Friday, April 14, 2006

Four Strong Winds
On May 4, 1970, four students were killed by National Guardsmen at Kent State University in Ohio. Six weeks later, Neil Young was on the radio with a song about it. "Ohio" is a roar of anger and a cry of disbelief that remains one of the most chilling artifacts of the 1960s. Although "Ohio" was released under the name Crosby Stills Nash and Young, it's a Young solo record--he wrote it, and the ominous, corrosive guitar on it is typical of his work around that time. (I suppose it's possible some readers of this blog may never have heard it, or might not be familiar with it. If that's you, hear it here. Be patient. The upload site seems a little slow this morning.)

Young has always been more engaged with the real world than a lot of rockers--at the height of MTV's cultural influence in the 1980s, he recorded "This Note's for You," a putdown of corporate rock that was extraordinary mainly because it dared to say what lots of people were thinking, but few had the stones to admit. And now, it seems, Neil Young is back and ready to say what needs to be said, in his usual no-nonsense style. At the recent SXSW music and film conference in Austin, Young revealed his next album will be called Life in War, and will feature a song called "Impeach the President." According to a blog called DownWithTyranny, the album took three days to finish, although when it will be released isn't clear.

"Ohio" was an important record at a time when the American people were turning against the Vietnam War. We live in a different era now, in a culture slivered into endless demographic fragments, so it's doubtful that Life in War will have the same reach in 2006 that "Ohio" had in 1970. Nevertheless, whenever the political realities we live with every day manage to pierce into our bubbleheaded pop culture, in whatever way it happens, it's an important thing. So go Neil.

Good Vibrations Required: Send good thoughts today toward my much-missed former home, Iowa City, which was hit by a tornado last night. There were no fatalities and few injuries in Iowa City itself, (although there was one death in a nearby county), but there's lots of damage.

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