Let’s get the throat-clearing out of the way. Neil Young is a musical colossus, a modern father of the American imagination, and—at 73—still an unbelievable guitar player. Electricity pours through him, coming out of his instrument in sheared-off melodies and gerontic thrusts of noise. His great songs are life-altering. There’s no coming back, for example, from a full exposure to “Don’t Let It Bring You Down.” A sector of my nervous system is owned, forever, by Neil Young.
But he writes weird books, and this is another one. Deliriously boring in parts. Hard to market too, I would imagine, because where do you put it? Not with the rock-star memoirs—To Feel the Music is quite devoid of revelations and rockin’ anecdotes. Also, it has two authors, one of whom is not Neil Young. It’s sort of a business book, or a tech book. And yet it doesn’t really fit into those sections either—too woolly, too gonzo. An entirely new genre perhaps: the rock-star business-tech memoir by two authors.
To Feel the Music is the story of Pono, which was Young’s quixotic attempt to create and sell a new kind of portable music player and download service. Something that didn’t crush recorded sound into nasty little MP3s. If you’ve read either of his previous books, Waging Heavy Peace and Special Deluxe, you’ll be familiar with his preoccupation—his obsession, his foreboding—in this area. Young has long contended that with digitization, the conversion of music into data, has come a terrible shriveling of our sonic universe. You’ll also be familiar with his distinctively dazed, American Primitive prose style: “You have to give your body a chance to absorb [music] and recognize how good it feels to hear it. The human body is incredible. It’s great! It’s made by God/nature, depending on your beliefs.”