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Neil Young on Becoming Sober: ‘The Straighter I Am, the More Alert I Am’

Promoting his new autobiography, the legendary reclusive rocker opens up about life and writing while sober.

Neil Young Stage - P 2012
Getty Images

He’s been rocking in the free world longer than most of his generation and has lived to pen the tale.

“Writing is very convenient, has a low expense and is a great way to pass the time,” Neil Young tells David Carr in a thorough and revealing New York Times Magazine interview. “I highly recommend it to any old rocker who is out of cash and doesn’t know what to do next.”

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The upcoming autobiography, titled Waging Heavy Peace, chronicles Young’s eccentric life, first as the son of a journalist, then through his years with Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Buffalo Springfield, and his various other musical incarnations.

In the interview, Carr accompanies the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer to his rural home just south of San Francisco, where the rocker reveals a side of him rarely seen by the media.

“I don’t think I’m going to be able to continue to mainly be a musician forever because physically I think it’s going to take its toll on me -- it’s already starting to show up here and there,” he reveals to Carr.

Carr also interviews film director Jonathan Demme, who made three films with Young, and passes along a note he received from Bob Dylan, which read in part, “An artist like Neil always has the upper hand."

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While Carr says the book is not “score-settling” and doesn’t contain the usual “titillation” of other rock 'n' roll biographies, the journalist does note a few anecdotes mostly unheard of until now, including the fact that Young hung out with Charles Manson and tried to get him a record deal (just like Dennis Wilson of the Beach Boys famously did), his admission of discovering his ex-wife Carrie Snodgress in a magazine and the drug bust he shared with Eric Clapton and Stephen Stills.

On his sobriety while penning his memoirs, Young tells Carr, “The straighter I am, the more alert I am, the less I know myself and the harder it is to recognize myself. I need a little grounding in something, and I am looking for it everywhere.”

The rest of the interview can be found here.