Neil Young posted a letter on his official website yesterday ripping into President Trump. “You are a disgrace to my country,” he wrote. “Your mindless destruction of our shared natural resources, our environment, and our relationships with friends around the world is unforgivable.… Our first black president was a better man than you are.”
It was not the first time that he took issue with a Republican administration. Back in 1970, Young responded to the Kent State massacre with the furious “Ohio,” in which he called out President Nixon by name. (He found at least a small degree of sympathy for him once he left office, on 1976’s “Campaigner.”) President Ford wasn’t in office long enough to draw Young’s fire, and he briefly supported Reagan in the early days of his administration.
“Reagan, so what if he’s a trigger-happy cowboy,” he said. “He hasn’t pulled the trigger. Don’t you think it’s better that Russia and these other countries think he’s a trigger-happy cowboy than think it’s Jimmy Carter, who wants to give back the Panama Canal?”
The brief flirtation with Reaganism horrified some of Young’s liberal fans, but he won them back in 1989 when he tore President H.W. Bush to shreds with “Rockin’ in the Free World.” “We got a thousand points of light for the homeless man,” he sang, inverting one of Bush’s signature phrases before turning to his plea for a “kinder, gentler” America at the 1988 RNC. “We got a kinder, gentler, machine gun hand.”
That was a mild rebuke compared to Young’s reaction to the presidency of Bush’s son the following decade. The war in Iraq revived Young’s inner hippie and he recorded an entire album, 2006’s Living With War, calling it unjust and grounds for Bush’s removal. Never one to mask his message, he called one of the songs “Let’s Impeach the President.”
“Let’s impeach the president for hijacking/Our religion and using it to get elected,” he sang, “Dividing our country into colors/And still leaving black people neglected.”
To promote the album, he brought Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young out on the road to deliver songs at arenas all over America. Many of the cities they hit were in in comfortably blue states, but on August 8th, 2006, the tour hit the Phillips Arena in Atlanta. Less than two years earlier, Bush carried the state by 16 points. A documentary camera crew was rolling all around the arena when CSNY broke into “Let’s Impeach The President,” and it was used in the 2008 documentary CSNY/Déjà Vu. As you can see here, scores of fans who paid a decent amount of money for tickets stormed out in a fury during the song.
CSNY haven’t performed together since a 2013 appearance at the Bridge School Benefit. Since then, they have splintered hopelessly apart. Nash and Crosby haven’t spoken in years, and Young and Crosby are on equally bad terms. “Crosby should write an introspective book: ‘Why People Won’t Talk to Me Anymore,’ ” Young told AARP the Magazine last year. “He made a lot of great music for a long time. I don’t know what happened with David. I got nothing to say.”
But just this week, Young refused to rule out a CSNY reunion tour designed to battle Trump in this election year. “For the common good!” he wrote to a fan. “Anything is possible!” That seemed like a pretty pat, noncommittal answer, but the following day he named CSNY’s 2009 release, Looking Forward, the album of the week.
“This record was made with CSNY,” he wrote. “We have made some incredible music together and felt like giving it another round. There’s nothing like the first time. There are a lot of beautiful parts to this record and I am glad we got to make it.”
It ends on an interesting note: “My favorite song from this album is ‘Stand and Be Counted,’ one of Crosby’s great songs.”
Is this a sign he’s finally softening his views on David Crosby or just that he’s able to look at their past work with pride? The latter seems a lot more likely, but far less likely things have happened in rock than CSNY getting back together at this stage. But if they want to get something together before the election, the clock is ticking very fast.