Rockin' in the Free World (Again)

by LUKE BAUMGARTEN & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & N & lt;/span & ow that President George W. Bush's approval ratings are stagnating at around 30 percent, protest songs are fashionable again, with everyone from Pink to Pearl Jam clamoring to kick Dubya while he's down. Sure, indie rockers such as Jay Farrar and Conor Oberst have been kicking for far longer, but big whoop: Most of their fans hated King George from the get-go, back when the country venerated him and the MSM ate gratefully from his plutocratic palm. And while lumpenproles make the difficult adjustment -- that their fearless leader is an incompetent fraud controlled by a cabal of imperialist Iagos -- they'll need someone to give voice to their confusion. They don't want some nerdy Nation subscriber to tell them they've been had. Bright Eyes is not the voice of the masses. They want to commiserate with someone as inconstant and uncertain as themselves, someone who was lulled by the lies for awhile and woke up feeling angry, scared and betrayed. They don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows; they need a weathervane.

It might as well be Neil Young, whose ideological vicissitudes defy all reason. He is like a hurricane, to borrow a simile from one of his songs. The right-wing bloggers call him a moonbat, but the term is inapt: A moonbat, as defined by Adriana Cronin-Lukas, is "someone who sacrifices sanity for the sake of consistency." Only through the most abstruse calculations of advanced chaos theory could anyone discern a consistent pattern in Young's political opinions. In the '70s, he went from condemning Richard Nixon ("Ohio") to excusing him ("Campaigner"). In the '80s, he embraced nukes and Reaganomics and fretted about AIDS-infected "faggots" fouling the supermarket produce. By the end of that decade, he was ragging on Bush p & egrave;re with "Rockin' in the Free World" ("We got a thousand points of light for the homeless man/We got a kinder, gentler machine-gun hand"). Like so many others, he freaked out after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, endorsing the Patriot Act and releasing the hawkish "Let's Roll." Last year, he began trippin' down the hippie highway again: Living with War, was a 10-track indictment of Bush Jr.'s presidency, the misadventure in Iraq, and the malignancy of consumer culture. To top it all off, Young, who has lived in this country since the late '60s and whose children were born here, remains a Canadian citizen. He can't even vote! The Fox News diatribes pretty much write themselves.

But maybe this zeitgeist-coasting, whiplash-inducing impulsivity makes Young the ideal American everyman. Like Walt Whitman, he contradicts himself because he is large and contains multitudes. Leave Michelle Malkin and her small-minded minions to carp about consistency; Neil sounds his barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world. There's something indescribably thrilling in the way he preaches to the choir with the help of a literal choir, the way those bellicose trumpets bolster his trademark six-string snarl, the way his sorrowful yelp subsides into a sea of anonymous gospel voices. Who cares if he bit most of the melodies from his own back catalog? Who cares if the album's centerpiece, "Let's Impeach the President," with its bridge cobbled together from Bush sound bites and its gleeful fillips of "flip" and "flop," is more like a bumper-sticker collage than a finished song? The entire CD was written and recorded in a mere two weeks this past April, and it sounds like it -- all ragged glory, reckless ranting and righteous outrage. Even if we know from hard experience that it's only temporary -- his new album Chrome Dreams II, set to drop Oct. 23, is apolitical -- having him on our side again feels too damn good to resist.

Neil Young at the Spokane Arena on Saturday, Oct. 20, at 7:30 pm. $67-$132. Visit or call 325-SEAT.

OutWest Duo @ Ponderosa Bar and Grill

Sat., Feb. 11, 7-9 p.m.
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About The Author

Luke Baumgarten

Luke Baumgarten is commentary contributor and former culture editor of the Inlander. He is a creative strategist at Seven2 and co-founder of Terrain.