Where Neil Young’s first memoir concentrated on the music side – well, suggesting there was anything resembling concentration is a stretch of course – this second volume is more a standalone, served as love-letter to the cars in his life. Neil Young would buy himself a car – an old clunker usually, nothing too expensive – as a reward for finishing an album or project. He bought and stored loads of cars – too many to count – some of them died or were moved on, some are gathering dust. He considered them artworks – and now they’re the triggers for other stories about his life and music.
Special Deluxe is awkward – just as many Neil Young stories or albums can be awkward to all but the absolutely dedicated. There are too many car stories here for most Neil Young fans, and yet it’s too meandering and unfocussed for most car-nuts. The ‘car’ aspect of the book is more in that triggering notion, each car that is mentioned is presented in water-colour by Young – adding amateur artist to his list of side-line hobbies. And then sometimes we only get a few lines about the car before we’re off learning about Neil writing the lyrics to Like A Hurricane in a particular car, watching a storm gather, spending an hour or so after, tinkering around trying to find the right chords and mood for the words he tossed off while parked up in a favourite car of the time.
This of course is gold for Young fans – our hero is enigmatic as ever, problematic as ever, this stoned-over memoir is both an easy read and a bit of a waste of time. It’s a page-turner in that it’s compelling while you’re reading it but you really pick up next to nothing – outside of one or two gems about the music.
That’s how Young wants it – and, funnily enough, it’s how the fans want it too – mostly. We know by now that the whim Young is following is always his own.
Towards the end of the book – and any sort of timeline is only ever partially observed, mostly pissed all over as is his way – we find out that Young’s latest cause, pushing renewable fuel sources, has forced him to realise that his gas-guzzlers are a no-no. His next plan is to sell off his collection – and we get an interesting story, arriving far too late in the book, about converting one of the big old lugs to a renewable energy source to show that it can be done, and the road-trip to support that story.
Again, this sort of story is probably not that interesting to all but the faithful – who know the story already from its press-coverage at the time – and yet for car enthusiasts and/or green energy enthusiasts there’s just not enough structure in the book to support their needs.
You get what you’re given with Young though – and you either need to celebrate that or follow the man’s advice and Walk On.
I liked Special Deluxe while I was reading it – it’s endlessly fascinating to me wondering what makes Young tick and how he’s managed to put out the amount of work he has on his terms in his way. It’s inspiring.
But this is no keeper, no must-read. It’s a shocking mess for the most part. But of course I can say that having ticked it off the list. It’s a bit like his shittiest albums – I still own them, still visit them now and then too.