Back in early summer 1991, I found myself alone in a café in Boudanath, Nepal, on the outskirts of Kathmandu where all the Tibetan exiles live. I was trying to sort out why my girlfriend had been delaying our reunion for three months and if at that point I even really cared. Having been fighting off legions of intestinal parasites, I barely had the energy to poke my food from one side of the plate to the other, much less work up a good head of anger or anxiety. I was barely managing a semblance of sulky dejection and was thinking it was time to go home, girlfriend or no girlfriend.
Then one of the owners started to play a tape of Neil Young’s Greatest Hits over the sound system. Did it start with those ferocious slashed chords of Cinnamon Girl? The wistfulness of Old Man or yearning of Heart of Gold? The shocked disbelief of Ohio? The world-weary lament of The Needle and the Damage Done? Or the mocking contempt of Rockin’ in the Free World?
Didn’t matter. The music embraced everything about me that was American – the wide spaces, the plain honesty, the easy intimacy, the plain outrage at injustice and suspicion of anything seeking to dampen the restless search for perfect freedom. I ordered tea after tea and sat in nearly hypnotic reverie through every song. Before that, I didn’t really feel one way or the other about Neil Young. Kinda too hippyish for me at the time. After that, I was a major fan. I got him on a cellular level.
Now I knew that Young was about to release a major anti-war protest record. Everyone’s talking about the fact that one song is subtly titled “Let’s Impeach The President.” But today another site tipped me off that you could listen to the entire thing now, before it’s released. For free. The record is called Living With War and you too can listen to it here. In fact, you must. I’m listening to it for the third time through right now and I can tell you that what you’ll hear is the unvarnished conscience of this country. Young has always had contempt for weasely, empty slogans and lying, and a gift for turning the words of the deceivers back on themselves. Who can forget the immortal lyric, “We got a thousand points of light for the homeless man; We got a kinder, gentler machine gun hand”?
This time he sets his sights on “mission accomplished,” “shock and awe,” and “bring ‘em on” with both rockin’ barrels. And it seems the punk part of me was channeling Young the other day. Here’s how “Let’s Impeach The President” starts:
"Let's impeach the president for lying
Misleading our country into war
Abusing all the power that we gave him
And shipping all our money out the door"
But my deeper monastic side, softened by compassion, really loved this lyric from the title track:
"I'm living with war everyday
I'm living with war in my heart everyday
I'm living with war right now
And when the dawn breaks I see my fellow man
And on the flat-screen we kill and we're killed again
And when the night falls, I pray for peace
Try to remember peace (visualize)
I join the multitudes
I raise my hand in peace
I never bow to the laws of the thought police
I take a holy vow
To never kill again
To never kill again"
Amen, brother. I’ve taken that vow for this and every future life.
Just listen. This record will be #1 with(out) a bullet, I guarantee it. And if this in any way reflects America’s zeitgeist, there’s big change coming this year. And to that I say, again, amen. If I know my teacher at all, this CD will be on repeat in her player all the way through November.