Woke up in Providence, Rhode Island, but as I write this I’m zooming back to NYC on the Amtrak listening to an exquisite bootleg of Neil Young and Crazy Horse at Budokan, in Tokyo, on March 11, 1976. I arrived in Providence less than twenty-four hours ago for the local launch of Brian Chippendale and C.F.’s (a.k.a. Christopher Forgues) new books If ‘n Oof and Powr Mastrs 3 (both published by my own PictureBox) at Ada Books. The Ada event was packed and quite merry. I bought used copies of Jimmy McDonough’s Russ Meyer biography and Red Harvest by Dashiell Hammett.
McDonough’s biography of Neil Young, Shakey, is one of my favorite books, and so while I have little interest in Meyer, I figure I better read whatever is on McDonough’s mind. Shakey, for the uninitiated, is about as good a book about an artist as can be imagined. There’s Nick Tosches’s Hellfire, about Jerry Lee Lewis; Lawrence Weschler’s Robert Irwin–obsessed Seeing Is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees; and Geoff Dyer’s Out of Sheer Rage on D. H. Lawrence. And there are more. But Shakey is the most important to me because it is as much about the field of humans and emotions around an artist as it is about Young, and this includes the author himself, who is conflicted and outraged as he tries to deal with Young on an aesthetic, intellectual, and moral (this last bit being the trickiest) level. McDonough wanted too much from his idol/subject, but in a way that is perfectly understandable. The problem, as Christopher would say, is that sometimes you have to turn your back on your life in order to make art. That doesn’t always make for nice human moments.
In any case, Shakey beats the hell out of the recent Keith Richards autobio, which is fucking brutal. I’m amazed he published it. Usually with these kinds of books, there’s some kind of arc to it, some realization or redemption after all the action. Not here. It’s mostly unremitting destruction: of himself, of the people around him, of his talent. It is, as Keith might say, a fucking bummer, man. At least Richards doesn’t really pretend there is romance there. But the level of unself-consciousness reaches staggering levels. What Richards leaves out (apologies, regrets, sadness) is as telling as what he leaves in (blow jobs, heroin, death). Then again, the descriptions of music-making are top notch and moving, in the sense that if you believe him, you believe this beast sometimes finds grace in open-tuned guitars and groovy chord sequences. But he’s a beast nonetheless.