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Don’t be Denied — “Young Neil” book review

October 5th, 2014 · 22 Comments · Music



I’ve been waiting for this book for a long time! As a teenager in Winnipeg in the ’70s, Neil was a god to us. We drove the 500 miles to Minneapolis during grade 12 at Kelvin to see him for the first time — and to our great dumb-luck fortune, it was the Rust Never Sleeps tour!

I went and found his picture in the old yearbooks in the Kelvin library, but beyond that it was really hard to find out anything about his life in the Peg. Just like Lowell Mass ignored Kerouac for decades, Winnipeg never really embraced any person from there who did anything with their lives. It’s so sad. And so stupid.

Well — everything’s changed now! Woo-hoo! FINALLY I got to read about every gig, every band line-up, every guitar he ever played, every girl he ever flirted with, every teacher he had, every house party he went to . . . FINALLY the detailed scoop!

It feels like the author interviewed every living person Neil ever came in contact with. I happened to go to the same high school and community clubs where he played, but I gotta think this book would bring that world to life for anybody from anywhere. It was high school, it was dating, it was insecurity, it was being broke, it was a search for adventure.

But the biggest take-away for me was how Neil didn’t give up. How he kept re-approaching from different angles all the obstacles of having a band and making his way in music. Things were hopelessly bleak — no amp to play through, bandmates for whom music was far from their first priority, very limited gig options, pressures from teachers at school, a broken marriage by his parents, being a weird kid in a new town who was shy and awkward and couldn’t play sports and didn’t cotton to authority — I mean, EVERYthing was against him. This is the template storyline of somebody who went on to become some famous badguy … or one of the millions of petty criminals we never hear about.

And it wasn’t like he was some sort of genius prodigy. When you read biographies of those people, they’re so above-&-beyond and different from most of us that you can’t really imagine yourself in their shoes. But this isn’t some Stevie Wonder or Stevie Winwood playing with the masters before they’re old enough for a driver’s license. This guy was next to helpless, I mean hopeless — no babe magnet, no supernatural gifts, no money, no father figure … and stuck in Winterpeg a thousand miles from anywhere. There’s no WAY this guy should ever have amounted to anything.

And that’s the beauty of the story. And why anybody can relate to it and be inspired by it. All he did was keep at it. All he did was not give up. When Winnipeg didn’t work, he went to Toronto. When Toronto didn’t work he went to New York. When nothing else worked, he went to L.A. When bands fell apart he formed new ones. When he didn’t have an amp he played through a stereo. When his car dropped dead on the side of the road he jumped on the back of a motorcycle and kept going. He always found some way to keep moving forward, around all obstacles, against all odds. And that’s what makes this so inspiring. Don’t give up. Don’t give in. Don’t be denied. Cuz you might end up in the supergroup of your dreams.



Here’s a review of Neil’s historic return to Massey Hall in 2007.

Here’s a list Neil makes of “Great Americans” not born in America.

Here’s some of the greatest live performances in the history of music.

Here’s a couple of his peers jammin’ together — when Dylan showed up with Springsteen at Shea Stadium.

Or here’s where Bob busted the bubble at Copps Coliseum.

Or here’s the Bob movie I’m Not There.

Or here’s a trip Neil sure shoulda been on — Festival Express!



Brian Hassett

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22 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Tom Adams // Oct 5, 2014 at 9:48 AM

    Great take away. And great promo for the book actually. I am very impressed with Sherry’s thoroughness and dedication to her craft but personally I never actually had the overpowering desire to know so much about the early years of Neil’s life – thought it a bit overkill and haven’t had a strong urge to read the book.
    But since you’ve framed it this way, as a story about Neil’s determination, I am reconsidering reading the book and have a new perspective on it all.
    So thanks for that bit of inspiration and I’m glad you got so much out of it.

