Mr. Young Goes To Washington

When Stephen Colbert hosted the White House Correspondents Dinner — the annual D.C. puppet show where reporters play pattycake with the Prez — he rode the Trojan Horse of Truthiness right up to the President’s table and unleashed its hidden contents: a disinfecting dose of reality-based reality, thinly-coated with irony for easier digestion, though impossible to swallow for those weaned on Fox News comfort food. Speaking truth to power at point blank-range, Colbert’s barbs essentially added up to: The emperor has no clothes, and all of you, the Fourth Estate, have become nothing more than royal dressers. No wonder Colbert’s performance was greeted with pin-drop silence and muzzled in the coverage of the event. It is a sad day for the Republic when the job of truth-telling falls to the clowns.

Increasingly, rock music is stepping into the breach, bridging the yawning chasm between what is real and what is permitted. There was a time when I would have thought the protest song had outlived its usefulness. Turns out no generation gets the protest songs it wants, it gets the protest songs it needs. What’s that you say? Preaching to the choir? Well, look around, son — there ain’t, no choir. That all changes with Neil Young’s Living With War, wherein Young employs a massive power-to-the-people choir to recite his words, themselves essentially articles of impeachment that Neil stacks on an electric chair of metallic folk-punk. This is Neil, the righteous electric warrior, rockin’ in the free world. Like Colbert’s performance, Living With War essentially points out that our Dear Leader is stark ravin’ nekkid, cataloguing the bald-faced lies that led us into quagmire, keep us divided and afraid and the resulting slow-but-steady amputation of the national soul. If the congressional Dems don’t have the balls to say it, our hairy Canadian friend will: It is time for us to wake-up from our long national nightmare.

Coming on the heels of a major concert movie/album release, and written and recorded in three weeks in March and rushed out to the Internet and CD sellers this week, Living With War is blog rock — or more accurately, rock as blog. Brash, raw and immediate. And to make sure his point is not lost on the common man, Young dresses these songs up in his best distressed-jeans freedom-rock — think Rust Never Sleep‘s garage-punk crunch — and reclaims the flag, mom, apple pie, truth, justice and the American Way from the war pigs. But the most powerful moment is when that big, soulful choir does “America The Beautiful” — sounding fierce, wounded, and saddened but resolute. It contains multitudes: you can hear New Orleans drowning, you can hear the towers falling, and bombs bursting in air over Baghdad.

“We are the silent majority now, and we haven’t done a damn thing,” Young told the New York Times recently. “We’ve stood by and watched this happen. But there’s more of us than there is of them, and we have to do something. When people start talking and see they can get away with it, it’s going to happen everywhere. It’s going to be a landslide, it’s going to be a tidal wave. This is just the tip of it.”

As fucked as things are, there is reason to believe we’ve finally reached the tipping point. Thankfully our forefathers were very wise men who wove into the fabric or our democracy hidden mechanisms to stop the slimy creep of fascism, like salt on a slug. One of them is free speech. Don’t laugh, it can stop tanks dead in their tracks.

(Illustration by Alex Fine, poster by Frank Kozik)