There Is a Town in North Ontario
I love Neil Young, have ever since that Buffalo Springfield concert in Greenville in 1969. In one of the most peculiar bills in rock history, they were sandwiched between opening act Strawberry Alarm Clock and headliners the Beach Boys. By the time they finished their half-hour set, Neil had broken three of the six strings on his guitar but kept sawing away undeterred. Bandmates Jim Messina and Stephen Stills, both a bit more delicate of manner and finger, managed to hold it together as Neil kept flailing and railing.
Now 62, he’s flailing a lot less these days, but, God bless him, he’s still railing away at any number of social injustices, both those that preexisted the Bush reign and those the Duh either exacerbated or brought about entirely. Lest anyone think he’s mellowed lo these many harvests after the gold rush, his 2007 Living With War album that included the single, “Let’s Impeach The President,” should put that notion to rest.
Like I said, I love that guy.
In the summer of ’06 Y reunited with CSN for the aptly titled Freedom of Speech tour. He also directed (under the pseudonym Bernard Shakey) a documentary shot during the tour called CSNY Déjà Vu that is now showing at the Berlin Film Festival.
Last week Neil made some comments that created a bit of media stir, telling reporters at the festival, “I think that the time when music could change the world is past. I think it would be very naïve in this day and age to think that.”
He then added, “I think the world today is a different place, and that it’s time for science and physics and spirituality to make a difference in this world and to try to save the planet.”
Now, ever since my hero of four decades made those comments I’ve been trying to wrap my arms around them. I still can’t quite decide whether he’s become a crotchety old burnout or has gotten so justifiably pessimistic about the world around him that he’s given up. Given our shared contempt for Bush and all he stands for, I suspect it’s the latter. I hope his view is informed by the seeming hopelessness of trying to cope with Bushworld and all its hypocritical and criminal manifestations. I’ve felt like giving up myself many times in the face of the arrant deceit, unapologetic rationale for subverting Constitutional freedoms and arrogant, xenophobic chest-beating of a warlike administration.
It may be a risky proposition trying to get inside Neil Young’s head, but I do have a theory. Before falling on my sword, I must offer an ever so faint glimmer of hope that music may still ignite the inner fire that ultimately guides us out of this morass not of our own making. Perhaps what has changed since the dawning of the Age of Aquarius is not so much that the power of music has diminished but that the messages, messengers and method of delivery are different.
For starters, Top 40 radio is stifling the creativity of the very artists it needs for survival by limiting playlists to syncopated nursery rhymes with sing-song melody, very little instrumentation and no lyrical challenges past getting as many rhyming words in a bar as possible. Protest music as we knew it will get no airing in an industry dominated by Bush’s cronies at Clear Channel.
There are, however, plenty of modern-day Neil Youngs, Dylans, Guthries and Lennons out there – but you’ll never hear them on the radio. You will, if you so desire, find them all over the internet, getting mega-millions of hits and downloads. Check out the likes of Sally Anthony, Richard Stoltz, John Fogarty (yes, he of CCR fame), Steve Earle, Conor Oberst, Ian Brown, Sinead O’Connor and dozens of others. And of course the big boys like Bono, Springsteen, Jackson Browne, the Dixie Chicks and Neil himself are still out there exposing the evildoers masquerading as patriots.
No doubt, the Woodstock ideal of creating a new and better world based on love, peace and the brotherhood of man was dead on arrival once the drugs wore off. But with the benefit of 40 years of hindsight, 20 of them clearheaded and fog-free, I can still maintain, without a trace of naiveté, that the pendulum will eventually swing back toward those ideals we espoused way back when. It probably won’t happen in our lifetimes, perhaps not in several lifetimes, but saving the planet will, of necessity, take precedence over nationalistic political and economic supremacy.
And music will be the force that helps drive social change, beating the drums of revolution and leading the charge of enlightenment. One soul at a time it will continue to soothe the savage beast and at the same time slay the savage bastards in power.
Otherwise we are all helpless, helpless, helpless.
Ogi may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, heard Tuesdays at 9:30 a.m. on “The Dusty Dunn Show” on WGOS 1070 AM, and seen on “Triad Today” hosted by Jim Longworth Fridays at 6:30 a.m. on ABC 45 and Sundays at 10 p.m. on WMYV 48.