Lynyrd, John, George & Neil
Is it really possible to connect the dots between Neil Young, Lynyrd Skynyrd, John Kerry and George Bush? Of late, naturally, there has been a lot of interest in Neil Young's politics ranging from whether he is a closet Reagan Republican or a Canadian for Kerry.
Regarding the 2004 election, Greg Lewis writes in The Washington Dispatch an article that really is incredible in it's lyrical mis-interpretation:
"Lynard Skynard, you might recall, wrote and recorded "Sweet Home Alabama," possibly the best rock song ever, in 1974 for their "Second Helping" album. Among the political/cultural stands they took with that song came in the form of their criticism of Neil Young's portrayal of their fellow citizens in his song, "Southern Man," which painted southerners as categorically racist, illiberal, and (by extension) closed-minded.
I think it's clear, however, that "Sweet Home Alabama" expresses what a majority of Americans feel in their hearts with regard to the upcoming election. Which is to say, when lead singer Ronnie Van Zandt belts out the lines, "Well, I hope Neil Young will remember / Southern man don't need him around, anyhow," he's expressing something fundamental about the American character.
I don't mean to put a quarter-century old rock song on the spot as the exemplar of what it means to be an American in the year 2004, but I do think it can be instructive to examine "Sweet Home Alabama" for what light it might shed on the current collective political consciousness of our nation. All of which translates, I'm willing to bet, into our citizenry's voting overwhelmingly to re-elect George W. Bush.
"Sweet Home Alabama" is concerned with how Americans react when people who have commandeered, as Neil Young did and as John Kerry is doing, platforms from which they can broadcast leftist points of view. Artists, commentators, pundits, politicians, and the like bleat at the American people a liberal message "from above," as if it's received truth. And when the people who listen to them and who accept their message as a significant component of the "cultural truth" in which they place a great deal of faith . . . well, when those people discover that the aforementioned messages are bogus, disingenuous, dangerous, and untruthful in the extreme, there's going to be hell to pay. One only hopes the debt is collected on election day 2004.
The American people have a heart, a collective heart, and that heart lets them know, intuitively, when they are hearing a message that makes sense, that rings true, that comes from the heart of the sender. John Kerry's message rings false, just as did Neil Young's in "Southern Man." It took Lynard Skynard to stand up and tell the world that Young's song harbored a bogus message. But stand up they did, and to the tune of a groundbreaking anthem which represented a political position that went against the grain of the "received wisdom" (i.e., the liberal ideology) that permeated the popular culture of the time, as it does to a great extent today."
There's quite a bit of irony in Greg Lewis's essay about using Neil Young's "Southern Man" and Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Sweet Home Alabama" as a metaphor for the 2004 election between John Kerry and George Bush. Really, the essay is quite remarkable. Aside from the fact that Lewis can't even spell the band's or Ronnie Van Zant's name correctly, his misunderstanding of both Young's and Skynyrd's songs is way off the mark.
Much as the right fundamentally misunderstood Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the USA" and Neil Young's "Rockin' in the Free World", again there is a wholesale mis-appropriation of both Skynyrd's and Young's message.
Neil's music and politics have veered all over the map from "Ohio", "On The Beach"/"Ambulance Blues" (anti-Nixon), "Campaigner" (pro-Nixon), "Hawks & Doves" and "REACTOR" (pro-Reagan), "Rockin'" (anti-Bush #41), "Let's Roll" (pro-Bush #43), to Greendale (anti-Bush #43).
Thrasher could go into it all again. But it's already all been said before in this analysis of Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Sweet Home Alabama".
More on the 2004 election from the perspective of Bruce Springsteen and music and politics.
One last thing... VOTE on November 2.
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