Neil Young Biographer
Author of "Shakey"
Neil Young News
Jimmy McDonough is the author of the acclaimed book "Shakey: A Neil Young Biography". The chronicle of writing "Shakey" turned out to be nearly as fascinating as the subject itself. Weighing in at over 700 pages, the biography -- while flawed -- is considered to be one of the most definitive rock and roll biographies ever written. McDonough spent eight years writing the book and interviewed more than 300 of Neil's associates.
In an interview on National Public Radio, Jimmy McDonough commented on the nickname "Shakey" as the title of his biography on the rock and roll icon Neil Young:
Jimmy McDonough's credentials to profile Young are unarguably impressive. In a L.A. Weekly article by Jonny Whiteside, McDonough's music writing career is put into perspective:
McDonough’s writing is tough, probing, full of street-hustler style, yet hits with a cerebral impact. He was ready for a challenge, and Young magnanimously offered him a free hand, typical of the singer’s renowned image as an unfettered, purely creative force: He consented to sit for five consecutive days of interviews and would have no approval over McDonough’s work, save for passages dealing with specific members of his immediate family. With this assurance, McDonough committed himself to “devote his exclusive services and full time” to the book, and a lucrative deal was struck with Random House in August 1991; the contract was a $350,000 deal; the initial advance topped $100,000, with $85,000 going to McDonough and $20,000 to Young. McDonough relocated to the West Coast in 1991 to begin research."
While the project ended in a $1.8-million lawsuit for fraud, the book was eventually published. In the lawsuit McDonough v. Young (BC 229130) filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court in May 2000, it stated:
"In December 1998, however, Young revealed himself to be a contradiction in terms, using the wealth and power he had accumulated from his musical and business success to squelch publication of the biography. Unilaterally and without contacting McDonough, Young, through his handlers, repudiated his agreements with McDonough and with Random House, Inc. Young did so without ever stating a single specific objection to any material in the biography. But for Young's actions, Random House, Inc., would have published the biography."
"The loss of almost a decade of Jimmy McDonough's creative life has been devastating to him. The lawsuit alleges that it is the final result of Young's actions."
In an article on Slate, Marc Weingarten writes on the "Shakey" lawsuit:
Yet, as McDonough enumerates in painstaking detail, Young the rock star wields control obsessively, and that, more than anything else, may explain why he tried to spike the book. This is a man who will ruthlessly punish those who don't bend to his will. Drummer Kenny Buttrey tells McDonough that, during one tour in the early '70s, Young made him play so hard, with oversized sticks — vengeance, apparently, for an exorbitant salary request — that a pool of blood began to amass on his snare. Young fired him shortly thereafter. There are lots of anecdotes like that in Shakey, and despite Young's well-known rep for heartlessness, they're chilling to read."
McDonough seems to have finally moved on from what became the most challenging writing assignment of his career and commented on the challenges of interviewing Neil and the publishing lawsuit ordeal:
(More of Denver Gazette (July 2003) interview on Bad News Beat.)
From Guardian Unlimited article by Adam Sweeting with Young commenting on the Shakey biography:
From McDonough's interview with Neil in the Village Voice (Winter 1989) which is where Jimmy and Neil first meet to discuss writing the liner notes for the infamous, and still unreleased, Archives Box Set:
I had plenty to think about in the limo. To me, Neil Young is just Jerry Lee Lewis with longer hair. Fuck 'Sugar Mountain' - Young's music is only good when he's crazy. His best records are his most obsessed - Tonight's The Night, Zuma, or On The Beach. While Young still seems crazy in the '80s, the records he made were straitjacketed by Young's insistence on playing characters: first he was a techno-rocker, then a rockabilly hipster, then a country conservative. He did everything but make music about Neil Young. And all the great material that he was playing live never made it to vinyl. "
Jimmy McDonough comments on the Greendale tour in the Denver Gazette (July 2003):
"He's touring with, like, 50 people - dancers, family members - and they act out the songs behind Crazy Horse, playing them, and mime the words in a style you haven't seen since the silent era. I gotta tell you man . . . wow. He's definitely done something original again.
"You gotta admire the cojones on the guy. He goes out in front of a huge audience and plays 'em an entire album they ain't heard, with a bunch of non-actors emoting it out, and cardboard sets. It's just really Neil, for better or for worse.
"He's definitely following his muse . . . right off a cliff. It just blew the back of my head off. I don't know where he goes from here."
Also, for more on Jimmy McDonough, see the biography book "Shakey" page.
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