and tell you how much
you mean to me and my
(from Neil Young's Families - probably the Greatest Song Ever)
Neil Young, iconoclast. I love him. One of those gruff, gritty, rock & roll poets who is so completely his own person. Every decade, a fresh batch of kids, of younger musicians, "discovers" him and realises what an icon he is. He just keeps on rolling, crunching along, with the same Americana guitar rock & roll. In his own way, he is very bit the poetic equal of Coen or Dylan.
I love his 2006 album Living With War. It's about…war. It is such a blatant, on the nose concept album, that is non-metaphorically about war. Specifically about the Iraq war, specially about the presidency of George W. Bush, specifically about the (then) upcoming elections. One song, Looking for a Leader, conjectures who might lead the nation next.
Maybe it's a womanA concrete statement of purpose. There's no…question of his feelings, of his calling-out of those in authority. I highly doubt that George W. started cabinet meetings by playing Let's Impeach the President, which is a song about…impeaching the President.
Or a black man after all
Maybe it's Obama
But he thinks that he's too young
Maybe it's Colin Powell
to right what he''s done wrong
America needs a leader
But he's not in the House
He's walking here among us
And we've got to seek him out
America is Beautiful,
but she has an ugly side
I love history and government and politic, although my interest tends to be more from a journalistic standpoint than a propagandist's. A billion shades of gray are waiting to be identified.
I believe Mr. Young came under fire in the '80s for being a supporter of Ronald Reagan, who was, if memory serves, a fairly Republican President.
I am fascinated by language, by semiotics, by how identity is co-opted and corrupted and used as shorthand. How a party or an organization will take over a word or symbol or idea because it is a quick and dirty method for identifying themselves and what their priorities are. For example: Republicans tend to co-opt the word "Family." You know: Family Values. The whole concept around that. Republicans represent Family is the mantra they want pounded into the Bible Belt and beyond. Of course, some factions of Republicans mean a very specific definition of family, grounded in biology and 1950s television programs.
Democrats tend to focus - this is just in a general sense, for a look at representative extremes - tend to focus more on Groups. So if Republicans tend to focus more on Individuals, then Democrats tend to focus more on Groups. The idea that you look out for and protect the interests of not just Individuals, but you protect the rights of particular Groups or Segments of society. I'm guessing most people know someone who is very aggressive about defending people they know and care about. Some of you may also know someone who likes to play the devil's advocate - if there is a villain under discussion - neighbor down the road, some faceless entity, someone across the world - they're going to stick up for them, even though they don't know them.
A fascinating divide between those people who will stick up for their Family; for those who will stick up for people close to them, for those they know; and those on the other side, those who will protect those they don't know.
As stated, these are extremes. Those who would protect their family, their friends, their church, their neighborhood. Those they actually know. The other faction, representing those they don't know. Those living across town. Across state, outside the country. Those representing Groups.
I get a taste of how enriching - or not - a conversation might be when I hear how someone talks about a particular Group. I can understand how people become disenfranchised or disengaged. I understand how people can feel at the margins. I understand how people can be left out. I have been there, in many smaller and less significant and much less dangerous ways than what many experience.
I have been on the outskirts of many Groups and many situations.
I'm okay with that. It's helped me to become who I am, even though I didn't always recognize why I didn't completely fit in. I just recognized that I didn't quite. So I understand.
Every Group you look at; every one you critique, every one that you judge, you stereotype, you mock or protect is made up of Individuals. You get a number of Individuals together, then you have a Group. You get a Group together, you have Individuals within that Group. You cannot separate the two notions. Every single person belongs to any number of overlapping Groups - work, social, church, basketball or poker or bowling or sewing circle or Friday coffee with the girls or biking buddies…any number of overlapping Groups, and every one of those Groups, it is easy to condense into a sentence or two, or even a word or two, as to what kind of of people are part of that Group.
Whatever that Group is condensed to, is not representative of the complex composition of each Individual within that Group. You can make an assumption of what kind of people shop at Walmart. You can make an assumption about what kind of people order from Benetton. You can make assumptions about people's value based on the candidate they're voting for. That doesn't mean your assumption means a whole lot though.
