Neil Young Opens Up About Sobriety

Rocker also discusses his new memoir, digital music format

Neil Young
Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic
September 19, 2012 1:10 PM ET

Neil Young has been sober for a year after drinking and smoking pot for decades, he reveals in a new profile in the New York Times. During a recent interview at his sprawling home in the redwood forest south of San Francisco, Young speaks about writing his upcoming autobiography, Waging Heavy Peace, the many obsessions that have fueled his career and his decision to get clean.

"I did it for 40 years," he says. "Now I want to see what it's like to not do it. It's just a different perspective."

In the book, he elaborates: "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."

Yet the book – written despite Young's onetime declaration that he would never write a memoir – features some requisite tales of rock & roll excess. The 66-year-old recalls being arrested for drugs with Eric Clapton and Stephen Stills, and he jokes about David Crosby's legendary stash: "I still remember 'the mighty Cros' visiting the ranch in his van. That van was a rolling laboratory that made Jack Casady's briefcase look like chicken feed. Forget I said that! Was my mike on?"

Elsewhere, Young makes no apologies for the sometimes confounding career decisions he's made over the years. "I work for the muse," he tells the Times. "I'm not here to sell things. That's what other people do, I'm creating them. If it doesn't work out, I'm sorry; I'm just doing what I do. You hired me to do what I do, not what you do. As long as people don't tell me what to do, there will be no problem."

The guitarist talks about the projects that have consumed him lately, including designing an electric car he hopes to drive to the White House, making a movie on the way and writing another book, this one about all the cars he has owned.      

Young also acknowledges that Pono, the proprietary music system he has developed as a high-quality alternative to MP3s, has been picked up by Warner Brothers for use with the company's back catalog of recordings, and that he and longtime manager Elliot Roberts are negotiating with other labels.

Young says he's thankful that Roberts has helped him make plenty of money over the years. "I spend it all," he said. "I like to employ people and make stuff. It will be my undoing."

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