Some of music legend Neil Young’s very best songs are angry and filled with howling, so it kind of makes sense that the two-time Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee’s biggest burst of publicity in years comes courtesy of an ALL-CAPS ultimatum to the streaming service Spotify.
He wrote to his manager, in an unpublished public letter posted on his website: “I need you to immediately notify Spotify that I want my entire music removed from their platform.” They can have [Joe] Rogan or Young. It’s not both. Young was snorting his guts about Rogan’s controversial, misinformed views on COVID-19. This has led to a lot of doctors demanding that Spotify, the only host to the most popular podcast in the world, be “retired.”“Immediately establish a public and clear policy for moderating misinformation on the platform.”(emphasis added in the original).
Spotify was essentially neutral in its response to Lynyrd skynyrd mockingly calling him “Mr. Young” and the M.D.s. Come back soon!A Spotify spokesperson stated that they have content policies and removed more than 20,000 episodes about covid-19 from their podcasts since the outbreak. The Washington Post. We regret Neil’s decision not to upload his Spotify music, and hope to have him back as soon as possible.
It seems unlikely that this will happen, at least not in the immediate future. Young’s beliefs may be lacking in a thorough understanding of certain topics, but they make up for it in moral certitude. You can listen to his 2008 song, “Cough Up the Bucks”, and let me know your thoughts. Who knows what else? Young, one of the biggest rock musicians to enlist sonically in the Global War on Terror after the attacks of September 11, 2001, was eventually reversed.
While his song, “Let’s Roll”, was not a hit like hijackers trying to take over a plane’s cockpit, Young’s November 2001 track left no doubt about Young’s perspective. The name was inspired from the final words of a United Flight 93 passenger. He and his friends attacked the hijackers. Instead of letting the plane fly into Washington, they crashed it in Pennsylvania. Young sang, “You have to turn against evil,” after he had for many years maintained a peace-and love-loving fringe-wearing persona. It’s time to confront it/And when it hides/You have got to chase it.” In December 2001, Young received the People for the American Way Spirit of Liberty Award. He endorsed the PATRIOT Act. Just a few years later, Young reversed course and became an outspoken if clichéd critic of the new security state, even calling for the removal of President George W. Bush in a (not very good) song called “Let’s Impeach the President.”
It is impossible to predict where Shakey the Artist will be in the next few months and years. There are many lessons that can be drawn from these contretemps. Three-and-ahalf are what I am currently thinking about.
First, we live in an amazing world of cultural variety. It was unimaginable when Neil Young was a part of a group called The Mynah Birds. They featured Rick James, future felonious Funkmaster, two men who would later help to create Steppenwolf, as well as a Buffalo Springfield bandmate. Spotify, despite all the debate about how artists are paid by the company, is an open-source music streaming service. This allows listeners to access more music than what they could ever imagine. Spotify stated that Young has over 6,000,000 monthly listeners, as of yesterday. Even in an article praising the proliferation of culture, it was hard to imagine a streaming service, free or ad-supported, that would gather virtually every song in the world in one app you could access from your smartphone. You can also find endless podcasts on Spotify. Spotify, however, is only one of many platforms that allows creators to connect with their audience.
You can find Neil Young’s entire catalog online, often for no cost. For as little as $20 to $100 per year, his website gives you access to Neil Young. A good portion of today was spent browsing YouTube and listening to Neil Young clips. I particularly enjoyed the bizarre duet with Devo he recorded for his 1982 cult movie. Human Highway.
This leads me to my second point. It’s not a good idea to insist that any platform, service or record label or publishing house conforms to your moral standards. It is not my intention to highlight something Neil Young knows, but Joe Rogan has nearly 12,000,000 subscribers on his official YouTube channel. In the name of consistency should Neil Young issue an ultimatum and run when YouTube refuses to comply? This is what happens next. Perhaps we all are at our paywalled websites, safe in our association purity but with less to discuss.
This brings me to the last lesson-and-a half. It is a terrible shame Neil Young, 76, throws one of his greatest performances. Okay, Boomer rage quits in recent memory. Talking to some younger people in my circle of friends (with the term “younger”, generously defined as any person born after 1983’s release Everybody’s Rockin’, Geffen Records sued Neil Young after he released an album that was not commercial. Most of the people involved had no clue who Neil Young was. Neil Young is not just one artist among many, he was truly a giant among gods for those of certain ages. From the 1960s to the 1980s, he produced a series of records that defined the limits of rock music’s potential as an art form. He could also be country, pop, punk and psychedelic at once. Arguably, no male performer gave greater voice to the great cultural letdown after Woodstock while also embracing the still-underappreciated lifestyle liberation that made the ’70s a fantastic time to be alive. Joni Mitchell is the equivalent for women. He was also an important bridge to the future. Pearl Jam, the grandfather of rock music, adopted him as their model.
Neil Young reminds us that the old cranky man we have in front is only a part of the person. Remembering our heroes at their best is important. And—this is the half-lesson I warned about—we also do well to remember that we listen to musicians for the best music they make, not the worst fits they throw.