segunda-feira, maio 01, 2006
Neil Young's 'Living With War' Shows He Doesn't Like It (by Jon Pareles for The New York Times)
Neil Young unleashes a digital broadside today. His new album, "Living With War" (Reprise), was recorded and mostly written three to four weeks ago and as of Friday can be heard in its entirety free on his Web site, www.neilyoung.com, and on satellite radio networks.
Mr. Young half-jokingly describes "Living With War" as his "metal folk protest" album. It's his blunt statement about the Iraq war; "History was a cruel judge of overconfidence/back in the days of shock and awe," he sings, strumming an electric guitar and leading a power trio with a sound that harks back to Young albums like "Rust Never Sleeps" and "Ragged Glory."
Some songs add a trumpet or a 100-voice choir, hastily convened in Los Angeles for one 12-hour session. During the nine new songs he sympathizes with soldiers and war victims, insists "Don't need no more lies," longs for a leader to reunite America and prays for peace.
In a song whose title alone has already brought him the fury of right-wing blogs, he urges, "Let's Impeach the President." It ends with Mr. Young shouting, "Flip, flop," amid contradictory sound bites of President Bush. But Mr. Young insists the album is nonpartisan.
"If you impeach Bush, you're doing a huge favor for the Republicans," he argued, speaking by telephone from California. "They can run again with some pride."
Mr. Young is a Canadian citizen. But having lived in the United States since the 1960's, he sings as if he were an American. The title song of "Living With War" quotes "The Star-Spangled Banner," and the album ends with the choir singing "America the Beautiful."
The album's release is a high-tech, globe-spanning update of a topical song tradition that's much older than recordings: the broadside, a songwriter's rapid response to events of the day. "They had these songs that everybody knew the melodies to," Mr. Young said. "They'd just write new words, and the minstrels would be traveling around spreading the word. Music spreads like wildfire when you do it that way."
On Tuesday a higher-quality version will be for sale as a download from online music stores, and a CD will be in stores next week as soon as it can be manufactured and shipped. Eventually a DVD will be released with video of the recording sessions, which took place March 29 to April 6. Many of the songs on the album were first takes, recorded immediately after Mr. Young taught them to the band. On March 31 he wrote three songs: "Let's Impeach the President" before breakfast, "Looking for a Leader" after he recorded "Let's Impeach the President" and "Roger and Out" the same evening.
Mr. Young's Web site will have a more elaborate presentation, available free. It will include a page designed like a cable-news broadcast, complete with visuals (including recording-session scenes), ticker and logo: LWW (for "Living With War") rather than CNN. "Even if it turns out that we can't sell it with the news in it, we won't sell it, we'll just stream it," he said. "We don't have to sell it. We can still get it out there. This has nothing to do with money as far as I'm concerned."
Mr. Young wants the album heard as a whole. The online streams play through from beginning to end; until the CD is ready, the downloadable copies will be available only as a bundle of the full album. "That first impression is so important," he said. "Instead of just going to 'Let's Impeach the President,' people will have to absorb the whole thing. To understand the songs, you need to understand where the whole album's coming from. It protects my right as an artist to have the work presented the way I created it."
Mr. Young has always been impatient with the time lag between writing a song and getting it to the world. When four student protesters were shot dead at Kent State University in 1970, he wrote "Ohio," recorded it with Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young and released it two and a half weeks later by sending acetates — preliminary pressings — to radio stations. (He will be on tour this summer as a member of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young in what's billed as the Freedom of Speech Tour.)
After 9/11 Mr. Young wrote "Let's Roll," a song about the passengers who brought down a hijacked plane in Pennsylvania, and released it free online. "Now we have the Internet," he said. "It doesn't sound as good, but it's much faster, and it gets around the world. That's huge, that's as big as we get."
The songs on "Living With War" are straightforward and single-minded, setting aside the allusive, enigmatic quality of Mr. Young's rock classics. "These are all ideas we've heard before," he said. "There's nothing new in there. I just connected the dots."
The protest song, rocked-up slightly from its folky 1960's form, has been making a comeback during the Iraq war, from arena bands like Pearl Jam, the Rolling Stones and Green Day to indie-rockers like Bright Eyes and blues-rockers like Keb' Mo' and Robert Cray. Bruce Springsteen's latest album is a tribute to the protest-song mentor Pete Seeger, although it features old folk songs rather than Mr. Seeger's topical material.
"We are the silent majority now, and we haven't done a damn thing," Mr. Young said. "We've stood by and watched this happen. But there's more of us than there is of them, and we have to do something. When people start talking and see they can get away with it, it's going to happen everywhere. It's going to be a landslide, it's going to be a tidal wave. This is just the tip of it."
Mr. Young said that he made "Living With War" not with a plan, but on an impulse. "I don't know what actually did it," he said. "It happened really fast, faster than I think I've ever experienced. There was just a kind of a wave."
As in the 60's, protest songs risk self-righteousness and preaching only to the converted. Only the most generalized ones outlast the interest in whatever headlines inspired them. There's not a lot of mystery to the songs on "Living With War"; they make their points as forthrightly as possible. Yet in the Internet era information — not just songs but blogs, videos, photos, drawings, e-mail jottings — is in the paradoxical position of being published worldwide and perhaps archived forever, but also being impulsive and ephemeral. A song for the Internet doesn't have to be one for the ages. Like an old broadside, it just has to get around for its moment, for right now. "Living With War" — irate, passionate, tuneful, thoughtful and obstinate — is definitely worth a click.