By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
It is perhaps McDonough’s very doggedness, his refusal to be intimidated (by Young‘s chronic rescheduling of agreed-to interviews, and numerous clashes with the singer’s unctuous handlers), that led to this mess. While the nature of Young‘s role is mystifying, it’s not completely out of character; as longtime personal manager Elliot Roberts (recalling the occasion when Young quit Buffalo Springfield, excoriated Roberts as inept and then almost immediately rehired him to oversee his solo career) told The New York Times, “I thought, ‘Wow, cool -- this guy is as devious as I am.’”
The manuscript of Shakey is under lock and key, but Hedges, to whom McDonough supplied a copy, describes it as “a real serious effort to get inside what makes Neil Neil. It‘s not a puff piece, which is apparently what he wanted but never said -- I sat at the table and looked Neil right square in the eye. Outside of the fact that Neil’s been involved in some pretty juicy things in his life, no, this is not a Kitty Kelly kind of a deal, it‘s a legitimate biography, the product of a lot of very hard work. As I understand it, the response from Random House on the book was very, very positive.” In a January 1999 letter Random House attorney Diana Frost wrote to Young attorney Osher, she called the book “an important and artistic biographical work that they expect will receive a positive a reception from a wide audience.” (Frost refused comment, and calls to the book’s editor, Bruce Tracy, were not returned.)
Young‘s reasons for rejecting the manuscript, according to McDonough’s attorney Henry Gradstein, were that Jimmy delivered the manuscript in “an untimely fashion”; that he had delivered the manuscript to Random House without Young‘s personal approval; and finally that he was simply not going to give his approval. Gradstein counters that the manuscript’s lateness was in fact due to delays caused by Young‘s own refusal to schedule promised interviews, and in any case Random House had previously granted McDonough’s requests for extensions of delivery deadlines; and that Young had no approval rights (save over passages dealing with the aforementioned immediate family). Barring a settlement (active discussions are ongoing), the case should go to trial in spring of 2001. Gradstein is “absolutely certain” McDonough will prevail, while Young‘s attorney Lee Phillips insists that Young has “appropriate defenses and possible counterclaims.”
Much of the dispute revolves around the following clause in Young’s agreement with McDonough: “Notwithstanding anything to the contrary herein, if Neil prevents Jimmy from completing and delivering the manuscript to the Publisher, then the entire Indebtedness will be Neil‘s obligation and he shall discharge the same and hold Jimmy free and harmless therefrom. This shall be Jimmy’s exclusive remedy from Neil.”
Young contends that this, in conjunction with the language granting him approval over passages relating to members of his family, gives him “the right to prevent release.” As Phillips explains it, “You can see that [the clause] indicates that it‘s . . . his exclusive remedy against Neil, so in other words . . . he can’t complain if the end result is that the book doesn‘t get published. He can keep the money, and Neil’s got the liability with Random House.
”If there‘s one comment about the family and Neil disapproved it, that comment then has already been delivered to Random House. Why have an approval right to prevent it from going out to the public . . . if that person has delivered it to the public?
“I mean, the fact is, it was done. If it said some terrible thing and you said, ’I disapprove,‘ and he said, ’Okay, I‘ll take it out,’ then it would only be known to Neil and Jimmy. But if you deliver it to Random House and then deliver it to Neil the next day, Random House and all their editors and everybody else . . . that sentence is in there. And that‘s the reason why I think a lot of this problem came up.”
Wait, there’s more: Young‘s attorneys are also claiming that he has approval rights by alleging that McDonough failed to meet the already-extended Random House deadlines, creating a breach “frustrating the purpose and intent of the agreement” and “independently granting Young the right to prevent” publication. So, it’s a back-and-forth exchange of legal interpretation, the deviltry of language on one hand so clear yet on the other so ambiguous -- depending on which side one favors -- that it is apparently best left for Judge Richard C. Hubbell to reconcile.
Still, to some, the situation couldn‘t be clearer. “It’s horrible what Jimmy‘s been through,” says Hedges. “It’s so kind of insanely arrogant and malicious -- it‘s unthinkable. The whole situation is just mind-numbing, the way Neil led him on, he was just playing with him -- playing with a life, his trust, everything. I mean, Neil is notorious, but this is crazy -- it’s like being in the belly of the beast. There‘s a kind of arrogance to celebrity, and this is just a very raw, vivid example of it.”