Neil Young: Gimme Some Truth

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I’m writing this while listening to Neil Young’s new album, Living With War. It’s a great record, and I mean that not just musically, but also in the old sense that Ani Difranco sang about,

people used to make records

as in a record of an event

the event of people playing music in a room

Young filled a record studio with one hundred of LA’s best session singers, none of whom had any idea what they’d be singing that day, and in one twelve hour day of recording they created a raw, passionate and human sound that is perfectly suited for Living With War‘s theme of protest and redemption. Young also uses a trumpet to punctuate his melodies, and I love how it slices through the gutteral sound of his trademark electric guitar.

I titled this post Gimme Some Truth because throughout Living With War, Young is making one demand, for the truth. “Don’t need no more lies,” he cries. “Let’s impeach the president for lying.” Bush’s lies, about the Iraq War, the NSA wiretaps, “Mission Accomplished–these are the big lies that Young is outraged by.

I know Young’s approach to politics is hardly a consistent one–that he supported Reagan in the 1980s, that in the early days of the AIDS crisis he made homophobic statements, and after 9-11 he recorded the pro-war song, “Let’s Roll.” But he’s an artist, not a politician or an academic. Like Whitman said, he’s large, containing contradictions. If anything, when he sings in “Shock and Awe,” that “we went with what we knew and now we can’t go back, but had a chance to change our mind,” I think he’s admitting that’s he’s changed his. Neil Young, swing voter.

Truth is painful. I think it’s hard to live with truth everyday. Like I said the other day, if you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention. But today, the truth hurts and it’s easier to be numb, or to shut it out. In the record’s mournful title song, “Living With War,” Young sings: “I’m living with war everyday, I’m living with war in my heart everyday, I’m living with war right now” but he also says “I take a holy vow to never kill again” and “try to remember peace.” As he sang those words I thought of what he did with John Lennon’s “Imagine” on the 9-11 memorial album. Remember? He changed the line, “Imagine no possessions, I wonder if you can,” to “I wonder if I can.” That was some truth.

“No one can now doubt the word of America,” Bush says at the end of a series of contradictory speech clips that Young weaves into the “Flip/Flop” section of “Let’s Impeach the President,” and you know what BS that is.

Remarkably, Living With War is not just an angry record of a moment, but also a hopeful statement for what we could yet do. When Young put this record on the internet, he said he wanted people to have to listen to the album’s songs in the order that they appear, not to jump straight to the most controversial title. And so it’s significant that after “Let’s Impeach the President,” he sings

Looking for a leader

To bring our country home

Reunite the red, white and blue

Before it turns to stone

Lookin’ for somebody

Young enough to take it on

Clean up the corruption

And make the country strong

I especially liked this stanza (maybe because I’m for Clean Elections):

Yeah we’ve got our election

But corruption has a chance

We got to have a clean win

To regain confidence

America is beautiful

But she has an ugly side

We’re lookin’ for a leader

In the country far and wide

We’re lookin’ for a leader

With The Great Spirit on his side.

Yesterday at GEL2006, Craig Newmark made a joke about wearing more black and “trying to be more cynical,” but I’m glad that Neil Young decided to wear his heart on his sleeve with this record. If this country isn’t going to go down the tubes, it’ll only be because a lot more people decide they’re going to do the same thing.

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