It started as a rumour - gossip shared by fans on internet chat sites. Could it true, they asked? Could Neil Young, a cultural lodestone for a generation of country rock fans, really be turning his attention to President George Bush and the war in Iraq? Now Young himself has confirmed it. Not only has he recorded an entire album about the conflict, but in one of the songs he spells out who he thinks is to blame for the ongoing chaos and violence and what the consequences for that person should be. That track is called "Impeach the President".
"I just finished a new record - a power trio with trumpet and 100 voices," the 60-year-old says in a ticker-tape message posted at the bottom of his official website. "Metal folk protest? It's called Living with the War."
Further details about the album came from Jonathan Demme, the film maker who produced the recently released documentary Heart of Gold about the singer-songwriter. "Neil just finished writing and recording - with no warning - a new album called Living With War," he told the music magazine Harp by e-mail. "It all happened in three days ... It is a brilliant electric assault, accompanied by a 100-voice choir, on Bush and the war in Iraq ... Truly mind blowing. Will be in stores soon."
Those who have followed Young's twisting career, stretching over more than four decades - from the psychedelia-tinged rock of the folk-rock band Buffalo Springfield in the Sixties, his joining up with Crosby, Stills, and Nash, his huge solo success in 1972 with Harvest, as well as the experimentation of the Eighties and finally his return to country rock - may be a little surprised by Young's decision to launch such a blunt political assault against the Bush administration.
Indeed, in the aftermath of the al-Qa'ida attacks on the US of 11 September 2001, it seemed that Young had taken the side with the President and supported the steps he was taking in the so-called "war on terror". Having written a song, "Let's Roll", to honour the passengers on board United Airlines' Flight 93 who apparently fought with the hijackers and forced the plane to crash-land in rural Pennsylvania rather than letting them use it to target the White House, he announced his support for the Patriot Act. The Act, which gave law-enforcement bodies a whole range of new powers, was condemned by many campaigners as an assault on civil liberties. Young said at the time he thought the legislation was necessary.
Speaking at an awards banquet in Hollywood where he had received the Spirit of Liberty award by the liberal campaign group People for the American Way, Young announced: "To protect our freedoms it seems we're going to have to relinquish some of our freedoms for a short period of time." But now it appears that for whatever reason, the Canadian-born singer's support for President Bush has run it's course and that his latest incarnation is as a protest singer. He has joined list of musicians such as the Dixie Chicks, Lou Reed, Dave Matthews, Steve Earle and REM who have used their platforms to speak out against the war or the administration in general. His song urging that Mr Bush be impeached reportedly accuses him of "lying" and features a rap with the President's voice set against the choir singing "flip-flop" - an accusation Mr Bush and other Republicans aimed at John Kerry, the Democratic presidential candidate, during the 2004 election campaign.
Meanwhile the lyrics to the new album's title track include the words: "I'm living with war right now, And when the dawn breaks I see my fellow man, And on the flat screen we kill and we're being killed again, And when the night falls I pray for peace, Try to remember peace."
Whilst details of the 10-song recording are still incomplete - it is known that he is accompanied by Chad Cromwell on drums, Rick Rosas on bass and Tommy Bray on trumpet - a further insight into what to expect has come from the California-based musician Alicia Morgan, who was recruited to be part of the 100-strong choir. In an entry on her blog on Friday she wrote: "Have you, like me, been recalling the great protest songs of the Sixties, and wondered where the new protest songs are? Yesterday, I found out." She said she and the other singers read off the lyrics as they flashed onto a giant screen, with cheers of approval coming up from the choir. With the main tracks having been previously recorded, Young himself directed the backing singers. "Turns out the whole thing is a classic beautiful protest record. The session was like being at a 12-hour peace rally," she said.
"Every time new lyrics would come up on the screen, there were cheers, tears and applause. It was a spiritual experience ... We finished the session by singing an a cappella version of "America the Beautiful" and there was not a dry eye in the house." She added: "I've never been at a recording session that was more like being at church. Heck, I've never been to a church that was more like a church than that session." Speaking from Sherman Oaks, California, yesterday Morgan told The Independent that many people liked Neil Young because he "pisses everybody off".
She said: "I have always enjoyed his music and respected him. People have told me he used to be a Reagan supporter but I don't think he is bound by any ideology other than his own. He writes and sings about whatever is going on in his life. Sometimes it's political - sometimes it's not."
Asked if she thought Young had enjoyed the 12-hour session, at which they completed the 10 tracks, she added: "Very much so." Young, who has served on the board of Farm Aid, fellow singer Willie Nelson's project to help rural Americans, for more than 20 years, is not the first person to have suggested the impeachment of Mr Bush. With his approval ratings in the low 30s, Democratic Senator Russ Feingold has sought to have Congress pass a motion to censure the President, though the effort has received only limited support from Mr Feingold's Democratic colleagues.
Meanwhile Mr Bush can apparently do nothing to shift his ratings, the worst for a president in second term since the days of Richard Nixon, for whom, incidentally, Young also wrote a song. Young, who has said he has previously voted for the Republicans, was apparently inspired to write the words for the song "Campaigner" - originally called "Requiem for a President" - after watching television news about Nixon's wife suffering a stroke and seeing the broken president arrive at the hospital. In the song he wrote: "I am a lonely visitor, I came too late to cause a stir, Though I campaigned all my life towards that goal."
Songs of shame
By Geneviève Roberts
* ROLLING STONES
Despite being famously apolitical, the band launched an attack on George Bush in their latest album, A Bigger Bang. The track "Sweet Neo Con" contains the lyrics: "You call yourself a Christian, I call you a hypocrite/You call yourself a patriot, Well I think you're full of shit."
Despite Jagger saying: "It's not aimed personally at President Bush. It wouldn't be called 'Sweet Neo Con' if it was," Stones fans were not convinced, especially as Jagger had previously said of the tune: "It is direct. Keith said: 'It is not really metaphorical. I think he's a bit worried because he lives in the US. But I don't."
In 2004, rap artist Eminem urged fans to vote against George Bush in the US election by issuing a music video specifically to criticise the Iraq war. The lyrics for "Mosh": "Let the President answer on high anarchy, strap him with an AK-47, let him go fight his own war," accompanied a video depicting a US soldier arriving home from Baghdad, to be told he must return.
* DIXIE CHICKS
"Not Ready to Make Nice", to be released in the US in May, is an attack on people who sent the Texan band death threats after they criticised Mr Bush. Singer Nathalie Maines, performing in London on the eve of the Iraq war, said: "Just so you know, we're ashamed the President of the United States is from Texas." Many US radio stations dropped the band and their CDs were smashed.
* GEORGE MICHAEL
In 2002, he released the single "Shoot the Dog", which featured a cartoon video of Tony Blair and Mr Bush's poodle on the White House lawn. The backlash was so forceful - the New York Post called him a "past-his-prime pop pervert" - that Michael feared he would not be able to return to the US.
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