Media

Neil Young's Songs of Impeachment

With Neil Young and Pearl Jam releasing devastating anti-Bush albums in the coming weeks, it looks like rock has rejuvenated its protest past.
Only one friend of mine popped the champagne after the Supreme Court's 5-4 vote in Bush v. Gore effectively sealed the deal that we'd see a right winger in office.

The friend, a fan of '70s and '80s punk music, was overjoyed because he told me (I'm paraphrasing), "The music sucks when you have a Democrat in the White House. It was slightly better under Republican nerds like Gerald Ford or that New England prude Herbert Walker Bush. But his son looks like something way worse, way more vicious and sinister than Reagan. The music's going to be incredible." It was morning in America.

But for some reason that my friend can't really explain, he doesn't think that the music -- at the popular level at least -- has really changed or reacted that much to the Bush years, even as this country transforms at a barreling pace into a bland and grotesque, jock-worshipping business state with moralist pretensions; a true reflection of Bush's White House. Right around the time we invaded Iraq in 2003, he stopped hunting for the next Dead Kennedys and gave up. He now can be found wandering the world music aisles in the record store, ashamed of what he sees as his country's musical nonresponse to the Bush Nightmare.

To be sure, mainstream big bands like Green Day have released politically subversive records in the recent past that garnered huge attention and continue to play the radio. But none of them have resonated with the public to produce any kind of movement or social action that has moved American politics. In one song on Green Day's album, American Idiot, front man Billie Joe Armstrong lamented the lack of public resistance: "Where have all the riots gone?" Like the Dixie Chicks in Bush's first term, they dissented and we listened, and that's about it.

But, like Cindy Sheehan, who filled the political vacuum last summer when Washington Democrats were unable to articulate a serious opposition to Bush on Iraq, out comes old '60s rocker Neil Young into the arena of Bush's impeachment with his new album, Living with War. Already, Young has made a massive media splash -- interviews on the cable networks and front page newspaper articles -- and huge public anticipation for its release.

Young's album, which you can listen to streamed live on his site or no doubt find bootlegs of on the blogs, is scheduled to be released on May 9.

The centerpiece of the album -- the song that we'll hopefully hear blasting on the radio from now until the time George Bush leaves office -- is titled in the most straightforward manner, "Let's Impeach the President." The lyrics of that song, reprinted in full below, first appeared on Fox News -- a smart move, considering that that media outlet and its audience are likely going to be the last ones on the planet to agree that impeaching George Bush is a good idea.

The lyrics to "Living with War":
Let's impeach the president for lying
And leading our country into war
Abusing all the power that we gave him
And shipping all our money out the door

He's the man who hired all the criminals
The White House shadows who hide behind closed doors
And bend the facts to fit with their new stories
Of why we have to send our men to war

Let's impeach the president for spying
On citizens inside their own homes
Breaking every law in the country
By tapping our computers and telephones

What if Al Qaida blew up the levees
Would New Orleans have been safer that way
Sheltered by our government's protection
Or was someone just not home that day?

Let's impeach the president
For hijacking our religion and using it to get elected
Dividing our country into colors
And still leaving black people neglected

Thank god he's cracking down on steroids
Since he sold his old baseball team
There's lot of people looking at big trouble
But of course the president is clean

Thank God
Where have lyrics like that been the past five years? Young himself wondered the same question. "I was waiting for someone to come along, some young singer 18 to 22 years old, to write these songs and stand up," Young told the L.A. Times. "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." All 10 of the songs on Living with War directly address the issues of our political era (lyrics to the album here).

Maybe it's unfinished business between two warring camps from the '60s generation. Perhaps the Bush presidency is their final symbolic battle -- for the rest of us to watch on the sidelines. A lot of the most hated figures in Bush's administration and its most fervent supporters in the right-wing apparatus came out of the '60s social movement as well. And they may well bear their resentments not against all of us, but their old nemeses from that time.

Journalist Mark Ames considered the deeper origins of long-standing grudges held by Bush aides like Iraq war architect Richard Perle in his review of the book "An End to Evil," which Perle co-authored: "Indeed, every sad word of 'An End to Evil' oozes Perle's... pained, wasted '60s youth...: wasted in yellow sheet stains, wasted studying maps color-coded with spheres-of-influence, wasted memorizing German armaments, and college years wasted playing Risk in their dorms while the socially successful hippies frolicked and fucked all around them. Perle... will never forgive America for this humiliation and therefore [he] want[s] to egg it on to its suicide by prodding it into a multi-front apocalyptic world war."

But is an album like Living with War or a song like "Let's Impeach the President" something that's really going to push the country to actually do that -- get rid of the guy? Approval levels for Bush stand today in the low 30s, and while there is some movement to impeach Bush at the local level, D.C. is silent.

The closest thing we've seen from the mainstream press in reaction to the disastrous White House since 2001 is the L.A. Times' call this April for Cheney to resign, which was summarily ignored by the rest of the establishment. But perhaps the contribution of Young's record will be, as former record executive-turned blogger Howie Klein explained, an articulation for "post-literate" society:
Conventional wisdom has pretty much made it clear that Bush and his regime are incompetent, venal and corrupt, and that his war is one of the most catastrophic foreign policy blunders ever made by a U.S. president. What Neil has done with Living with War is made these ideas easily digestible for post-literate western society at large. He's managed to create a body of work that will help make it easy for people to talk about the war, Bush's short-comings and how to deal with them. Virtually no one wants the U.S. to start a (nuclear?) war against Iran -- not the citizens of this country and not the professional military. But who's going to stop Bush and the crazed, obsessed fanatics he's surrounded himself with? Living with War will filter up into political policy circles, not with answers, but with the questions he's raised from us and for us.
It's a valid point. Bush might stand at 32 percent, but there's no public movement or constant baying to make the broad public case that Bush must go. As Klein writes, Young lays out "a case as strong as anything Henry Waxman is going to do -- maybe not as specific-- but a lot more poetic." And the truth is that this country is not equipped to hear what a lone Waxman might call for, even if it were impeachment.

Democratic members of Congress like Waxman and John Conyers have introduced countless resolutions in the Bush era calling for investigations, resignations, the lot. And none of it has gone anywhere. An album like Young's adds a little geist to the H.R. 635. Young's going to go on tour -- titled "Freedom of Speech '06" -- with his old bandmates, Crosby, Stills and Nash starting this summer to promote his album and the movement to get rid of Bush.

But perhaps Young won't be the only one pumping out straight up, in-your-face dissent on the mass music level. Pearl Jam will release a self-titled album on May 2 that has every sign of being a direct attack on the state of American politics.

Lead singer Eddie Vedder recently told the press, "It's just not the time to be cryptic. I mean, our tax dollars for this (Iraq) war are being funneled through huge corporations -- one of which Dick Cheney used to be head of (Halliburton) -- and there's an even greater disparity between rich or poor in this country. It offends me on a really deep level." Pearl Jam's tour starts on May 9. Hopefully, by the end of this summer, all of us will have rocked out to the sound of impeachment.
Jan Frel is an AlterNet staff writer.
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