Living With War begins with Neil Young singing that we "won't need no shadow men running the government, won't need no stinking war". Angry, emotional words, but this is the most joyous and beautiful angry album I've ever heard.
This is truly an "Ohio" moment, and Living With War strikes a chord that will resonate with the millions of Americans who've tossed off their blinders and who see that this administration hijacked 9/11 for its own twisted political agenda. Now here we are mired in one disastrous war, watching this unpopular administration apparently trying to sell us another, just in time for an election.
Living With War is brilliant and inspiring on many levels: musically, politically, but also as a case study in guerrilla marketing and public relations. A couple of weeks ago word began to leak out that Neil Young, a proud and patriotic Canadian American whom many identify as conservative, was about to release a new song titled "Let's Impeach the President (For Lying)." Faster than you could say 'right-wing blogosphere' Young was in the media gun sights of pro-Bush, pro-war pundits rhetorically blasting him. Of course, none of these critics had heard the song, much less the entire Living With War album.
And what an album it is. It comes wrapped in a plain brown wrapper, but it bleeds red, white and blue. "When the night falls, I pray for peace.... I never bow to the thought police... I'm living with war in my heart and my mind" sings Young. Neil and his PR guerrillas played the attacks brilliantly, parlaying them into perhaps the largest virtual stage and audience that any rocker has ever had to blast out the release of what is Neil's most compelling and timely album.
The seventh song on the album is the one that brought the attacks that set the stage for today's unprecedented web launch. Here is part of what Neil has to say:
"Let's impeach the president for lying and misleading our country into war. Abusing all the power that we gave him... The White House shills who hide behind closed doors and bend the facts to fit with their news stories of why we had to send our men to war... Let's impeach the president for spying on citizens inside their own homes.... Tapping our computers and telephones.... What if Al Qaida blew up the levees? Sheltered by our government's protection, would New Orleans have been safer that way? Or was someone just not home that day?"
This rousing, upbeat song is backed by a hundred voice choir, as is much of the album, and is filled with audio clips of President Bush's 'flip flops' and false and misleading claims, snipped from news conferences and speeches. This song is a showtune anthem. The entire album is a pro-American, pro-family, pro-troops challenge to citizens in the United States, Neil's adopted homeland, to get it together and make change happen.
On Restless Consumer Neil targets the American addiction to oil and materialism, relating it to the war and to the greater failure to attack problems of poverty: "How do you pay for war and leave us dying? ... Don't need no Madison Avenue War. .... Don't need no more lies."
Shock and Awe is one the best rock anthems Neil has ever penned or played: "Back in the days of shock and awe.... history was a cruel judge of overconfidence ... Back in the days of mission accomplished our chief was landing on the deck. The sun was setting on the golden photo op. Thousands of bodies in the ground brought home in boxes to a trumpet sound. No one sees them coming home that way.... We had a chance to change our mind, but somehow wisdom was hard to find..."
Looking for a Leader calls out for people to arise "to reunite the red white and blue ... clean up the corruption and make the country strong. Someone walks among us and I hope he hears the call; maybe it's a woman, or a black man after all. Maybe its Obama, but he thinks he's too young. Maybe its Colin Powell, to right what he's done wrong. ... America is beautiful but she has an ugly side. We're looking for a leader... ."
Living With War builds from beginning to end, proudly pro-American, pro-troops, pro-freedom, while vehemently anti-war and anti-Bush. The lyrics are inspired; the music is classic, and the 100-voice choir warm and emotional. Some of the songs are about US soldiers, one dead from the war on Vietnam and the other Iraq. The Iraq vet in Families says: "there's a universe between us now, but I want to reach out and tell you how much you mean to me. ... I'm going back to the USA, I just got my ticket today."
In Roger and Out a living friend reflects on his long dead buddy from the 1960s: "Tripping down that old hippie highway, got to thinking about you again. Wondering how it really was for you, and how it happened in the end. ... We were just a couple of kids then, living each and every day, when we both went down to register, we were laughing all the way. ... I feel you in the air today. I know you gave for your country, roger and out good buddy."
Living With War closes appropriately with America the Beautiful, the hundred-voice choir providing the perfect closure to one of the strongest and certainly the most-brilliantly released calls for peace and justice ever from a musician of Young's stature. In releasing Living With War as he has, Young is clearly challenging his artistic peers, fellow patriots and all of us.