Neil Young unloaded on Donald Trump earlier this month with a scathing public letter where he labelled the president “a disgrace to my country.” Days later, he reached deep into his vault and posted an incredible video of “Campaigner” from a 1991 Crazy Horse concert — a song written years earlier about another widely loathed Republican president. What did he mean by this? It’s anyone’s guess.
“Campaigner” has always been one of the most puzzling songs in Young’s catalog. The 1976 song, which first appeared on Young’s double-LP hits set Decade, is an apparently sympathetic take on Richard M. Nixon, written after he resigned from the White House and suffered a nasty case of phlebitis in his left leg that left him hospitalized and in incredible pain. Young had famously called out Nixon by name in “Ohio,” explicitly blaming him for the Kent State massacre; here he was just a few years later, declaring that “even Richard Nixon has got soul.”
Young has only played the song 23 times across the past 44 years. It’s almost always solo acoustic, but he did play it electric with Crazy Horse twice on the 1991 Smell The Horse tour in support of Ragged Glory. In this version, he goes beyond Nixon and says that Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Muhammad Ali, George Foreman, John F. Kennedy, Linda Lovelace, and his own mother and brother have also got soul.
Young recently announced plans for a Crazy Horse arena tour of America, though he’s now expressing some doubts about the timing because of the coronavirus. If he does wind up launching a tour before the election this November, we might find out if he thinks that Donald Trump has soul as well.
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