Magazine article The Spectator

'Special Deluxe', by Neil Young - Review

Magazine article The Spectator

'Special Deluxe', by Neil Young - Review

Article excerpt

Special Deluxe Neil Young

Penguin, pp.384, £25, ISBN: 9780241006894

Why do people talk about 'experimenting' with drugs when mostly they just mean that they're doing them? Perhaps, as I write this, I should experiment with a glass of beer.

In any case, one day back in the 1970s -- when rock stars were particularly prone to experimentation -- Bob Dylan dropped in on Neil Young, who played him a song detailing his extensive drug-related experiments (with grass, cocaine and amphetamines). At the end of the performance, Dylan remarked drily, 'That's honest.'

Young still laughs when he remembers this. Partly it was because Dylan, who had done some experimenting himself back in the day, knew where Young was coming from. Also, though, what makes it funny is that all artists are in the business of revelation. All expression, on some level, is self-expression. Yet most take some care about how much they reveal.

Which brings us to Special Deluxe , Young's second volume of memoirs, in which the weathered rocker reveals almost nothing about himself over the course of 384 pages. Is that honest? Is it even fair? He'd say yes, since this isn't really a memoir but, he insists, 'a book about cars': specifically the impressive number of classic automobiles he has owned over the decades.

Yet if Young were really fair and honest, he'd have to admit that no one would buy Special Delux e if it hadn't been written by the man who gave us songs such as 'A Man Needs a Maid' and 'Like a Hurricane'. The guy with the high whine of a voice, like a cross between a thin mosquito and his own electric guitar, which he can torment, against a pile-up of feedback, into siren wails. (Listening to 'Cowgirl in the Sand' recently, while leaving a shop, I was convinced I'd triggered the security alarm.)

To be fair, there are occasional moments of self-revelation, particularly in the first section, in which Young reflects on his childhood in Canada. His parents' marriage was fractious, which made him an anxious kid. His father hit his mother during a row. A few pages later, he describes the time, aged 11, he was in the backyard struggling to learn the ukelele, when his dad came out and showed him how. He hadn't even known he could play, and never saw him play again. Later, his parents divorced and Young recalls his mother sitting in the driveway in tears, smashing her records on the concrete one by one. …

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