Neil Young's Biography

By James Mcdonough
(Vintage Canada, Paperback, 9780679311935, 816pp.)

Publication Date: May 13, 2003

Other Editions of This Title: Paperback

Shop Local
Enter your zip code below to find indies closest to you.



Neil Young is one of rock and roll’s most important, influential and enigmatic figures, an intensely reticent artist who has granted no writer access to his inner sanctum -- until now. In Shakey, Jimmy McDonough tells the whole story of Young’s incredible life and career: from his childhood in Canada to the founding of folk-rock pioneers Buffalo Springfield; to the bleary conglomeration of Crazy Horse and simultaneous monstrous success of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young; to the depths of the Tonight’s the Night depravity and the strange changes of the Geffen years; and Young’s unprecedented nineties “comeback” with Ragged Glory and Harvest Moon. No detail is spared -- not the sex, drugs, relationships, breakups, births, deaths, nor the variety of chameleon-like transformations that have enabled Young to remain one of the most revered musical forces of our time.

Shakey (the title refers to one of Young’s many aliases) is not only a detailed chronicle of the rock era told through the life of one uncompromising artist, but the compelling human story of a lonely kid for whom music was the only outlet; a driven yet tortured figure who learned to control his epilepsy via “mind over matter”; an oddly passionate model train mogul who -- inspired by his own son’s struggle with cerebral palsy -- became a major activist in the quest to help those with the condition.

Based on interviews with hundreds of Young’s associates (many speaking freely for the first time), as well as extensive exclusive interviews with Young himself, Shakey is a story told through the interwoven voices of McDonough -- biographer, critic, historian, obsessive fan -- and the ever-cantankerous (but slyly funny) Young himself, who puts his biographer through some unforgettable paces while answering the question: Is it better to burn out than to fade away?

About the Author

Jimmy McDonough is a journalist who has contributed to such publications as Variety, Film Comment, Mojo, and Spin. Perhaps best known for his Village Voices profiles of such artists as Jimmy Scott, Neil Young, and Hubert Selby, Jr., he is also the author of The Ghastly One: The Sex-Gore Netherworld of Filmmaker Andy Milligan. He lives in the Pacific Northwest.

Praise For Shakey

“Most people did their best work when they were younger. Neil Young is as good as he ever was, which is quite an accomplishment.... I don’t know if you could name anybody better who came out of rock & roll.” -- Randy Newman

“For someone like me, who loves Neil Young’s music with a deep and abiding passion … Jimmy McDonough’s fat, teeming, obsessive and revelatory biography of Young is a pure shot of all-access pleasure.” -- LA Times

“As the music journalist Jimmy McDonough makes clear in Shakey, his exhaustive, quarrelsome and sometimes maddening biography, it’s never wise to presume to understand this complicated artist…. Fans thirsty for the melancholy hues of Neil Young will not be disappointed: He avoids lights! He drinks tequila all night long! Songs are recorded in one take! Songs are made up on the spot!…. Part of the uncanny shrewdness of Neil Young, never more apparent than in the nearly 800 pages of Shakey, is the evasion.” -- The New York Times Book Review

“Inconsistent? Eccentric? You bet. McDonough’s Neil Young is a reclusive loner in flannel shirt and workboots, a stubborn changeling and zing-zag wanderer whose erratic genius and pursuit of the muse has made him a potent force in popular music for 35 years at the same time as he’s left lovers, business associates, friends and fellow musicians puzzled, angry and disillusioned…. The Neil Young in Shakey … is finally an impossible, even ridiculous man. Impossible to predict, impossible to categorize, impossible to unreservedly love, perhaps, but just as impossible to really hate. Even more than Sinatra, he’s done it his way on the human highway.” -- The Globe and Mail

“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…. Young comes across as a Jekyll-and-Hyde loner whose life has unfolded like a reckless chemistry experiment -- a control freak on an endless quest for the uncontrolled moment…. Displaying an obsessive zeal that matches his subject’s, McDonough traces every step, and misstep, of Young’s life in staggering detail. [Shakey] offers a motherlode of fascinating detail, especially about the circus of characters around Young.” -- Maclean’s

“The thrill of McDonough’s breezy, anecdotal prose is that it sheds meaningful light into every cranny where it chooses to snoop…. With its rotating cast of characters, Shakey presents Neli Young’s messy, brilliant, erratic story with humour, sadness and big, greasy dollops of truth -- a rarity in the “official biography” genre…. a worthwhile read for fan or foe alike.” -- The Ottawa Citizen

“…a meticulously detailed and thoughtful book that sidesteps the sort of robotic adulation and self-censorship that often drags down rock biographies.” -- The Toronto Sun

“Despite there being a virtual cottage industry in Young books in recents years, McDonough’s access to the man himself, along with his tenacious research, renders [Shakey] the definitive volume. McDonough crafts an engrossing portrait of a man whose obsession and focus turned to megalomania.”
Winnipeg Free Press

“For Young, authenticity is all, and more than any previous book, Shakey shows to what extremes he is prepared to go to stay spontaneous and fresh.”
The Gazette (Montreal)

“This book is a necessity for the rabid Neil Young fan, the sort who lies around contemplating where the idea for the hand claps in the intro to Cinnamon Girl came from, or wonders what particular brand of guitar was responsible for the sound on Zuma. But any fan at all will enjoy it.”
The Calgary Herald

“…a sympathetic and understanding, yet clear-eyed and merciless biography…Young, who has always sought authenticity above refinemnt, truth over glamour, has…got the biography he deserves.”
Vancouver Sun

“Jimmy McDonough’s biography of Neil Young is…passionate, urgent and thorough. Young fans, get ready to bliss out.”
NOW magazine, Toronto

“Through the different voices of friends, relatives, enemies and associates, as well as the often profane talks with the man himself, McDonough is able to provide strong, penetrating insight into a unique, complex individual.”
The Toronto Sun

Indie Bookstore Finder

Update Profile