Neil Young’s Special Deluxe: A Memoir of Life & Cars

By James Calemine

     I just re-read Neil Young’s 2014 book Special Deluxe. I needed something a bit light and distracting to read from what I’m writing about. Neil’s first book, Waging Heavy Peace (2012), covered his musical career. His latest publication serves as a memoir about cars, and provides a clear insight to how one of the world’s premier musicians perceives various current environmental affairs.

     Jimmy McDonough’s stellar biography about Young, (Shakey) details the musician’s fascination with electricity, trains, guitars and cars for business and personal reasons. Over the years, Young’s involvement in Farm Aid, Pono Music, Lincvolt, Lionel Trains, Biodiesel and his latest album–The Monsanto Years–attacks the company Monsanto find him addressing eco-issues.

     In Special Deluxe, Young tells stories about every car he or his family owned. Young illustrated about 50 cars in the book himself. For serious Neil Young fans, Special Deluxe provides a nice departure from previous tales of his rock-n-roll grit.

 

     In the book’s Preface Young writes: “This is a story about the proud highway of second thoughts. Because I have already written a book about my life. Some events will be familiar to those who have read that book. In this book, I am looking at my relationship with cars over many years.”

     Yet, Young scatters song lyrics throughout Special Deluxe. Most of the lyrics are his own, but others include Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis, Stephen Stills, Marty Robbins, Jimmy Reed and Curlee Williams. Young keeps it interesting. Some of his songs are car related such as “Sedan Delivery”, “Long May You Run”, “I Want To Drive My Car”, “Eldorado”, “Trans Am” and almost every tune from the Fork In The Road album. In the book, he reveals probably the only car he ever got repossessed–a 1957 Corvette.

     There are too many to list, but a few of Young’s favorite vintage rides include a 1948 Buick Hearse named “Mort”, a 1934 Bentley Close and a 1959 Lincoln Continental called “Lincvolt”.  Music serves as in the backstory in Special Deluxe. The cars represent different musical eras in Young’s life. On page 257, Young writes from a place where his music, cars and personal life intersect:

(Photo by Rob Kim/Getty Images)

    “In spring of 2012, when Crazy Horse was rehearsing for our first tour in nine years to support our recent album, Americana, and our next, Psychedelic Pill, the Plymouth Special Deluxe was parked right in front of the stage, ready for any challenge. A new Indian blanket seat, one of the last things designed by Jon McKeig before he retired, was looking beautiful as part of the all-new interior he installed.
    “The motor, still humming along, was now started by an improved nine-volt battery system. It had been straining with its original six-volt system. Seemingly reborn, the Special Deluxe sprung to life again at the turn of a key. The pain was worn through to rust in some areas, but the body and chrome were still nearly perfect, just as the day I first laid eyes on this beauty.”

    Special Deluxe compels one to go out for a drive…

This piece can be found in Insured Beyond The Grave Vol. 2.

The Road To Hell (2020)

www.jamescalemine.com