Young inspires the old with new songs

It’s hard not to be impressed when rock legend Neil Young raises a jar of clear liquid before the thousands of fans at one of his concerts and,…

It’s hard not to be impressed when rock legend Neil Young raises a jar of clear liquid before the thousands of fans at one of his concerts and, uttering one of only two sentences spoken all night, thanks his sponsor, “water.”

I was among last week’s throng at Shea’s Theatre in Buffalo, New York.

I’m a fan. And my husband is a huge fan. And, since the veteran rocker is getting on in age, we decided seeing him perform Cinnamon Girl for perhaps the last time was worth the effort and expense involved in travelling more than 8,000 kilometres.

At 62 years old, Neil Young didn’t disappoint.

He never does; it’s not his style.

After years of drinking and doing drugs like most other young and idealistic rockers of the 1960s and ‘70s, Young went on to do what too many successful musicians don’t: he aged gracefully, without the drugs, kept rocking, and remained idealistic and politically active.

He is, in spirit, still young (ignore the pun).

Look at him last year: Practically a senior citizen, Young put America’s youth to shame when he penned some of the most politically brazen songs of this century for Living with War.

“I was waiting for someone to come along, some young singer 18-to-22 years old, to write these songs and stand up,” he told the Los Angeles Times upon its release.

“I waited a long time. Then I decided that maybe the generation that has to do this is still the ’60s generation. We’re still here.”

Born and raised in Canada, but a longtime resident of California, Young drew heaps of criticism for producing an “unpatriotic” album condemning a war for which, according to those critics, he had no business even talking about.

Living with War lambastes the Iraq invasion and the questionable interests of its civilian general, George W. Bush, with such vitriolic anthems as: Let’s Impeach the President (for lyin’… for misleading… for abusing), Lookin’ For a Leader, and Shock and Awe.

The third track on Living with War, The Restless Consumer, could easily title this very column.

Here, the veteran rocker rails against the “ad machine” and consumer culture by repeating, again and again, Don’t need no more lies! Music to my ears …

The reviews of this CD were, for the most part, terrible.

The folk rocker was criticized for using a choir and trumpets.

Some decried its acerbic tone and the fact that Young seemed to be having too much fun making it, and then talking about it.

Young wrote the 10 songs in nine days and rushed the CD to production, and it shows, said critics.

But, just because Neil Young is an icon with dozens of hits to his credit doesn’t mean every song needs to be a Heart of Gold.

Some, including me, see it as nothing short of heroic that someone of Neil Young’s artistic and pop-culture stature would throw an album together, sacrificing perfection (this time), because he was angry at the state of his adopted country and because he thought something needed to be done.

The album is itself an anthem for the ages.

It gives hope to anyone over 30 who possesses a shred of — well, hope — that the world isn’t totally doomed.

Young has consistently written songs about the environment, including Mother Earth (Natural Anthem), from the 1990 album Ragged Glory, and Be the Rain from his 2003 album Greendale, which kind of hits home:

“Save the planet for another day / Attention shoppers / Buy with a conscience and save / Save the planet for another day / Save Alaska!/ Let the caribou stay.”

Neil Young has never been afraid to speak out.

He wrote and recorded Ohio after the 1970 shootings of four students by the National Guard at Ohio’s Kent State University.

He wrote about racism in the south in Southern Man.

But he has had some opinions that are hardly admirable among fans like me, and which seem inconsistent with the left-wing Michael Moore-type thumping of Living with War.

“As befits a man nicknamed Shakey, his political vacillations are legendary,” writes Alexis Petridis in the May 5, 2006, edition of Britain’s The Guardian.

In the 1980s, Young supported Ronald Reagan’s nuclear weapons.

“Then there was AIDS, about which Young pronounced himself very concerned,” writes Petridis. “Not with research or healthcare, but with the prospect of ‘a faggot’ working in the fruit and veg department of his local supermarket: ‘You don’t want him to handle your potatoes,’ he counselled.”

Luckily for Neil fans, he would get over that and go on to perform at a benefit for poverty and AIDS in Africa, Live 8.

