Neil Young’s “Southern Man” came out in 1970 (via After the Gold Rush), but the singer-songwriter thinks it’s just as relevant today — with one caveat. He’s not just singing about the South anymore — but the whole country.
Young posted a 2019 performance of the song on his Archives Wednesday, writing: “Here’s me as an old guy singin’ his 50-year-old song that was written after countless years of racism in the USA. And look at us today! This has been going on for way too long. It’s not just ‘Southern Man’ now. It’s everywhere across the USA. It’s time for real change, new laws, new rules for policing.”
Young, of course, is referring to mass protests against police brutality spreading across the nation and world in response to the police killing of George Floyd.
The lyrics of “Southern Man” draw heavily on the years of slavery in the U.S. — specifically in the South. It’s far from Young’s only politically driven track; Crosby, Stills Nash and Young’s “Ohio” recently turned 50. That song dealt with the Kent State Massacre, during which the Ohio National Guard shot at students protesting the Vietnam War, killing four.
“It’s like Trump today, treating things like a WWF smackdown,” Devo’s Gerald Casale told Rolling Stone of the clash between students and law enforcement. “It was Governor Rhodes, unbeknownst to us, who conspired with the dean at Kent State University to house the National Guard in buildings on Sunday night so they’d be ready to pounce at the protest that everyone knew was coming.”
Young is an ardent critic of President Donald Trump. After becoming an American citizen earlier this year — and registering to vote — he came out in support of Bernie Sanders for president. “Stand for the workers, stand for the teachers, stand for the students, stand up for Climate Justice. Stand for higher taxes on the super-rich to pay for all love the above! Stand for the American Future. Stand with Bernie Sanders,” he said at the time.
Young’s long-awaited Seventies album, Homegrown, is expected to drop on June 19.