PONO and Pocahontas, and Me


Neil Young
Blue Rider Press (Penguin)

review by Danny Cohen

The title presages Young’s dorky approach to autobiography, that works much better than ’SHAKEY’ (a music and gossip heavy bio I once reviewed). The first 7 chapters deal with his digital music enhancement system (PONO), which he refers to 10 more times He started the book on the morning of a sales meeting for it.

Around Chapter 57 he hits his stride, honing in on salient poetic reverie, although his lucid bare bones style (honed by reading his father’s books) is immediately evident. His back and forth timeline is an effective literary pretense and it’s obvious he had complete editorial control, like on all his albums. He’s the first to admit he sabotaged many of them, and it’s this candor and astute personal and cultural observation that drives the book. I’m interested in improving digital sound and developing electric cars (many chapters), and talking shop about vintage gear and studio techie shit, but save it for the trades.

Neil was the quintessential Boomer garage band nerd that made good, and it’s cool that he feels a responsibility to the legions who didn’t, with his modest and unassuming deference to fate and timing and band chemistry, while extolling his own genius for amalgamating the best elements of other players styles, and allying himself with masters like Jack Nietzsche (Spector’s arranger) and producer David Briggs. (And yet he’s still a dumb hippie at heart).

It’s cool that he strong arms promoters into ‘Festival Seating’ (which loses money, and repels rich cell phoners), and prefers theatres to stadiums. He’s a perfectionist, who records everything, and only on a full moon, with the right board and acoustics. 
His musical edge supplied by polio, epilepsy, agoraphobia, being a Scorpio, and his previous status as an illegal immigrant from Canada.

His first American band Buffalo Springfield was the ‘house band’ at the Whiskey. Coincidentally, they played on the stage next to my band Polka and the Dots at The Teenage Fair (where you were paid in Gillette razors). He claims they were merely “browsing the crowds”, but it was strictly a showcase event like playing ‘The Troubadour’. He mentions ‘Wallich’s Music City’ (where I would have bought the Beatles Butcher Block cover, if I wasn’t with my band, who sided with the Stones) and Betnun Music (where I bought my gear and the band washed cymbals, we made 10 bucks).

He details Topanga Canyon life, where I later lived, meeting his wife at the cafe I went to, and he knew all the local radio station lore of my time; I didn’t know that KHJ’s Big Kahuna was the major Hollywood pot dealer. All of these parallels between Young and myself lend a prejudice toward the book in general; he thought and behaved like my musician cronies, so it was a gas to read. 

Tags: , ,