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David Swanson: Springsteen & Young

Springsteen & Young: Music of a Once and Future Democracy


By David Swanson

Bruce Springsteen and Neil Young have just released a pair of incredible albums of protest, one a bone-rattling revival of the best of rebel music of ages past, the other an impassioned attack on our present slide toward fascism. A hundred years from now, if the human race has survived, when a future Springsteen records a future "Seeger Sessions" it will be bound to include the music of Young's "Living With War." Also by that time, Young's instant classic, "Let's Impeach the President," will have been translated, as any national anthem should, into a variety of languages, some or all of them, no doubt, destined to be deemed inappropriate by future proponents of the worst of the past.

Springsteen's album is a foot-stomping, sing-a-long, can't-sit-still party. It's amazing that with music this good anything remains to be done in the world and that televisions are actually purchased and viewed. As long as you have one, though, flip the CD over and watch the DVD of Bruce and his buddies jamming in a farm house and talking about what they're trying to accomplish. And stick the CD in a player you can bring to your next local activist meeting, labor rally, Camp Casey, impeachment forum, sit-in at your congress member's office, or immigrants' rights event. This is not the slow and pensive Bruce, and these are not songs that only a political activist could love. This is music that everyone will dance and tap their hands to, many without catching on to the themes that give this music power.

Springsteen, like Young, includes the theme of war opposition with an Irish ballad called "Mrs. McGrath" about a mother whose soldier son comes home with no legs:

Then came Ted without any legs
And in their place two woden pegs
She kissed him a dozen times or two
And said "My God, Ted is it you?"

Unlike Young, Springsteen uses cheerful music and playful lyrics to heighten the gloom of the stories he's telling. "Pay Me My Money Down" sounds like the song of a recent lottery winner, and you'll feel like one singing it, but it was the protest song of black stevedores in Georgia and South Carolina ports, which ship captains would try to sail out of without paying the workers:

Soon as that boat cleared the bar
Pay me my money down
He knocked me down with a spar
Pay me my money down
Pay me, pay me, pay me my money down
Pay me or go to jail
Pay me my money down

Bruce adds a reference to Bill Gates, helping to bring the song up to date and focus us on who the new ship captains are and what the rest of us are about.

Young, like Springsteen, uses a chorus of enthusiastic voices on his new album, which provides a sense of masses of people united behind his songs, including the opening track "After the Garden is Gone."

Won't need no shadow man running the government
Won't need no stinkin war
Won''t need no hair cut
Won't need no shoe shine
After the Garden is Gone

The title track, "Living With War," quotes from the Star Spangled Banner and also says:

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

"Shock and Awe" is one of the rockingest tunes, and one of the more timely, with its lyric "Back in the Days of Mission Accomplished," citing Bush's speech of May 1, 2003.

In "The Restless Consumer," Young directs some much deserved blame to the media that sold the public the war:

Don't need no ad machine
Telling me what I need
Don't need no Madison Avenue War
Don't need more boxes that I can't see
Covered in flags but I can't see them on TV
Don't need no more lies

But the song destined for immortality is the song that will in coming weeks and months be used as a movement song, the song that fearlessly and directly tackles the greatest immediate need the world has:

"Let's Impeach the President"
Let’s impeach the president for lying
And misleading our country into war
Abusing all the power that we gave him
And shipping all our money out the door
He’s the man who hired all the criminals
The White House shadows who hide behind closed doors
And bend the facts to fit with their new stories
Of why we have to send our men to war
Let’s impeach the president for spying
On citizens inside their own homes
Breaking every law in the country
By tapping our computers and telephones
What if Al Qaeda blew up the levees
Would New Orleans have been safer that way
Sheltered by our government’s protection
Or was someone just not home that day?
Let’s impeach the president
For hijacking our religion and using it to get elected
Dividing our country into colors
And still leaving black people neglected
Thank god he’s racking down on steroids
Since he sold his old baseball team
There’s lot of people looking at big trouble
But of course the president is clean
Thank God

Listen to "Let's Impeach the President"
http://www.afterdowningstreet.org/node/9726

Listen to whole album:
http://www.jtmp.org/NeilYoung.htm

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