In his interview with the CBC’s Jian Gomeshi, Neil Young starts off by saying that he wishes that he’d done the “Honor The Treaties” tour years ago. He speaks in low, deliberate tones. I know that underneath this typical reserve, he’s seething. The anger and pain is tangible, and miles away from the quirky wit he normally employs in interviews. He’s putting his values as a Canadian up for debate, and I applaud him for it. We need more of this, especially in Canada where our artists tend not to take strong political positions, either due to fear or ignorance.
Neil is exactly the kind of hell-bent firebrand that we need. People have taken offence to the things he’s said, but the truth is that he’s angry and he has a right to express that rage. He’s one of the most famous Canadians, and he’s leveraging that fame by taking a strong position on the Alberta oil sands and the attendant exploitation of Canada’s First Nations. He deserves respect for that, not to be tacitly mocked by the Prime Minister’s Office. He rightly points out that his detractors are not paying attention to the actual issue, and would rather deride him personally than speak about anything meaningful.
To the people who say that musicians shouldn’t comment on politics: this is NEIL FUCKING YOUNG! You know, the activist hippie who wrote “Ohio” and “Rockin’ In The Free World”? If you want someone to shut up and play nice songs with nice messages, you’ve got the wrong rock star.
The response from the Harper Conservatives has been to write Neil off, referring to him and his “lifestyle” with a wink of degradation and disrespect. Great artists have always stood as the voice of the people, and Young deserves our respect for trying to bring attention to an unpleasant and complicated issue that has become the crucial component of the modern Conservative movement in Canada. The government is obviously terrified that someone famous with a social conscience is taking them to task. I can’t remember the last time the Government felt it necessary to actually respond to a series of benefit concerts. The fact that Neil’s hell-raising warrants an Official Government Response is proof that his campaign is working. Trying to write people off as irrelevant is the Government’s time-honoured tactic for discrediting their opposition, but this time it’s not going to be so easy. The people are waking up. Hey hey, my my.