There are some things that do seem much more black-and-white than others. I mean, I could not knowingly, in good conscience, advocate for something that begins to strip a person of their dignity and base level of respect (duh: who would argue otherwise?). But there are good people who rationalize dumb ideas and think stupid things and make bad decisions, especially when they're at the voting booth. But that doesn't make them bad people, and it doesn't make them uncaring people, and it really doesn't make them stupid peeple even. I am, as I've stated before, an evangelist for interesting conversation, and for introducing and getting introduced to new forms of culture, new experiences, new people. I'm not an evangelist for my own dogma. Am I? Those who know me know I have strong opinions and preferences, and I'm willing to converse about those and try to listen a little as well :) I want to be an interesting person who can occasionally be a catalyst for helping introduce interesting conversation and creativity into the universe.
I believe politics does matter. I believe in having and formulating opinions. I believe in calling people out when they make statements that are hurtful, that are inaccurate or false or out of context, or downright boastful or arrogant. I also believe in the importance of two-arrowed conversation; in discussing challenging topics, even those topics that are non-metaphorically dealt with, as Mr. Young does in Living With War. But I believe in dealing with the subject of those discussions rather than the reductionist, personal attack act of saying "That is your argument, therefore you are stupid."
Now. There are beliefs and statements that are just plain…Stupid. But what happens when someone tells you: You're Stupid.
Do you think to yourself Wow, I am really glad I was just called out on that. That was a really stupid thing that I just said. So now that I know, I'll never say it again!"
You may keep your mouth shut around that person from then on. But you're probably not going to change your heart or your mind, based on being told that your opinion is stupid, or on being told that you are a certain quality of person because that is what your opinion is.
I just love Neil Young and his standing tall, propped up with his guitar and bandana and raggety-taggety voice, dinosaur layer of grit sliding off as he churns through each song; sometimes via Poetry with a quiet and lyrical abstraction; other times in a completely concrete this is what I think, this is what's happening right now, Documentary-style sensibility. He does so in such a heartfelt way that it spans that bridge of Individual as unit and Group as a unit. It is about Family and Politiks and War and Corruption and Decision-making and Thinking and Feeling and Accountability. It drags Politik into our lives in a way that is not silent or subtle, and leaves it impossible to say that phrase I loathe,
I hate politics. I don't care about politics.
And he says this is the world, this is the country we live in. This is my country*, and I love it, and this is what's happening to it, and this is why you should care. This is why I care.
Why you should care about yourself. About your wife. Your husband, your children, your mother and father, your cousins and brothers and sisters and uncles and aunts. Neighbors. Your fellow citizens of your state. Of your country. Of the nation. Of the world. The other lifeforms observing us from across the universe :)
I suppose it is that paradox, his ability to bring such an intimate balance of sledgehammer and scalpel, as he turns a dual magnifying glass onto the country's politics and cultural life. And what family and citizenship means. So on USA Independence Day 2012, I told the story to my children of independence, the declaration of our independence and the fight for it, and I tried to do so in a way that could not be co-opted by a grandstanding cheeryfaced politician with three-foot tall Oncle Sam hat, though those have their place :)
I thought I really am so glad I live in this country. In this nation. I am proud of my country, without believing it's perfect or blameless. I want my children, our children, to learn, first of all, love for each other, of the people next to them, so that every day, they will get a little better at learning to love all the people they have never met, and never will, and will remember the importance of sticking up for not only Family, not only Friends, but Strangers. Not only Americans, but People Everywhere Who Need Advocates. Not just for Individuals, but for Groups. Yet to remember that every Group is made up of Individuals and every Individual is so much more complex than the few words that have been metatagged to the Group they're a part of.
God bless the U.S.A.
God bless the World.
God bless Neil Young.
Living With War
NOTE: most of Mr. Young's work, including Living With War, is not on Spotify. Someday I'll embed from elsewhere. :)
*yes, I know he retains Canadian citizenship, but he lives in California and and sings about the U.S. as a citizen :)