Here are some book reviews of Jimmy McDonough's long awaited biography of Neil Young titled "Shakey": Neil Young's Biography which was finally released in 2002. Weighing in at 786 pages, it is considered to be the definitive account of Neil's life and music.
The "authorized" biography's publication resulted in a lawsuit filed by none other than Neil himself. The lengthy publication delay and the surrounding controversy are just another chapter in the unpredictability of Neil.
In an article on Slate, Marc Weingarten writes on the "Shakey" lawsuit:
"Shakey is a curious hybrid: part hagiography, part laundry list of perfidy. As the book makes abundantly clear, Young has always been at war with his own impulses. He's a ferociously ambitious artist who lives capriciously. He started out as a frail, polio-stricken fan of Little Richard and the Shadows' Hank Marvin living in a rural Canadian outpost where American records were hard to come by. His father was a popular journalist, his mother a tough-love matriarch. They divorced, and Young drifted into bands, but with his own interests at heart: He insisted that his first professional band, the Squires, rename itself 'Neil Young and the Squires' when they started gigging."
From Guardian Unlimited article by Adam Sweeting with Young commenting on the Shakey biography:
Young:"I think Jimmy McDonough is a great writer and that's why I asked him to do it. I didn't want some watered-down flowery version of who I am - that's nothing but a self-serving piece of shit. But rather than let anything happen officially, I should have just let people do whatever they wanted to do. That was a mistake, but I'll live with it. I fought it coming out because I wanted it delayed until after my daughter turned 18, and I managed to delay it for a couple of years, so I did OK.' "
"It's not an affair for the casual Young fan; if you don't have at least eight albums (Decade doesn't count), I wouldn't bother. Only a real Rustie will feel the emotional peaks of the book: reaching for the Kleenex when original Crazy Horse guitarist Danny Whitten loses to the big H, laughing at the intricacies of David Geffen's lawsuit declaring Neil wasn't making 'Neil Young music,' humming along as McDonough describes the recording of obscurities like 'Ambulance Blues.' Newbies should stick to the free All Music Guide bio, which makes me head-scratch and wonder why this book has been getting the national recognition it has. Are exciting biographies so few and far between that la media nationale has to talk up one about a rocker with big chops whose voice 50% of the population equates with the old fingernail/chalkboard act?"
"Maybe it's just that the book taps into America's collective loathing of CSN, who are portrayed here as nothing short of the windbags we always knew they were. Graham Nash comes off the best of the trio, but still a bit of a poncy hack. David Crosby goes from being the self-proclaimed 'King of the Hippies' and wearing a cape around L.A. to Hepatitis C, narcotic dependence, and an increasingly walrus-like appearance. Stephen Stills snorts away his talent with an Antarctic amount of coke, to the point of dressing like a soldier and reminiscing about false Vietnam memories. Sadly, the book's narrative cuts out in 1999, leaving unanswered why Neil recently chose to rejoin this traveling fat farm for an aggravating duo of tours and a worthless new album."
From Pittsburgh, PA Post-Gazette Shakey review "Portrait reveals Neil Young as a brilliant musician who holds fast to his antisocial ways" on June 04, 2002 by Scott Mervis:
"At the outset of this authorized biography, Neil Young refers to himself as a 'B student' of Bob Dylan. One of the things Young aced in Dylan's class -- I'd bump him up to an A-, by the way -- is how to harvest an air of mystery."
"To those who have watched him over the years, Young comes off as a mastermind of unpredictability. But sometimes he can appear less integrated and more genuinely divided against himself than people think. The utopian-anarchic ''schizophrenia'' (Young's word) of his music reveals both a Spontaneous Neil and a Control-Freak Neil, each real and each peering over the other's shoulder, each trying to correct the other's misjudgments, each averting the other from perceived disaster.
