Shakey: Neil Young’s Biography, by Jimmy McDonough

by Derwood Hunsdale-Talbot on August 5, 2009

shakey-neil-young-biographyNo one really expects jazz musicians to make big money. Same with all but a handful of top classical players. But there’s a reason for the term “rock star,” and it has a lot to do with money…lots and lots of money.

Art? Not so much.

That’s undoubtedly why David Geffen, today one of the richest men in Hollywood, who made his first fortune in the early Seventies as a rock music promoter, once sued Neil Young for not making “commercial” enough music.

But Neil Young is a genuine artist. Looking at his career it’s clear that he’s among a handful (such Joni Mitchell, another Geffen-guided star, and Bob Dylan) of the major names that first became famous in the sixties and seventies to have steered their creativity exclusively (or nearly so) in directions that weren’t necessarily on the commercial charts (in any sense).

Although Shakey (one of Young’s nicknames) is obviously written by a fan, it remains a very informative and interesting bio of one of rock’s most enduring artists. The author does make often-successful attempts to explore the “dark side” of Young–the narcissism, the avoidance of confrontation, the “coldness” (as Graham Nash describes it). The people made to suffer in the wake of Young’s decisions do get some voice, but the author often tries to explain the suffering as an inevitable consequence of Young’s tireless pursuit of artistic adventure. It’s this excess of explanation that prevents this book from being much more than just a good history.

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