The War Profiteer

A classic-rock icon steals Newt Gingrich's motto and the hearts of aging hippies everywhere.

Let’s draft Neil Young. Sure, he’s a sixty-year-old brain-damaged Canadian who made it into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for “Heart of Gold.” But let’s ship him off to Fallujah with an M-16 anyway, because he’s hurting America.

See, Young just released a new protest CD, Living with War, with a single “Let’s Impeach the President.” And soon the dazed Bay Area hippie will launch a 29-stop national “Freedom of Speech ’06” tour with Crosby, Stills and Nash. Charging upward of $250 per seat at the Concord Pavilion July 25, he’ll preach his clichéd ten-song stinker of a new record to a grinning choir of thousands. His goals? Exchanging ideas, getting the word out, power to the people, and unification. Yeah, right.

No sane person believes music has much of an effect on politics, except for a few mush-brained burnouts and their contemporary wannabes.

Musicians such as hardcore icons Sick of It All say singing about politics makes them feel good, but doesn’t change anything. Ska heroes the Slackers believe entertainment comes first. Band promoters, roadies — hey, even Neil Young fans don’t buy the political song and dance.

“I don’t know if music helps. There’s nothing we can do to control it all,” said Carmela Capozzo, a 53-year-old Neil Young superfan from Martinez who showed up at Concord’s Tower Records April 30 to score tickets for the show.

Starting around 8 a.m. that Sunday, a dozen or so diehard Young lovers had begun pulling into the store’s strip-mall parking lot to buy tickets, joining those already in line for Shakira and Def Leppard with Journey. Most of the Neil Young fans there cited Woodstock and the 1960s as the big nexus of music and politics, but when pressed as to how exactly a song can swing a swing state or, say, counter a million bucks’ worth of dirty funding, they all came up rather blank.

Crit Crejar, a 52-year-old former drummer in corduroys who sports frizzy Muppetlike hair, wanted to see Stills’ guitar work, not Young’s whining. “I don’t think music can contribute, but it could rile people up the way old newspapers used to,” the Vietnam draftee and attempted Woodstock attendee said.

By far the most telling response came from the first person in line. That was Joe Henderson, a 49-year-old school custodian from Benicia who may well be the East Bay’s #1 Young fan. He showed up at 7:30 a.m. in an early-’90s turquoise Hyundai Accent with a busted front end and a 107.7 The Bone bumper sticker on the back. Red veins laced his tired eyes, because he’d just pulled a double graveyard at a nearby high school with a busted water main. His overtime pay earmarked for a single $250 ticket, Henderson was seeking his icon in concert for the 21st time, after having first heard “Cinnamon Girl” in a thrift store at age 21. “It was like falling in love with life,” he said. “The sound, the lyrics, the mellow acoustic of ‘Old Man’ and ‘Old Laughing Lady’ just blew me away.”

Henderson voted for Kerry in ’04 and sees no way out of the current morass. To him, music and politics in the ’60s involved a confluence of sounds, images, and events: “It was a whole lot of things. The TV of the coffins — I don’t know. I’m pretty complacent. I always have been.”

Somehow, though, I think Young buys his own malarkey and thinks it will change something. Living with War includes songs about leaders behind locked doors, even as he refuses interviews to the likes of Press Play. What he’s deigned to tell CNN about the album’s genesis involves bits about seeing wounded soldiers in the paper and crying to his wife and starting the album: “It’s about exchanging ideas, getting the message out … empowerment … unification.”

Yet this hastily made recording exchanges not a single new idea, gets no new message out, empowers no one — and as for unity?

Come on.

Young can still shred on his Les Paul while subdued drums and bass occasionally keep time, and a hundred-voice choir or a trumpet will sometimes belt something out, but mostly it’s an aging rocker barking “No lies! No lies!” as though he’s watching C-SPAN coverage of Social Security reform.

The marquee song, “Let’s Impeach the President,” is as insipid as it is depressing. Its very title is the political equivalent of yelling “Free Bird!” at a show. It denotes you as a dated, unoriginal, unfunny jackass.

Simply put, you can’t unseat a president whose party controls all three branches of government. George W. has dodged four kamikaze airliners, a disastrous hurricane, and enough car bombs to destroy every concert arena in the country. Now a rock ‘n’ roll torpedo is supposed to sink him? It won’t even rock him, which makes all this contemporary protest music by Young, Springsteen, Pink, and Pearl Jam feel like opportunistic, profitable tripe.

Bush’s approval ratings are in the toilet. He’s the perfect paper-money tiger. Set him up, and even Good Charlotte can tear into him and collect the windfall. But when entertainment subs for engagement, America loses. Neil Young and his ilk provide a self-righteous outlet for people to stay seated. Just not in the lawn section — bad backs.

Which brings us back to the drafting of Neil Young.

Bad back or not, conscript this man. Stick him on the wall of the Green Zone with that harmonica in his mouth and bullets whizzing by, and roll the cameras. The sight of our sad, confused old Crazy Horseman limping around, yelling “I’ve been a miner for a heart of gold,” could match the pathos of that little girl running from napalm with her clothes burned off her.

That’s how you rock a vote and make a buck. With televised carnage and a draft.

Just ask “Ohio.”


Newsletter sign-up

eLert sign-up

clear sky
64.3 ° F
75 °
56.9 °
70 %
1 %
64 °
63 °
60 °
61 °
65 °
Support the East Bay Express, local news, donate