Letters for the week of June 28-July 4, 2006

Time for a week of bashing David Downs over his recent column bashing Neil Young. And, come to think of it, we got enough letters on this topic alone to last a month.

“The War Profiteer,” Press Play, 5/17

Wasted space
Mr. Downs: Your article on Neil Young is a journalistic disgrace. You called a man who suffered an aneurysm “brain damaged.” Your lack of class and tact is galling. While it’s true that Neil’s new album isn’t much, what have YOU done for anybody? At least the man is trying. And as for your cries of profiteering, did you not know that this album was downloadable for free from his Web site? It seems your big problem here is that Mr. Young did not do an interview with you. The Express is no place for your sour grapes, and it behooves me that I had to read it. You have indicated just why Neil Young would not want to be interviewed by you — you’re an obvious hack. Hopefully, in the future, you’ll have something useful to say, but I have my doubts about it. What a waste of good journalistic space.

Glen Baker, Oakland

Who’s hurting America?
When finally given the chance to review something important, David Downs blew it. His review of Neil Young’s new CD, Living with War, is one of the most cynical, depressing things I’ve ever read. Young’s show of spirit should be celebrated. Yet, in Downs’ world, sixtysomething rockers and antiwar songs are forbidden. What an awful place to be. Who’s hurting America? Look in the mirror, Mr. Downs.
Pat Moreira, Oakland

Wet piece of shit
Your new music editor is off to a pathetic start with his hatchet job on Neil Young, or more importantly, on the very notion of music (art) as a form of protest. Based on the quote provided, I don’t think Mr. Young believes for a moment that his mediocre new CD is going to knock George W. Bush out of office, but he was frustrated enough with the fact that that no young popular singer had released a direct reaction to the current government that he felt compelled to make one himself.

More to the point, you’re picking a rather poor target, since Young has been putting his money where his mouth is for decades with his annual Bridge School benefits. And he’s also made it clear through his eccentric career that he doesn’t give a flying fuck at a rolling doughnut what critics think, nor has he positioned himself on any sort of “pop success track.” But oh, yes, Neil Young is “hurting America” with his album and tour and his “exchanging [of] ideas.”

I should ask, Mr. Downs, what exactly you are doing with your implied indignation over the current administration? Oh! I forgot: New Times’ stated editorial policy is that they don’t publish editorials at all. Uh huh.

We can’t all be Stephen Colberts, who manage through their fame to get an invite to a Washington Press Corps dinner and verbally destroy President Bush (and the entire press elite along with him), literally right to his face. But Neil Young and many, many more of us do use art as a tool, and it IS all about “ideas.” Your paper has become a soulless, centrist rag which is totally out of touch with its readership — a wet piece of shit flopping in the wind, to quote Charles Bukowski — and is the living example of “inaction.”
Peter Conheim, Richmond

Critics sit alone
Pretty scathing, Mr. Downs. I wonder if you could sit down and break bread with Neil and tell this to his face. Oh, he won’t give you an interview. Maybe that’s why your review is so scathing. Really, it’s not a review. You said little about the content. Well I suppose you did. There isn’t any according to you. I’m sure Neil needs the cash.

All you critics sit alone/you’re no better than me for what you’ve shown.— Neil Young, “Ambulance Blues.”
Forrest Whitlow, Kansas City, Missouri

I guess I’m insane
“No sane person believes music has much effect on politics, except for a few mush-brained burnouts and their contemporary wannabes.” !? I chuckled to the tune of our national anthem until I realized he was serious. Can the Bay Area really have become numb to the power of music? Here in the Midwest it still stirs our souls. We all know you can go deaf from too many loud concerts, but who would have thought it could deaden your spirit? Or is David’s political agenda affecting his judgment? Stay tuned. Time will tell.

Lee Baldwin, Spring Park, Minnesota

It hurts to think
David Downs has really hit the nail on the head. Who wants to hear any singers sing about the Iraq War? There should be a law that singers can only sing about either being in love, or a breakup. Also, all music should have a great beat, perfect singer, and have as little of a message as possible. Tommy Roe paved the path to this back in the day when Neil Young was writing songs that had all these deeper metaphors. When I listen to Tommy, the songs are meaningless, just like real music should be. Listening to Neil Young would make me start to think. Then wonder what he is really saying. Then think some more. It hurts to use my brain too much. Who wants to think when listening to music?

Now Neil Young is old. And old people shouldn’t write, sing, or play instruments. (Actually they should ban guitars, too; just drum machines, that’s all music needs.) Old people are all either stupid or brain dead. I’m with you 100 percent, David. I’m not brain dead; I simply choose not to use my brain. There is a big difference. We have the potential to be smart; we just choose not to be. Why do we need Neil Young when we have American Idol? That’s real music.
Ron Wilhelm, Lubbock, Texas

You should be fired
David Downs: On music and its place in culture, you are lost in a world of complete stupidity. Your stupidity is not just harming America, but the world. You should be fired for writing crap. You’re like, “Hey everybody! Listen to me. I’ll be the alternative alternative, and say really dumb shit so people will think I have some kind of credibility.” Instead you offer up pundit spewing garbage that belongs on The O’Reilly Factor. You suck.

