From The New Yorker:
BookExpo America has its own rock stars: Barbara Kingsolver, Daniel Handler, Dean Koontz, whose name was on hundreds of posters on the front doors of the Javits Center. This year, it also had two actual rock stars: Neil Young and Patti Smith, who appeared on Wednesday afternoon at B.E.A. for an onstage conversation.
Both have new albums out: Young has just released “Americana,” a collection of folk songs such as “Oh Susanna” and “Clementine” updated as sprawling garage-rock and performed with his longtime partners in noise, Crazy Horse; and Smith has put out “Banga,” a collection that also touches on the American myth by adapting the journals of Amerigo Vespucci and, for that matter, includes a cover of Young’s “After the Gold Rush.” But they were at B.E.A. doing book business: Young’s memoir “Waging Heavy Peace” is due out in October, and Smith’s “Just Kids” won the National Book Award for Nonfiction in 2010. And while the two have crossed paths throughout the years—they sang together at Young’s Bridge Benefit concert in 1996, and they’ll join forces this fall for a tour we (and, we hope, they) are code-naming the Crazy Horses Tour—as Smith has sung, paths that cross will cross again.
The big room retained for the event—named, in a triumphant act of generic enthusiasm, the Special Events Hall—was laid out like a mix of supper club and arena, reserved tables in front and general admission in back. A carefully curated set of song was playing: Young’s take on “God Save the Queen,” from “Americana,” was appropriate given Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee; the original of “After the Gold Rush” was fitting in light of Smith’s new cover; and even “Down by the River” seemed like a little in-joke about the Javits Center’s location on the Hudson. The conversation was called for noon but rock stars have their own clock, and at 12:25, after an extended double introduction, they appeared at stage right. Her hair was braided. He wore a poncho with brightly colored stripes. They posed for pictures (“It’s like being Sophia Loren,” Smith said) and then took their seats in two black chairs in the center of the stage.
The conversation was warm, low-key, and far from scripted. From the start, Smith served notice that even though B.E.A. was hosting the event, books were only part of a continuum. “Books, albums,” she said, “they’re the same. People create things.” To that end, she opened with a discussion of Young’s new album, and especially his cover of “She’ll Be Coming Round the Mountain,” which he renamed “Jesus’s Chariot.” “It’s part of the folk process,” he said. “Once you say that you can change anything.” Smith led Young through other songs on the album—the Silhouettes 1957 doo-wop hit “Get A Job,” Billy Edd Wheeler’s “High Flying Bird.” “Thinking about how I first heard that song,” Young said, “started off this album. I was writing the book.” He paused. “See: It’s all related to the book.” The crowd, unconcerned, laughed anyway.
Smith extended the point. “I have read much of your book,” she said, “and one of the things I liked most about it is that there’s no barrier between the reader and you. It’s intimate. You’re talking. And it’s chronological but memory is not chronological.”
“That’s how my memory is, at least,” Young said. “Not only does it not work chronologically but sometimes it doesn’t work.”
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