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The Politics Of Neil Young From CSNY To Today
January 13, 2014
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(Photo: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mark Blinch)

It's no secret that George is a big fan of Neil Young and last night at Massey Hall Young began his four-night Honour the Treaties tour that will raise money for First Nations communities protesting oil sands and mining projects.  

Before the concert, Young blasted the Canadian government for its oil sands policies. "I see a government completely out of control, and money is number one. Integrity isn't even on the map," he said. In response, the Prime Minister's Office said that the natural resources sector was a fundamental part of Canada's economy, adding: "Even the lifestyle of a rock star relies, to some degree, on the resources developed by thousands of hard-working Canadians every day."  

During the concert itself, Young reaffirmed his political message in his lyrics, inserting Prime Minister Stephen Harper's name at points during his song, "Pocahontas."

In the Toronto Star, Tim Harper heralded Young for "[doing] his homework and [pushing] the issue into the news again." But, as Matthew Coutts points out for Yahoo! News, there are many who have taken issue with the tour and Young's stance. 

This is hardly Young's first foray into politically turbulent waters, though. His songs and concerts have featured explicitly political material since his days with Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young. "Ohio," which he wrote and recorded with CSNY in 1970, was a reaction to the Kent State shootings of that year. Years later, Young dedicated performances of the song to the victims of the Tiananmen Square massacre.

In 1970, Young wrote "Southern Man," a stinging attack on racism in the American South. The song was followed by "Alabama," recorded for Young's 1972 album, Harvest. The two tracks famously led Lynyrd Skynyrd to write "Sweet Home Alabama" in response.

In 1986, along with his wife, Pegi, Young started organizing yearly benefit concerts for The Bridge School, a non-profit that helps support individuals with severe speech and physical impairments. Since 1985, Neil Young has also helped organize Farm Aid, a yearly festival that raises money for family farmers in the U.S.

All of the above might seem to cast Young on the left. But in the '80s, he voiced his support for some of Ronald Reagan's policies and in 2001 came out in support of the Patriot Act. "To protect our freedoms, it seems we're going to have to relinquish some of our freedoms for a short period of time," he said at the time.

Then, five years later, he released a song called "Let's Impeach the President," which rounded up a slew of grievances against George W. Bush, from the Iraq War to his handling of Hurricane Katrina and surveillance policies.

Lately, Young has been focused on environmental causes, his current tour being just the most recent example (he received blowback last year for calling Fort McMurray, a major site of oil sands exploration, a "wasteland").

For more on Neil Young, check out


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