as a jumping off-point. He weaves tales of his music, life, and famed collaborators within.

Readers learn more about Young's early career; times with Buffalo Springfield; Crosby, Stills & Nash; Crazy Horse; and his solo wanderings, interspersed with rhapsodic waxings about, say, a 1947 Buick Roadmaster Estate Wagon, a 1951 Willys Jeepster, 1978 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz, and 1985 Ford Econoline van.

Special chapters are given to cars that have loomed larged in Young's mythology, including the hearses "Mort" (which inspired the tune "Long May You Run") and a later one that Stephen Stills famously spotted on an L.A. street and directly led to the formation of the Springfield.

Interestingly, it's that band which Young has the most wistful regrets about, from his admittedly indecisive and frustrating on again-off again appearance in the lineup (he muses how the guys even put up with him), to his health issues onstage (epileptic and nervous seizures), to the fact that the band on record never came near matching their power as a live unit.

Later, the alternative-energy acolyte Young writes passionately about his all-consuming projects to reduce auto carbon emissions to convert two classic cars from running on fossil fuels to more earth-friendly electric and biodiesel power: the "LincVolt" (which famously burned in a freak accident) and, later, "Miss Pegi."

Story continues on the next page.

The latter was named for Young's wife of many decades, who makes frequent appearances in the book and whom he calls his "soul mate." That Young recently filed for divorce to end the marriage and seems to currently be keeping company with actress/activist Daryl Hannah (who also shows up in the narrative, albeit platonically) adds an odd twist to events that happened between the book's completion and publication date.

Throughout, all of it is written utterly in Young's own distinctive voice: dry wit, short sentences, and sharp observations.

More focused on reminisces involving family and friends than Waging Heavy Peace, Young's latest is nonetheless a wonderful companion volume with its own charm and warm regaling of stories. And it purrs along just like one of the author's prized restored engines.


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