In his memoir “Waging Heavy Peace,” released last week to high praise from critics, Neil Young reveals that he wrote “Cinnamon Girl,” “Cowgirl in the Sand,” and “Down by the River” in one day—while sick with the flu. That sort of forward motion, even in a compromised state, makes sense in the context of this admission from the book: “I have a transportation thing. Cars, boats, trains. Traveling. I like moving.”
The life story by the legendary singer, songwriter, and guitarist, driven mostly by stream-of-consciousness, traces a winding route from a childhood bout with polio, to leaving Canada for Los Angeles in 1966 to live out his pot-fueled musical dreams, to co-founding Buffalo Springfield, joining Crosby, Stills & Nash, going solo, and forming the band Crazy Horse.
Now mostly settled in Hawaii and on his northern California ranch, Young has reignited a childhood passion for tinkering with rare Lionel trains and collectibles. Thanks to holiday gifts from his wife Pegi, he has an extensive collection, all displayed behind glass in a room on the ranch. It was right around the time that Ben, the second of his three children, was born a quadriplegic that Young was getting back into trains. “Sharing the building of the layout with Ben is one of the happiest times…The display and layout are a Zen experience,” he writes. They allow me to sift through the chaos, the songs, the people, and the feelings from my upbringing that still haunt me today … Months go by with boxes piled everywhere and trains derailed with dust gathering on them. Then miraculously I reappear and clean and organize, working with every little detail for hours on end, making it all run perfectly again. This seems to coincide with other creative processes.”