/, Rock/CRIME IN THE CITY BY NEIL YOUNG Story by Markus Zusak



Markus Zusak
South coast, New South Wales, 2015

Crime In the City conjures images of shootings, drug lords, money laundering – or as Neil Young himself sees it: firemen putting out every fire in town – but what I see is:

  • a kitchen
  • a book that was slowly killing me
  • possibly the simplest riff in history
  • and, of course, a German clockmaker.

See, in the beginning I’d started writing this book called Bridge of Clay, and I knew it would be hard; I thought it would take three years. At last count it’s hit eleven. I’ve been married to it, divorced it, slapped it, killed it, went to a self-imposed jail for it – only for it to be my cellmate, mocking me from the top bunk – with all its filthy habits.

For whatever reason, I just couldn’t give it up, or actually, I do know the reason. People would say, “Just put it aside – write one of your other ideas…” But that was the thing. There were no other ideas – so I continued to slave away. I would take trips to the New South Wales south coast, and work in a little shack down there, and go through the usual routines.

Before work, I always listen to music, on headphones:

A song to take me up, a song to bring me in – to concentration…and then one day – I think it was afternoon, and the sun was hot on my back, from the window – I thought, ‘Oh, what the hell, I’ll finally listen to that song on Weld I’ve been ignoring’

Listening to Crime In the City was like sticking my head in the oven.

In the best imaginable way:

Neil Young blew the God damn roof off.

…So there I was.

The house was obliterated.

All around me was this rubble, the toaster was over the road – my book was blown to bits – but somehow the oven and my headphones were still intact, and Neil Young (ever the unfuckingkillable – the rock n roll cockroach if ever there was one), was STILL singing…and I still hadn’t got to the best bit – because then, then, at the 3:49 minute-mark, behind the lyrics –

That’s the way all my friends are

– there lay this riff, and I found myself (and I was NEVER an air or tennis or squash racquet guitarist) – I found myself playing the riff with him.

Oh, the excitement was visceral.

The house was still mid-crumble – a clock collapsed from the wall – and still I was playing on.

I stood and thought and told myself:

Go and write like THAT.

And I did.

I started writing the book anew with everything I had, but with a newer, older attitude, borrowed from the Godfather himself:

Care a whole hell of a lot whilst not even caring at all. Let it come from the guts.

And then…

Just as I’d worked onwards, and found myself returning to black holes, and marriages and divorces again – even whilst obeying the rules of Neil – I was reminded in no uncertain terms what all of this meant again…

In the same south coast shack, I took a break around nine in the evening, and watched a random episode of Northern Exposure, in which Maurice Minnifield, the insufferable ex-astronaut, buys a vintage cuckoo clock, and has it installed by an expert German technician, Rolf Hauser – who, it turns out, is not what Minnifield expected would be a techno-kraut in a white coat, but seemingly an extra from the set of Run, Lola, Run. Pure Berliner grungemaster, with leather pants, blond, spiky hair – played incidentally, by the blond hired thug at the beginning of The Big Lebowski – who drops the bowling ball on The Dude’s bathroom tiles while the Asian American assassin is relieving himself on The Dude’s rugbut anyway – there’s a great moment, when Minnifield and Rolf Hauser are in the pub-slash-restaurant, The Brick, when Hauser puts a hard rock number on the juke box – and then, mid-Minnifield sentence, interrupts him, pulling this face, and saying, ‘Listen – hear that lead???’ and proceeds to get up and play an invisible Gibson all through the myriad drinkers …then sits back down, shoves about eighteen potatoes in his mouth, and lives on –

And that’s what Crime In The City reminds me:

I hear it and go, Hear that lead? It’s simple and real and true, and tells me to write from that place – at least if I want to blow the roof off.

Forget being saved by rock n roll.

I was saved by a life of crime.

© Markus Zusak

Markus Zusak and The Stereo Stories Band will be presenting this story at the Williamstown Literary Festival on Saturday evening 17 June 2017. Tickets now available.


