Thursday, May 30, 2013

'I Hope He Hears the Call'

"Someone walks among us 
And I hope he hears the call 
And maybe it's a woman 
Or a black man after all 
Yeah maybe it's Obama 
But he thinks that he's too young "
-- Neil Young, "Lookin' for a Leader"

This morning in the car I listened to Neil Young's 2006 album Living with War. I hadn't listened to the entire album since 2006 when it was first released, though "Let's Impeach the President" turns up via iTunes shuffle from time to time. The more I thought about the lyrics, the more I thought about the time in which the album was released, the more I realized there are still themes from that album that apply today. Neil Young has always been a master, but this album is more than a musical triumph; it's anger on full display against a deceitful administration and a reminder that it wasn't just Bush that provoked the ire of the American people, but the people he (and now Obama) surrounded himself with.

Without going into my many frustrations and disappointments with the Obama administration on national security and foreign policy, I can point out how eery it is to listen to lyrics like "let's impeach the president for tapping our computers and telephones" at a time like this. We've come so far in many ways and moved not an inch in others. 

I was particularly struck by "Lookin' for a Leader" due in part to Neil Young's mention of Obama. Unfortunately, sometimes it still feels like we are looking for a leader. A leader who will shun the nonsense. A leader who will stand up to the opposing party and push for measures that aren't politically popular. Measures like gun reform and closing the military detention center at Guantanamo. We need a leader who doesn't attempt to compromise with an unmoving force. Yes, healthcare is a huge win for the American people. Yes, we've ended the war in Iraq. Yes, we're slowly bringing our troops homes from Afghanistan. Yes, there have been successes, but we aren't there yet. We aren't where we need to be as a nation. Not while we skirt the freedom of the press. Not while we continue to participate in drone strikes on terrorists, foreign as well as the four Americans we have killed. Not while we remain without a clear plan for a country like Syria where people are being killed every single minute of every single day. Not while we continue to play by the same rules for the War on Terror that were written by former administration. The former administration that Neil Young not so subtly refers to as "criminals" on his 2006 album. And certainly not while the current administration continues to surround itself with the people that participated, directly or not, with the policies of the previous administration.

I am not disillusioned enough to jump on the crazy train that many on the right have with President Obama and I'm not cynical enough to join the bandwagon of those on the far left. All I want is to a see a bit of daylight between the Bush and Obama administrations on matters that are so intertwined with American civil liberties. That is apparently too much to ask.

Leave it to a Canadian to make me think long and hard about leadership. If you haven't listened to Neil Young's Living with War, I cannot recommend it highly enough. And if you haven't listened to it in a few years, now would be a good time. If it doesn't make you reflect on the current state of our country, you probably think what Bob Dylan and Phil Ochs were singing was just music.


John T. Richards Jr. said...

I guess I better at least let you know I was back for another listen this morning. Of course Neil is my contemporary (I am a few years younger!) and I been a fan since way too many years ago starting with Buffalo Springfield. I first saw him in person in LA circa 1970-71 with CSN&Y. Although some might say Neil and others aren’t relevant anymore, what I look for in the senior citizen tours of old rockers and singer song writers is have they stood still in time or are they still creating and bringing a voice relevant to today. Of course, some of the old material of the likes of Neil, Dylan, Ochs, Guthrie, Seeger and others has stood the test of time anyway. Neil has become pretty wealthy over the years so he doesn’t have to do anything for the money. Despite that, he wrote ‘I Hope He Hears the Call’ a few years back and continues to bring a relevant voice that sometimes is lacking in today’s music. Still ‘rockin' in the free world’ although he may need a rocking chair soon. John

Tara A. Rowe said...

Just saw your comment, John. I've been thinking about rockers who have made millions and certainly no longer need to keep playing music and I can think of very few who are writing important messages in their lyrics today. The guys that are still trying to make a statement and not just touring for the sake of a few more bucks are few and far between. Younger than Neil, I think of Springsteen--his music still resonates and has a working class message. U2/Bono the same. Of Neil's generation, Robert Plant is still making music, important music (often collaborating with more relevant artists who reach a demographic he couldn't). Billy Bragg, too. But you're right, there just aren't that many of them. And it's a shame. Neil's messages in "Living With War" are poignant right now as we learn more and more about NSA spying. I haven't listened to his latest album with Crazy Horse; I need to.