PS — Someone at the Express needs to review the new Pearl Jam album. That is, if the publication wants to stay relevant.
James Marvel, Concord

Editor’s note
David Downs reviewed the Pearl Jam album in our May 31 issue.

Amend your statement
I don’t pretend to understand or endorse what Neil Young is doing musically with this venture. I would probably leave this all well enough alone, but it ties in with two other rock journalism memes floating around, the Godsmack vs. Jay Babcock interview, and to a lesser extent the Stephin Merritt/Jessica Hopper brouhaha.

Both examples show that there are plenty of people, other than burnouts or wannabe burnouts, who believe that musical and demographic leanings are part of a social identity that is necessarily political, if not a one-to-one equivalency. I would amend your statement to “No sane person believes that listening to a song changes anything objectively in the world other than moving air particles around.”

While I might agree that buying a ticket to see Neil Young on tour is not an adequate replacement for some sort of substantive social engagement or mass movement, one wonders where that movement will come from. You seem to conclude that media does have the power to horrify and shock, and that righteous outrage does have a place in fomenting a social movement — only that it is offensive when it’s perpetrated by aging hippies. I can relate to this moral quandary myself — why do I want to be against the war when all the other antiwar types are so, I don’t know, elderly and tasteless?

No one thinks that listening to a song makes you a racist, makes you kill yourself, or makes George Bush not be the president. While we can agree that a song does not equal the thing it represents or refers to, if we believe that music doesn’t have even the potential to change your subjective experience, then you and I are both in the wrong business.

George Chen, Alternative Tentacles, Emeryville

Your reasoning is flawed
If music has had no effect on politics, then Woody Guthrie and his songs would never have raised people’s awareness of trade unions and their struggles in the 1930s and 1940s. If music has had no effect on politics, then Bob Dylan would never have played his songs protesting civil rights abuses and urging his listeners to pressure the government to end segregation. If music has had no effect on politics, Bob Marley would never have gotten political rivals and mortal enemies Michael Manley and Edward Seaga onstage to shake hands and help to bring an end to years of ghetto bloodshed …

In the vaster sense of changing people’s minds, music has made a difference. Your reasoning is flawed: It’s analogous to arguing that sculpture has had no effect on architecture. I don’t know what you are doing writing about music if you don’t know how ballads, anthems, hymns, poems, folk tunes, sea shanties, etc. have influenced politics over the centuries. Music can’t accomplish the same thing as armed revolt, but for many years musicians did go into battle alongside the soldiers.

The idea that bands today are writing protest songs for their own amusement strikes me as silly. I never got the sense that Black Flag or the Clash were goofing around when they wrote songs attacking the police and the government. … It was more like a call to arms.

And so, maybe Neil Young’s new protest CD does suck. (I prefer his Hawks and Doves record.) The failure of one protest CD doesn’t erase the impact others have had on making people aware of what’s going on in our country and how we might want to change it.

Randall Rhodes, San Francisco

Victor Jara lives
I was wondering why you published that piece of crap about Neil Young. It is insulting!

It was a bitter and hostile editorial. That guy has personal problem with Young.

You know that “Young’s whining” is the same of millions of people around the world victims of Bush empire. (Your writer Downs should see these people “yelling” he would know the real meaning of “yelling.”)

Meaningful musicians do art reflecting their people conditions; they do it with pride, with beauty, from their trenches or “places” of expertise. Young does it from behind his guitar and he is honest about his feelings against the war and he represents millions of us around.

What is wrong with Downs is written in this bumper sticker “If you are not outrage, you are not paying attention.”
Downs’ points about music and art not “having an effect on politics” is resentful, cynical, and maybe naive. Please teach Downs about singer Victor Jara and make him read the interview to Pete Seeger in the New Yorker, April 17, ’06.

I think the East Bay Express is much more smart than that!!

Fernando Torres, La Peña staff collective member, Berkeley

More revolutionary than you know
David Downs’ review of the new Neil Young album Living with War is a bitter, wrong-headed misrepresentation, and I never would have expected the EBX to publish it. His underlying point seems to be “Music can never change politics and no one can do anything about our country’s political crisis, and the musicians releasing political music now are just cashing in.” Please remove head from butt, Mr. Downs.

Music has played a critical role in political protest movements around the world; obviously Neil Young doesn’t have the legislative authority to impeach the president, but he, Springsteen, Pearl Jam, etc., have a HUGE fan base that will hear their music and perhaps be moved to take action and at least vote. Yes, music does get people riled up, and emotion is the spark of mass movements — people become aware and get upset enough to do something about it. Most everybody in the Bay Area may have voted against Bush to no avail, but that is not the case in the majority of states in this country, and those states have plenty of rockers who can be reached by mainstream artists like those above. As for cashing in, I did not know that it costs $250 to see Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young live (is that accurate?). But Young released the album in question for free listening on his Web site. The whole album. How many artists do that with their music? That was revolutionary, and Young having the balls to speak out is revolutionary too. Plus, I think the record rocks, and I’m not an aging hippie. He is a musician, and he’s using his music to try to make change, while you are using your column to tell everyone to give up all hope now.