Many more Stereo Stories by many more writers.

Writer, mistake-maker, and fan of Sam-I-Am...I wrote The Book Thief, but still not sure how.

By |2017-11-15T16:45:21+00:00May 17th, 2017|Featured Posts, Rock|11 Comments


  1. Stereo Stories Admin May 18, 2017 at 2:48 pm - Reply

    Comment from Damian ‘Dips’ O’Donnell:
    Markus – Neil Young is a genius. So many brilliant lines in his songs come to mind. Like this one from Bandit:

    “No one can touch you now.
    But I can touch you now.”

    Is Star of Bethlehem the greatest and most simple song ever written?

  2. DamianBalassone May 19, 2017 at 9:20 am - Reply

    Great yarn and cracking song Markus. I’m partial to Neil Young’s ’68 to ’79 period, but it’s good to know there’s plenty more out there to check out – like this.

    Btw, absolutely love the title ‘Bridge of Clay’.

  3. Markus Zusak May 19, 2017 at 5:09 pm - Reply

    Thanks to you two Damians for these votes of confidence for the great one (NY). I could have chosen about 86 favourite songs (Love and Only Love, anyone? Hurricane? Out on the Weekend? ANYTHING off Sleeps with Angels…CORTEZ) And yes, I’ll look out for you at Stereo Stories. Can’t wait! mz

  4. Loraine May 19, 2017 at 10:35 pm - Reply

    “I hear it and go, Hear that lead? It’s simple and real and true, and tells me to write from that place – at least if I want to blow the roof off.”

    I love this line, and all the lines! We can’t wait to have Stereo Stories back at Williamstown Literary Festival. Markus Zusak, a huge town hall roof awaits liftoff! See you in June. Loraine (WLF Program Director)

    • Stereo Stories Admin May 20, 2017 at 8:12 pm - Reply

      Response from Markus Zusak:
      I can’t wait, Loraine, I’ve been looking forward to this since LAST YEAR.

  5. Maria Majsa May 24, 2017 at 12:23 pm - Reply

    Confession: Forgive me Markus, for I have never been a Neil Young fan. I was a punk and we were too busy committing atrocities on our hair and kicking over the traces to listen.

    As a Book Thief fan, however, I’m monstrous glad to see you have joined the stereo stories stable. This story is one hell of a pinger. Looking forward to hearing it live in June.

  6. Markus Zusak May 26, 2017 at 3:44 pm - Reply

    Hi Maria, my confession is being too pathetic to adequately GET the Sex Pistols, and my favourite story being Johnny Ramone beating one of them up, or one of their mates, just to make a point! What I can also confess to is LOVING your story, though, and admiring your gut-wrenching toughness with those ear-piercings. I’d have passed out within minutes, face down in the iceblocks! Oh – and now that’s all out of the way, thanks for the kind word about The Book Thief. It’s not very…punk…or is it? If punk is not caring about doing things the right way at all, maybe I got it right. Hope to meet you in June! THANKS AGAIN. mz

    • Maria Majsa June 21, 2017 at 7:04 pm - Reply

      Not caring about doing things the right way but doing them anyway is the very essence of punk. I find it’s always good to confound expectations:

      In a room full of “fuck you,” the most punk thing is “thank you.”

      Great to meet you at Williamstown. It was a blast


  7. John Butler June 20, 2017 at 10:29 am - Reply

    This went down a treat on Saturday night , Marcus.

    I was both a suburban punk (not so much into the fashion) and a Neil fan. Who says you have to choose?


  8. Markus Zusak June 20, 2017 at 9:32 pm - Reply

    Thanks John,I think I’m still buzzing after Saturday – what a great event, and a great, generous crowd – the band got them on side from their first notes! Thanks again. Glad you didn’t go in for the safety pins!
    Thanks again and all best – mz

  9. msdebbie July 14, 2017 at 5:21 pm - Reply

    Such a good story Markus. You make me consider reassessing Neil Young.

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