Despite some late-career missteps, Neil Young is still one of my favorite singer-songwriters of all time. However, I just heard his new single, "Let's Impeach the President," and I have to say FOR SHAME, MR. YOUNG. FOR SHAME!
Not only does the song display less lyrical subtlety and finesse than Eminem's "Mosh," or even Toby Keith's, "Round Up Some Sandniggers (and Rape Them With Old Glory)," it also contains the laziest protest song rookie mistake imaginable: sound bites.
Maybe Neil Young felt like a song titled "Let's Impeach the President" wasn't telegraphing its message clearly enough, so he chose to include several clips of George W. Bush saying horrible, stupid, callous things. And, while I'm sure the selection of GWB clips that fall under the "horrible/stupid/callous" category was temptingly abundant, it doesn't mean Young had to pull a Negativland on us. He's a great songwriter and, as far as I know, fairly capable of penetrating the consciousness of music fans without resorting to sprinkling his song with audio samples of our President saying, "I made a poopie!"
I hate that I hate this song. And I hate that Pink (and the 4 Non-Blondes lady) wrote a better protest song than Neil Young. But most of all I just hate this song. It reads like a rough draft, a checklist of "Things That Make Me Mad." Katrina? Got it. Using religion to swipe an election? You know it. A nation divided, laws broken, an unjust war? Check, check, check. Steroid legislation? Yes in—WHAT?!! That's right. The song's final verse:
Thank god he’s cracking down on steroids
Since he sold his old baseball team
There’s lot of people looking at big trouble
But of course the president is clean
This seems like a really strange way to close the song. Or did Neil Young make a list of Bush's crimes against the world, and accidentally sort them in descending order of importance? It seems like, in the great canon of errors and felonies this administration has committed since 2000, the President's emphatic and distracting focus on steroids is not very high on the list. I always thought of the anti-steroid campaign as one of those small items on your to-do list that you check off while avoiding the more abstract and difficult to grasp, larger items. For instance, "send mr80smemorabilia a PayPal payment for the Parker Lewis Can't Lose DVDs" is an easy and satisfying item to check off vs. "stop feeling ashamed of your genitals." For Bush, it was "get working on that whole steroids dealie" vs. "learn to read." (Snap!) I think Bush is that kind of person, really good at tackling the small details (like reading goat-related books to schoolchildren, and making sure gays are oppressed forever in America) but really flustered by the broader strokes (multi-trillion dollar deficit, education, dying planet, etc.).
Finally, I would be totally remiss if I didn't draw your attention to the fact that Neil Young meaningfully set the words "Thank God" apart from the rest of the song, making it a kind of chin-stroking-and-head-nodding punctuation. This was possibly the song's single lowest point. "Thank God." GET IT? Because George Bush believes in God so the word "God" is in there, sort of ironically, but not very clearly so. Honestly, my collection of middle-school poetry was less didactic. And yes, that collection was titled, "Nocturnal Depressions."]
I am all for incendiary critiques of our President; God knows (get it???) he invites it, at least once a day. And I know we're supposed to be united in our disappointment in the current administration, which sometimes extends to awkward benefits and pretending to agree with John Kerry's recent May 15th plan for getting out of Iraq. (What a novel and potentially catastrophic idea. Thanks for reminding me why I stopped donating cash to your web site, Senator.) And of course I do feel somewhat lousy calling the writer of "Old Man" out for a well-meaning protest song that was obviously the product of a tremendous amount of frustration. It's just that I guess I look to people like Neil Young for crossover songs that actually pierce the thick skins of Americans who might not generally be open to criticism about the Bush Administration. (All 32% of them, I guess.) I just didn't expect him to write the 21st Century's version of "19."