Alexey Berlind, Oakland

So much negativity
The review of Neil Young’s Living with War by David Downs is, well, a real downer. So much negativity. It is a “clever” and unfeeling review. What impact will the CD have? Who knows? That kind of thing is very hard to quantify. But what is the alternative here; that artists and citizens in general should just suffer this administration in silence? And the fact that it is hard to quantify the effect of artistic expressions doesn’t mean they have no impact.

Bravo to Neil Young for speaking up and out through his medium. I clicked on his Web site again today, NeilYoung.com, and read the following:
“Our first week of general release on the street has passed and your response has been gratifying … thanks to all of you, music lovers, press, radio and my friends at reprise records … your support for this album has been unprecedented in my time making records … next week our print ad campaign gets under way … I think you will find it interesting because we take what you have said and used it to spread the word … NY May 16.06”

The CD is streaming for free there.

Is David Downs really the “new music editor” there? Oh no!

P.S. And I simply enjoy listening to Living with War.

Philip Keddy, Berkeley

You remind me of Rush
Your review was disappointing. It reminded me of the immature personalities on talk radio that call people names (like bullies in the playground) Your referring to Mr. Young as “Mr. Dung” was so ridiculous I can’t believe it is in print. Neil Young has put many of our feelings into words and music. It is music that matters because it reminds us that our lives could be better.

Your article is like a loudspeaker, so loud and obnoxious we cannot hear the word “hope” … did you mean to drown it out?

Elisabet Carlson, Berkeley

What do you want?
That’s one pretty bitter, defeated author of that review. Just what do you want from musicians — more love songs? What good are you doing against this administration? Writing a pissy review? Do you know how many red state Americans like Willie Nelson and Neil Young? Do you really think Neil’s album will have no effect? Do you think Willie Nelson’s gay cowboy song was a waste of time too? Why don’t you stop writing reviews and get a job as a Realtor and make some money and stop posing as a writer. Maybe that’s why you’re so bitter.

Mario DeSio, Oakland

Sucking Nazi assholes
Oh, yo! David Downs —- lay down —- Press snooze, go get under your clichéd rock, and I’ll take an out-of-focus fuzzy, kool, brain-dead “photo” of your negative space.

No voices?! No guts?! How do u creep? “Working” for a branch of shit papers!?

“Politics” and music don’t work?! Were u spawned yesterday? Afraid to stand in the street?! Fuck $250.00 seats! That ain’t the issue here -— assholes like u are sucking Nazi assholes, whether u can face it or not.

R. Pocekay, Richmond

Why don’t you enlist?
Your supposedly cute little piece on Neil Young’s latest album is one of the most egocentric and sophomoric pieces of music writing I have ever read (and there are a lot of examples out there). What was the point of the cynical crap you spewed upon the pages of the Express regarding the value of music and culture in opposing the arbitrary acts of governments out of control? To prove that solipsistic creatures like yourself are so far beyond the ordinary concerns of life and death that they can go to a ticket line and find three or four other people that agree with their infantile view of the world? Or to help out the warmongers in Washington by convincing readers of your column that resistance to their war is futile and they should just roll with the project for a new American century (as you seem to have)?

As for the idea of drafting Neil Young — let me suggest you avoid the draft and just go on ahead and enlist. There’s a recruiting center in the shopping mall closest to your house.
Ron Jacobs, Asheville, North Carolina


I just got done reading your article about Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen in which you all seem to think Neil Young should be drafted and sent to Fallujah. Interestingly enough I got there from a link on the Living With War Web site. Seems Neil’s more into distributing information than you guys maybe. And as ridiculous as your suggestion seems, you’re probably right; that would get more press attention than his songs. But it almost seems to me as though you all are in support of the war and that just seems odd to me. Maybe I just don’t get your sarcasm. But I guess my question is: Are you all making any money covering the war? And you’re not the only people asking the question about making money on protest art. Some friends of mine are in a band and asked the same question. In the end, however, this is a capitalistic country and if you want to be heard you damn well better have some money.

I just got back from a vacation to Canada and saw CSN&Y in Ottawa. I happen to like those guys and while I somehow think that you all have a point, I thought that the show was pretty good. These guys certainly don’t have the answer to the current world problems except they and I just don’t like what’s going on and they feel the need to express that. The only thing that I can say in criticism of the show was that there seemed to be too much concern over the American dead in Iraq but no mention of dead Iraqis. War just makes no sense so I suppose that trying to make sense out of all the related stuff probably can’t either. But I think that not saying anything against war is probably not going to help the situation and you should probably give these guys some credit for trying even if you think that their songs suck.

Patrick Wood, Providence, Rhode Island

Days that used to be
Sorry, you have no memory of how important music used to be. We really did listen to the message and it moved many of us to think and sometimes do things in a different way. Your arrogance is unbelievable and your lack of context is appalling! A music critic should understand the influences as well as the heart of an artist. It is unbelievable that you have taken the time and space to support GW and you have personally attacked a man who has just endured a life-threatening episode. Maybe you can clear your little mind long enough to realize that some people are worth listening to over and over again.

Katie Lewis, Salt Lake City, Utah


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