I had a great weekend last week. I went to Cleveland and saw The Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame. It is hard to describe what a powerful and exhilarating experience this was. Two things made me want to go in the first place. Fist was I recently read the late Harvey Pekar’s chronicle of the history of Cleveland and found it fascinating. I also noticed that the Rock Hall was doing a major exhibit on The Grateful Dead that was ending in January. I wanted to see that, and when I saw Neil Young and Crazy Horse had a date in Cleveland in October I decided it was time to do it. The Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame is something that every one of you should put on your list of things to see. If you are a Dead Head make it quick before their exhibit ends. The Dead Exhibit had all kinds of stuff you’ve never seen; Jerry’s stage outfit from Monterey Pop, handwritten lyrics of the unreleased song “Equinox,” four of Jerry’s guitars, the original paintings used for the covers of Live Dead, “Tiger Rose” and the back cover of Workingman’s Dead, the poster from the first show of The Warlocks, the Ampex Reels of 2-14-70 - and on and on- two whole rooms dedicated to rare and unseen memorabilia. And the rest of the Hall was, for me, the experience of a lifetime. I’m not going to bother telling you about individual displays (well John Lennon’s Mellotron was pretty special), but after walking around for over 6 hours I felt like I did when I was first discovering Rock music. It was amazing to see all the stuff that means so much to me being presented in a completely respectful and adult fashion. From the I.M. Pei building, to the interactive displays, to the thoughtful movie presentations in the Hall’s three theatres to endless amounts of historic, cultural and fetishistic artifacts, it was one gigantic hug and thumbs–up to music fans. It was like the real world saying - “Yes, you were right, Rock and Roll IS here to stay, and here’s the proof.” I just can’t recommend it enough.
Next up, it was Neil Young and Crazy Horse. I was curious how the show would compare to his masterful set at Red Rocks in July. I also had just finished Neil’s autobiography Waging Heavy Peace so I was extra psyched-up to see him again. The show was musically very similar to Red Rocks, with a few new songs from his forthcoming album Psychedelic Pill (out October 30th) replaced with different new songs, but overall it was another feedback-drenched electric fest that largely revolved around the half-dozen or so new songs he was obviously excited to play. The big difference was the stage setting, which incorporated oversized props from the Rust Never Sleeps, Weld and Rusted Out Garage tours to lend the proceedings a surreal, childlike ambience. These new songs are some of his most autobiographical and heartfelt in a long while. The process of writing the book obviously had a big effect on him, and the album almost seems like a companion piece, or an illustration of the things he talks about in the book.
As for the book, I found it to be one of the most enjoyable rock books I’ve read. Not because it was a shocking tell-all or because it revealed so many facts about Neil Young I didn’t know, but rather because it is told in such a straight-forward and clear narrative voice. No doubt Neil wrote every word of this book. There are two major take-aways from Waging Heavy Peace; Neil Young is a very uncomplicated guy, and Neil Young is a very complicated guy. Yes - his actions are sometimes hard to understand, but through the clear prose and emotional directness of his writing, Neil takes the reader on a trip through his own hobbies, obsessions, regrets and joys (all of which are pretty direct) and draws a picture of a thoughtful, brilliant, stubborn, eccentric but ultimately normal guy. Early on he realized he was serving the music not vice-versa and this realization and his ability to hold on to that thought seems to explain his remarkable career. He is an ordinary guy with average guy desires who has forged an extraordinary life of above-average dreams. He has stuck to his guns and as a result he is the envy of almost every other musician. Every musician wishes they could dictate their own career the way Neil Young does, and almost none have matched his sustained genius at making records and mounting tours. He is singular in his achievement, yet he seems just like you or me when he talks about his joys and sorrows as a working man, a family man, a nostalgic man, bound and determined to move into the future with purpose. Like almost everything he has done in his career, Waging Heavy Peace does not fully represent Neil Young, or explain what makes him so magical, but it is one more piece of the puzzle to an endlessly fascinating man.Paul Epstein