Sunday, August 5, 2007

FROM THE ARCHIVES: My Ruminations on Neil Young's "Living With War Album"

It looks like Neil Young's Living With War Blog is still up and running a year after the album came out, and he even has a clock counting down the remaining days of the Bush presidency (something every hopeful household should have!). He also has postings of other protest songs/videos from artists both from the mainstream and indie sphere. I can't help but admire the energy and tenacity of this man.

Posted below is a copy of the article I wrote on my previous blog when the album came out last year. I was giddy with excitement at the time to hear such a brazen assault against the goons currently holding the reigns in Washington. A year later I am still impressed with what Neil was trying to accomplish, and his ongoing efforts to keep this message alive. Enjoy!

Friday, April 28, 2006

"LIVING WITH WAR" -Neil Young's Hopeful Protest

It is very inspiring to see what Neil Young is doing with his Living With War album. There appears to be a bold urgency attached to this project; the DIY approach, recording it in a matter of 6 days, and using the blogosphere to get the message music out quickly. The low-fi production values enhance this sense of urgency & compliments the topical relevancy of this record. You get a sense that he reached a boiling point and had an incredible burst of creativity.

It would be naive to suggest that this protest album will somehow contribute towards altering the current destructive direction of US foreign and domestic policy, or help "Impeach the President" as he playfully sings. What he does succeed in accomplishing is providing a surprisingly fresh and raw voice that stands in stark contrast to a culture of apathy, where people's worldviews are shaped by sound bites on corporate media. This is the world he critiques on Restless Consumer";

"Don't need no ad machine, Telling me what I need, Don't need no Madison Avenue
War, Don't need no more boxes I can't see, Covered in flags but I can't see
them on TV"

On the Living With War blog some people have commented around how they found the songs to be depressing, too reflective of the stark global reality of life in the early 21st century. I had the opposite reaction and have found the songs to be quite hopeful. I appreciate Neil's bluntness, which is the perfect remedy in an era of Orwellian euphemisms, where phrases like "friendly fire" and "soft targets" are used frequently to lighten up combat for the masses.

It does not seem that Neil Young is coming from a place of bleak nihilism, but a place where he feels that amidst the folly and darkness of this war there is a place for voices to cry out not only in anger, but in the hope that we can actually learn from history and make better choices. He honestly believes that as a unified voice we can make a difference.

It isn't accidental that he put together a 100 person choir to sing back up. This choir acts like a classic Greek chorus, though rather than foreshadowing a fated tragedy to come they are hopeful voices crying out , saying that we can move beyond the darkness of this current age. This is the chorus of voices on the title track that sing " I make a holy vow never to kill again". This is not the sound of people giving into despair.

In naming the sorrows of our time Neil Young helps liberate us from their tyranny. On "Shock and Awe" he sings "back in the days of shock and awe, we came to liberate them all, history was the cruel judge of overconfidence" and notes the "thousands of bodies in the ground, brought home in boxes to a trumpet's sound". This is not about narrow ideology and partisan politics. This is about being a mature global citizen, willing to analyze our actions and acknowledge our mistakes.

Neil certainly isn't the first to craft a protest album (he pays proper dues to Bob Dylan on "Flags of Freedom"), though there is an urgency and immediacy to this recording that hasn't been seen in popular music for a long time. In many ways it may become a lasting legacy, reflecting an appropriate response to a televised war in the internet age.

In using the available technology of the internet to create dialogue and have his songs heard in advance of any official release he has made this into an event that transcends the actual content of the album. In doing this he has invited us to join in with his choir and create a voice for hope and change, one that will not be content to accept the "golden photo ops" and believe that it is "mission accomplished".

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