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Northern man
Special From Our Own Correspondent
Submitted By holly, 19 April 2006 | 1010 22

It seems to me that Neil Young's life thus far, at least in the spotlight of popular culture, has been one long protest song. And so I am not sure why anyone should be up in arms about the release of his new album of anti-war songs, "Living with War", especially since, people, that is what we are doing. Reading in the history books and seeing movies about people and cultures during wartimes has led me to imagine that everyone was preoccupied with the event itself and doing what they could to help or respond. Perhaps in other times this has been the case. There were sit-ins and protest marches and rallies, the community joining together, people volunteering, women working in airplane parts' factories, sewing uniforms, bandaging the wounded. Now all we have to unite over are the headlines, CNN, nightly news, the internet, and sports bars with TVs. I am sure there are societies somewhere that discuss these matters. There are care packages by the hundreds stacked up in the post offices around the world. There are chain emails and photographs of soldiers praying in the sand, the light forming crosses behind the American flag, the daily blurbs and counts of the number of deceased in Iraq.
It is easy to idealize the groups of people that were fighting for their causes in days of yore when you take a gander at black and white press photos of boys and girls, young men and women holding crisscrossed arms and hands in a long line with banners streaming before and behind them. And then there are the songs. Do we have such songs today? Hearing American Pie on easy listening doesn't really light my fire, i'm not sure about you.
This brings me back to Neil, who has been faithful in every decade of his musicmaking existence to bring radical songs to the public, many born simply from his seeing a headline or a photograph. And having a heart to care.
Perhaps with a full name like Neil Percival Kenneth Robert Ragland Young you feel that you have something to live up to. Maybe it's because his dad was in WWII. Maybe he felt that "Sultan" wasn't the best way to get the ball rolling. Whatever the case, his first real hit song was the 60s anti-war song, "For what it's worth"..you know the one, the one that is in all the vietnam movies, "everybody stop, listen, what's that sound, everybody hear what's going round...", tho i think "Buffalo Springfield Again" gets the credit for it.
But then after a couple of sugar mountains and confessing, 'i am a child', Neil turns up the heat in 1970, with "OHIO" and "Southern Man". Set on different sides of the Mason Dixon line, we find that we are divided still, tho the lines may be harder to see. Neil finds them on the electric guitar. A young man lies dead on the pavement of Ohio State University, shot down by the National Guard's open fire into what was supposed to be a peaceful protest against the Vietnam War. A young women crouches above him, one hand beckoning toward him, one fist raised to the sky, her mouth opened in grief and disbelief. The politicians have the power is the message. The power to kill at random unarmed students who are empassioned about their cause. And here is Neil, taking up his guitar and slamming everyone with
"tin soldiers and Nixon's coming
We're finally on our own
this summer i hear the drumming
four dead in Ohio.."
This was pretty brave. And it is still here. Not many will remember the names of the students killed, or what was in the press at the time, but a lot of people could sing this song with you. There is a fire behind it. It still stirs the senses, thirtysix years later. A lifetime older than me.

Then he travels further south on "Southern Man" and "Alabama". Now, i'm from the south, and for the most part, i think i know how things go around here. I heard the Lynard Skynard potshot at Neil before i even heard what caused their insecurity. I have thought that perhaps Neil is in favor of pointing the finger at the folks he sees as holding the controls. I think bigger things are at hand, but you have to appreciate that the man is angry and that he is writing some good songs. Twenty years after the fact, kids in Young Life( a christian organization??) are singing "Sweet home alabama", but only a few angst ridden teens in the South are in their rooms listening to "Alabama, you got the rest of the Union to help you along, what's going wrong?", certainly a slam to the sons of Confederate Veterans.
And then the knife goes a little deeper in the soil of the plantation lifestyle we all love to romanticize in "Southern Man":

Southern man
better keep your head
Don't forget
what your good book said
Southern change
gonna come at last
Now your crosses
are burning fast
Southern man

I saw cotton
and I saw black
Tall white mansions
and little shacks.
Southern man
when will you
pay them back?
I heard screamin'
and bullwhips cracking
How long? How long?

Was Neil ever ON a plantation? Probably not. Could we write a song about the north? Probably. However, "I saw carpet baggers
Stealing money
I saw industry in the north
They don't care about our agriculture
Or what has been
our way of life,
Northern Man..."really doesn't hold much import when you think on the evils of slavery. And who really cares when you hear him screaming and the guitars ripping it up on that track? Lynard Skynard, whatever.
We alight upon him next during a psychedelic look at the Inquisition. Religious injustice in ancient Mexico or a lost love? Again, when the guitar starts playing the beautiful and mournful notes that lead up to "He came dancing across the water, with his galleons and guns, looking for a new world, and a palace in the sun...", it's all water under the bridge. Still, Spain's Franco was not amused and the song was banned.

Twelve albums later, the seventies are over. And Neil cruises into the 80s, a little bewildered, never one to be pegged, switching from country, to folk, to rock, to blues and back again in no particular order,and supporting Reagan?! wow, this man is a mystery. But then the tension starts to build, and Mtv is making videos a way of life. There's this older guy with crazy long hair flapping in the wind machine, peace signs on his quitar strap and singing about rocking in the free world. He's also missing a tooth or two from some riots he was involved in on Sunset strip in the sixties. But he's still rocking and singing scornfully of the "thousand points of light" in a society riddled with problems like drug abuse and homelessness. Probably half of the MTv viewers never got these references, but everyone was willing to keep on rockin in the free world.

And apparently so is Neil, a decade and a half and brain anyeurism later. I don't know about politics very much, I'm not really for hanging your hat on a person or organization on this earth, but I realize that we are in a crisis. Again. Maybe the biggest one yet. And Neil Young has something to say about it. Jimmy McDonough, in his biography on Young, says, "In ten lines Young captured the fear, frustration and anger felt by the youth across the country and set it to a lumbering D-modal death march that hammered the dread home."
So I think i'll check out the album. And I'd like to say, God bless the child.

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