  • 2 Will Hodgson // Oct 5, 2014 at 1:06 PM

    Quite a frickin site you got going here! …. whoah must check out more ….
    It was timely seeing this because I just spent the last week reading that special Neil Young Rolling Stone issue that just came out …

    The only thing I would add is that Neil’s father was arguably the number one sports writer in the nation … that’s not a small thing … he wrote around 40 books …. he wrote for the biggest newspaper in Canada … I’m sure Neil knew this, was very proud of it, and realized he was related to greatness … that can go a long way in making someone confident ……

    It’s great to see that the old Hassett enthusiasm is still bubblin’!

    stay strong,

  • 3 Teri McLuhan // Oct 5, 2014 at 3:14 PM

    This is a terrific read, Bri. You really get the FEEL of it all — where it counts.
    Avanti. Avanti. And — peace-ify, harmonize, joy-ify!

  • 4 Sharry Wilson // Oct 5, 2014 at 3:32 PM

    I think you got it, Brian. Thanks for an excellent review. And thanks to everyone else for the nice comments.

  • 5 David Rollison // Oct 5, 2014 at 4:58 PM

    This is a great statement, Brian. Another thing about Neil is how genuine he seems to have been with each stage of his maturing. I just watched a 2013 Farm Aid video of him singing Phil Ochs’ “Changes” which makes me proud to be old like him. His affect always broadcasts to me that he wishes us well and holds himself above no one, which, god knows, is quite a level to achieve.

  • 6 Brian // Oct 5, 2014 at 5:37 PM

    Nice statement yourself, there, David.

  • 7 S.A. Griffin // Oct 5, 2014 at 8:12 PM

    Grooviosity bro…

  • 8 Scott Collins // Oct 5, 2014 at 9:23 PM

    Shakey felt extensive and exhaustive at the time, but this sounds like it is a Neil-fan’s dream-book. For someone actually from the area, it must be kinda mind-blowing, inspiring a few pilgrimage future road-trips.

  • 9 David Ostrosser // Oct 5, 2014 at 9:52 PM

    Thanks for that commentary. Sums up the determination Neil has, even now as he continues to take on huge challenges. Actually his secret was all summed up in Don’t Be Denied.

    As for Winnipeg, when I was there I took the addresses I’d gleaned from various biographies and did my own Neil History tour, wondering why the city hadn’t thought to capitalize on its undeniable place in musical history.

  • 10 Ben Kleiman // Oct 5, 2014 at 11:32 PM

    Fascinating and inspiring… really like this guy’s attitude and his story!

  • 11 Paul Johnson // Oct 5, 2014 at 11:56 PM

    I really enjoyed this Brian — great writing!

  • 12 Thomas Kauertz // Oct 6, 2014 at 4:28 AM

    Great job! I like to read it!

  • 13 Mark Krahn // Oct 6, 2014 at 5:53 AM

    Thanks for the overview.

  • 14 Deedereeno Jones // Oct 6, 2014 at 11:20 AM

    I’ll definitely look out for this book. I’ve loved Neil Young for over 40 years and I’m from Winnipeg! Suggest that you watch a movie called “Sound City” – you’ll really like it. (Neil’s in it)

  • 15 Maggie Clement // Oct 6, 2014 at 2:52 PM

    Fantastic! Love your “riffs” … and a Winnipeg boy, to boot. Thanks for the tip. I’m gonna look this up.

  • 16 Christopher Rafuse // Oct 6, 2014 at 4:28 PM

    well said! i look forward to reading it. waging heavy peace btw i thought was great…

  • 17 John Roche // Oct 6, 2014 at 7:04 PM

    Thanks for letting us know about the book, Brian. Sounds fascinating!

  • 18 Kim Marino // Oct 7, 2014 at 9:33 AM

    Thanks for the review. Will be sure to read it!

  • 19 Devin Patrick // Oct 7, 2014 at 1:11 PM

    Sound like a must read. I enjoyed ‘Shakey’ very much.

  • 20 Jeanne Masanz // Oct 8, 2014 at 10:25 AM

    Well, there’s a book I’ll have to read. Thanks for keeping us in “the know”.

  • 21 Uta // Oct 10, 2014 at 10:20 AM

    Thank you very much for this excellent book review of Neil Young’s biography. He is an ardent environmentalist and writes beautiful lyrics to his songs. You spike my interest and I will read his book.

  • 22 Manolo Granpa // Oct 16, 2014 at 8:48 AM

    Wonderful review. Increases my need to read it.
    Thanks a lot.

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