Neil Young is 64 and he rocks. He drives a 19-foot electric Lincoln Continental. This summer he’s on tour, riling old “Harvest” fans with a new crop of anti-war songs and maybe signing copies of his first-ever comic book.
But it doesn’t matter.
When you’re 64 and a rock god, some publisher will do the math—41 studio albums plus three generations of fans—and memorialize your career in a picture book.
At least Voyageur Press did a solid job. For a coffee table biography, Long May You Run is not only good looking but good reading, too.
On glossy, heavy-stock paper, the book collects more than 400 mostly unpublished photos, from young “Sugar Mountain” Neil playing Winnipeg with his first band the Squires, up to shots of the Devo-inspired stage sets of his Rust Never Sleeps tour, and promos for his 2009 Linc/Volt car.
Concert posters, two-inch buttons, Japanese 7″s, ticket stubs and Farm Aid passes also deck the pages—everything but still shots from the several film projects of Young’s alter ego, Bernard Shakey.
My favourite page is the cover of a faux caveman comic by Dutch cartoonist Peter Pontiac. Under the title “Everybody knows it’s DINOSAUR SENIOR” a giant, Neanderthal Neil Young swings his towering black guitar over a forest of Jurassic palm, ready to lay waste with “Cortez the Killer.”
Surprisingly, authors Daniel Durschholz and Gary Graff chart a pretty sound biography through all this splashy memorabilia.
As they admit, that’s largely because this book follows two great, original takes on the Neil Young story. First was Neil and Me, a memoir by Young’s sports writer dad that has gone on to several editions. Next was Jimmy McDonough’s Shakey: Neil Young’s Biography, published in 2002 after McDonough spent ten years and hundreds of interviews on it, writing what was supposed to be the official biography before Young backed out on the project.
But even if Long May You Run cherry picks most of its best quotes from McDonough’s book, it isn’t easy to do a good job covering Young’s seven decade career in 224 pages. Gary Graff, a features writer at the New York Times, presumably took the lead in writing the many vignettes in the book. These features cover off-track topics like the making of “Ohio,” the specs in Young’s favourite guitar or his model train company, breaking up the main text and adding an unexpected level of detail.
The title chosen for this book, Long May You Run, is a song that Neil Young wrote for a dead dead car—a hearse that died in 1965 while Young was driving the Squires out of Thunder Bay and away to bigger things in Toronto. (As legend has it, Young later bought a second hearse to get to San Francisco. “It had rollers for the coffin in the back, so we just rolled our amps in and out,” he said. “It was like they built it for us.”)
This book carries the same “The King is dead! Long live the King!” feeling you hear when Young plays “Long May You Run.” In his life, the writers point out, Young has often held out a weird welcome for breakdowns. He’s also held out a welcome for the just plain weird.
Long May You Run is not so deep or as original as the straight-up biographies that have been published already. And Neil Young is a hard character to get hold of. For a picture book though, this is a pretty decent capture.