There is no better example of this than the recent misadventures of Young's authorized biographer. After signing a contract with both Young and Random House, Jimmy McDonough, a journalist, spent eight years writing, researching and interviewing more than 300 people, all with Young's cooperation. But when McDonough delivered a manuscript at the end of 1998, Young suddenly -- according to the publisher -- sabotaged'' the book by withholding his approval of it, and Random House dropped the biography. "
"Shakey" was a nickname Neil Young's pals gave him after they watched some home movies he had made. "His camera was none too steady," says Jimmy McDonough, who used the nickname as the title of his new biography of the rock and roll icon. "If you know the cat," he tells Scott Simon for Weekend Edition Saturday, "the nickname fits nothing is too solid about the guy."
Young's enigmatic, mercurial and sometimes-destructive nature is the main theme of this book of more than 800 pages. "Whatever happens around the guy, you can't count on it continuing," McDonough says.
"In the strong first part of the book, writing about Young from his birth in 1945 until the time he released his harrowing Tonight's The Night in 1975, McDonough gets as close as anybody can to deconstructing a man and a musician that even his closest compadres haven't been able to figure out. But in covering the years after 1975, McDonough and his experiences with Young come to the fore. That flaw is what turns "Shakey" from a possibly definitive music biography, like Peter Guralnick's two-volume Elvis series, into merely a decent read."
"Now that I've read Shakey, Jim McDonough's 785-page biography of Neil Young (Random House), I've come to realize that dropping interviews - or tours or bands or women - is just part of the Neil mystique. McDonough spent a decade writing his semi-authorized tome, the first three years just trying to get Young to talk.
Even then it was like meeting Brando's Kurtz in a cave at the end of Apocalypse Now. McDonough, 42, has taken the trip upriver for every journalist who ever had a notion to interview Neil, and after reading the exhaustive results, I can only say better him than me."
"You don't need to read Jimmy McDonough's 'Shakey' to understand why Neil Young is important. All you have to do is listen to the music, and feel. Who else communicates what it's like to be lonely, or to suffer a broken heart, as powerfully as Neil Young in one of his sad songs? Who else can make electric guitar sound so raw, so brutal, so ruthless?
When we listen to Young's music we hear his vulnerability. We hear a man who is fragile and sensitive. We also hear a man who admits that he's blown it, again and again. Who else would record a song called 'Fuckin' Up'?
Young's music is about more than that, of course. Over the years, hundreds of thousands of words have been written about him and his songs. But for me, Young's music is mostly about that ache, that pain you feel when love is gone, when you're all alone, when you're down and it all seems quite hopeless. 'Think I'll pack it in and buy a pick-up/ Take it down to L.A.,' 'Out on the Weekend' begins. Next verse he sings, 'The woman I'm thinkin' of, she loved me all up/ But I'm so down today....' We all know that feeling. "
"In Neil Young's biography, 'Shakey,' we learn a lot about its author, Jimmy McDonough. We learn that McDonough, in an Indianapolis head shop, stared 'forever' at the cover of Young's album Zuma on the day of its release in 1975. We learn that after seeing Young perform 'Like a Hurricane' on a TV special in 1977 — 'I'll tell ya, it looked real' — McDonough and a girl 'I was obsessed with' were inspired to hop in a 1976 Grand Prix and '[blast] down the highway, headed for a cheap motel.' We learn how McDonough wormed his way into the Neil Young 'circus' by telling the iconoclastic rocker, 'Some asshole's gonna write a book about ya. It might as well be me.' And we witness Young hanging up the phone on McDonough when the author harangues him, soon after Kurt Cobain's 1994 suicide, about the 'phony dumb shit' TV appearances and interviews Young had been doing, only to be called back 10 minutes later and invited to a train collector's convention in York, Pa."
Neil Young Bibliography: "At one point, wrangling over a detail with Young’s representative Irwin Spiegal Osher, McDonough admits he cried, “Go ahead! Do it — and I’ll blow my goddamn brains out all over your cheap fucking white shoes.”"