I have to admit that being a Neil Young fan has its challenges. Yes, there is lots of new music to listen to (eight albums, including live releases, in the past four years); plenty to read (two auto-biographies in the same time period) and even some new audio hardware ( the PONO, whose development Mr. Young led). But after a while it does get a bit much. Some of the albums are true stinkers ( A Letter Home and Le Noise are almost unlistenable); the books endlessly focused on cars, drugs, booze and more cars and Young’s obsession for improving technology a bit self aggrandizing.
Now we can add an overweening desire to sermonize as part of the problem.
Back in 2005 Young issued an album titled Living With War – a barbed, venomous attack on President George W. Bush and the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars over which he was then presiding. The album was choc-a- block with political screed. With song titles such as Let’s Impeach the President; Shock and Awe and Looking for a Leader, Young could not be mistaken for anything but that frayed-jeaned Woodstock warrior who is still so certain that the era of peace, love and anti-militarism (read draft dodging) still holds the answers for our future happiness and prosperity.
Granted, Young has always been something of renegade, even against his own audience ( for a brief timE in the 1980s he was a supporter of Ronald Reagan). But his turn to chic liberal political causes in recent years has truly augmented his image as something of a throwback, unwilling to examine in any depth the sagacity of the movements to which he attaches his name and driven as much my ideology than common sense.
His latest support for the anti- Keystone XL pipeline campaign is a case in point. Drawn into the fight to prevent the pipeline’s construction by his paramour, uber-environmentalist Darryl Hannah, Young has seemed to agree with NASA Scientist and all round global warming Cassandra, James Hansen, that the construction of the pipeline will mean “game over ” in the battle to save our planet from the poisons of carbon dioxide. Hansen’S May 12, 2o12 New York Times editorial sent Young into a flurry of activity about our environmental future and he has now pledged himself to its rescue. And so we can expect many more Young albums which bristle with indignation against oil companies, multinational corporations and well paid CEOs (of which , of course, he is virtually one).
It is quite amusing to see very rich men pretending that they are still just money scrounging buskers panhandling on the streets of Toronto. Young, now 68 – and looking very much his age – still wears torn, patched jeans; baseball caps worn backwards ( a habit I thought outlawed in the 1990s) and drives one of his dozens of 50s era vintage cars. He recently ditched his wife of 36 years (with whom he struggled to raise two children stricken with cerebral palsy) to take up with actress Hannah and has suffered health problems, including an aneurysm.
It all seems to fuel his output, which, for an artist of his age, is prodigious.
But one almost has to laugh at the irony of an artist who doesn’t seem to recognize how his own lyrics designed to skewer one president, are finding an even more fitting target in his successor:
Take for instance the lyrics for Lets Impeach the President:
“Lets impeach the President for spyin’
On citizens in their own homes
Breaking every law in the country
Tapping our computers and telephones”
Or how about these words from Looking for a Leader:
“Yeah we got our election
But corruption has a chance
We got to have a clean win
To give us confidence
America is beautiful
But she has an ugly side”
Spoken like the Canadian he is, a man who has lived in the United States for 40 years and yet to take out American citizenship. But don’t you have to wonder whether this seeker of truth and promoter of justice will one day turn his muse to the clear violations of law and constitutional protections orchestrated by the very leader he once painted as a savior?
I await that album with much anticipation.
In the meantime, I am still almost certain to still indulge myself in Neil Young music. Why? I guess there are some adolescent habits you just can’t kick. Yet, I am going to be on the look out, along that ol’ hippie highway, for that sudden sting of reality that jolts Neil from the dreamland of 1969 to the present day suppressions and legal violations which occur daily in Barack Obama’s America.