He is one of the founders of Farm Aid. And he and his wife Pegi have been organizing the Bridge School Concerts, fundraisers for the Bridge School for handicapped children, including his son, since 1986.

Neil Young is what we want our heroes to be: human, caring, fighting and rockin’.

At Shea’s Theatre in Buffalo, when Neil performed his first set alone, wearing what appeared to be a linen suit and pressed white shirt, and bumbled around between songs, touching one or two guitars among his shiny acoustic collection before settling on a third, one worried if this grey-haired chap was shuffling towards the end of his career.

Then, after a 20-minute intermission, Neil returned, still in a white shirt and blazer, yet transformed by an old pair of paint-splattered jeans.

He and his band then proceeded to rock the house. I didn’t look up, but I’d bet money the chandeliers in that antiquated playhouse were swayin’.

Juliann Fraser is a writer living in Whitehorse.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A bobcat is used to help clear snow in downtown Whitehorse on Nov. 4. According to Environment Canada, the Yukon has experienced record-breaking precipitation this year. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Yukon will have “delayed spring” after heavy winter snowfall

After record levels of precipitation, cold spring will delay melt

Yukon RCMP say they’ve received three reports of youth being extorted online. (Black Press file)
Yukon youth being extorted online

Yukon RCMP say they’ve received three reports of youth being extorted on… Continue reading

Fines for contravening the fire ban start at $1,150 and could go as high as $100,000. File photo
Yukon campgrounds will open on May 1 this year. (Black Press file)
Yukon campgrounds to open early

Yukon campgrounds will open on May 1 this year. The early opening… Continue reading

A Housing First building on Fifth Avenue and Wood Street will be taken over by the Council of Yukon First Nations and John Howard Society later this month. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
CYFN, John Howard Society take over downtown Housing First residence

The organizations have pledged culturally appropriate service for its many Indigenous residents

Legislative assembly on the last day of the fall sitting in Whitehorse on Nov. 22, 2018. Politicians return for the spring sitting of the assembly March 4. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Analysis: What to expect in spring sitting of the legislature

They’re back on March 4, but election speculation is looming large

A man walks passed the polling place sign at city hall in Whitehorse on Oct. 18, 2018. The City of Whitehorse is preparing for a pandemic-era election this October with a number of measures proposed to address COVID-19 restrictions. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
City gets set for Oct. 21 municipal election

Elections procedures bylaw comes forward

A rendering of the Normandy Manor seniors housing facility. (Photo courtesy KBC Developments)
Work on seniors housing project moves forward

Funding announced for Normandy Manor

Tom Ullyett, pictured, is the first Yukoner to receive the Louis St-Laurent Award of Excellence from the Canadian Bar Association for his work as a community builder and mentor in the territory. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News)
Tom Ullyett wins lifetime achievement award from the Canadian Bar Association

Ullyett has worked in the Yukon’s justice ecosystem for 36 years as a public sector lawyer and mentor

The Blood Ties outreach van will now run seven nights a week, thanks to a boost in government funding. Logan Godin, coordinator, and Jesse Whelen, harm reduction counsellor, are seen here on May 12, 2020. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Blood Ties outreach van running seven nights a week with funding boost

The Yukon government is ramping up overdose response, considering safe supply plan

Ranj Pillai speaks to media about business relief programs in Whitehorse on April 1, 2020. The Yukon government announced Feb.25 that it will extend business support programs until September. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Government extends business relief programs to September, launches new loan

“It really gives folks some help with supporting their business with cash flow.”

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
A look at decisions made by Whitehorse City Council this week

Bylaw amendment Whitehorse city council is moving closer with changes to a… Continue reading

Susie Rogan is a veteran musher with 14 years of racing experience and Yukon Journey organizer. (Yukon Journey Facebook)
Yukon Journey mushers begin 255-mile race

Eleven mushers are participating in the race from Pelly Crossing to Whitehorse

Legislative assembly on the last day of the fall sitting in Whitehorse on Nov. 22, 2018. As the legislature prepares to return on March 4, the three parties are continuing to finalize candidates in the territory’s 19 ridings. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Nine new candidates confirmed in Yukon ridings

It has been a busy two weeks as the parties try to firm up candidates

Most Read