Neil Young has never been a shrinking violet when it comes to politics and controversy. The stage production/DVD/CD release “Greendale”in 2004 addresses the issue of how small town America deals with the various subgroups within American culture. His latest release, “Living With War,” is an hour long diatribe against the Bush Administration and Neil Young is not pulling any punches. Young, with the help of some good production and a chorus accenting his anti-Bush message, has given his editorial on the state of affairs in the nation. While it is not a fresh idea for a rocker or celebrity to chime in to pile on President Bush, Neil Young has the rock and roll pedigree to draw attention from the pantheon of musicians and artists in America today.
A look at the song list for “Living With War” leaves little to the imagination concerning Neil Young’s opinion on American politics. Songs like “Let’s Impeach the President” and “Shock and Awe” not only provide an easy glimpse into Young’s psyche but give a good summary of the songs’ refrain against George W. Bush. However, it would be unfair to criticize Neil Young for being too down on America or lacking the hope that most people would like to see in their celebrities. Young, who has conversed with leaders like Barack Obama and Al Gore, has a song called “Lookin’ for a Leader,” a hopeful anthem that seems to echo a majority of Americans’ opinion of the way our government is running. In “Families,” Young is celebrating the families of soldiers while giving an acrid backward glance to all the parties involved in the invasion of Iraq. Young’s more cynical side comes through in “After the Garden,” which implies a postapocalyptic world where we won’t need a “strong man” or anything else, for that matter. However, Neil Young provides one of the most hopeful endings possible to a record laced with criticism: the final three minutes of “Living With War” consist of a stirring rendition of “America the Beautiful,” which can arouse the hopes of even the most jaded of American citizens.
While there has been a deluge of political anthems and records over the last six years (wonder why?), Neil Young seems to have gone above and beyond in protesting the Bush Administration’s rather unpopular actions. He has devoted an entire record to a thorough criticism of American politics and a somber reminder of all of the consequences of an unjust war. Young is hoping that such a record will direct a younger generation of angry musicians to create a counterculture similar to the 1960s and 1970s, when he came up as an angry rocker. However, the crass, MTVized nature of music today makes this hope a pipe dream.