Books

Neil Young's Heart of Gold and (Musical) Balls of Steel

Neil Young FAQ: Everything Left to Know About the Iconic and Mercurial Rocker By Glen Boyd 400 pp., $19.99, www.backbeatbooks.com

While the title certainly gives you an indication as to the personality and whims of Canada's greatest musical export (sorry, Triumph fans), author Boyd wastes no time in laying it out up front.

"Neil Young is probably the only major rock icon from his era who has steadfastly (and, quite stubbornly, many would add), followed his artistic muse without compromise, and often to his commercial detriment," he writes.

Folk? Country? Garage Rock? Synth? Rockabilly? Concept records about a teenaged eco-warrior and a disc consisting of nothing but guitar feedback? Recording with Crazy Horse and guys addicted to horse? Young has done it all.

And whether fans like one, several or all of the musical avenues Neil Young has gone down over the past 45 years, at least you can't say he's boring.

After all, this was a guy who got sued by his record company in the '80s (not exactly one of the artist's better periods...) for makings records that... didn't sound like Neil Young records. As well as making entire records that have yet to see the official light of day, including Homegrown, Chrome Dreams, Island in the Sun, and the even boozier, more chaotic version of Tonight's the Night.

Boyd's book is more of a musical and personal biography than most other in Backbeat's great FAQ series, though not a replacement for Jimmy McDonough's indispensable Shakey. That's the bio that Young himself participated in, then tried to sue to stop its publication.

His particular strength as a journalist is taking the reader through Young's various musical records and phases, no small task considering the dizzying number of genres he's dabbled in. Though I'm still waiting for Young's klezmer-influenced effort or Neil Young's Sings Sea Shanties. Or his and Crazy's Horse's cover of "God Save the Queen."

Oh, wait, he just released that...

Fans will also get the deep down nuggets of good info that the FAQ series regularly provides. All of it is a good prelude to the upcoming October release of Young's own autobiography, Waging Heavy Peace.

Now, if we can just stir him to finally release Time Fades Away on CD...


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Bob Ruggiero has been writing about music, books, visual arts and entertainment for the Houston Press since 1997, with an emphasis on classic rock. He used to have an incredible and luxurious mullet in college as well. He is the author of the band biography Slippin’ Out of Darkness: The Story of WAR.
Contact: Bob Ruggiero