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Thursday, January 27, 2011

Canada's Junos To Honour Neil Young with Humanitarian Award

Neil Young
MusiCares Person Of The Year - 2010

Neil Young will be honored with the 2011 Allan Waters Humanitarian Award at Canada's Juno Awards on March 27.

The award recognizes "a Canadian artist whose humanitarian contributions have positively enhanced the social fabric of Canada."

"We are thrilled to salute Neil Young's committed and compassionate legacy," said Melanie Berry, president/CEO of the Junos. "As a driving force behind one of music's most successful fund-raising events, Farm Aid, and a key participant in Live 8 right here at home, his tenacity and spirit is highly regarded among his peers, and serves as an inspiration to all of us."

As we have noted previously, rarely -- if ever -- has a single artist supported so many causes, for such a sustained period, raising considerable funds and awareness while reaching out to millions and millions around the world.

When reviewing a listing of benefit concerts that Neil Young has played over the years, one is struck by the sheer diversity of causes he has supported over his 45+ year career.

One could contend that no other artist has made such an impact on causes involving social justice.

One might argue that Bono would be a contender but we would beg to differ. While Bono's benefit work has been hugely more high profile, his results are mixed at best. Bono's work has been described as "wonkish" by William Easterly, author of "The White Man's Burden: Why the West's Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good."

John Lennon

We contend that Young's work has really only been surpassed by John Lennon's fearless activism against the Vietnam War. Lennon's career sacrificing positions are in some ways similar to Young's activism during Vietnam (see "Ohio", for example.)

While Bono with the band U2 has certainly spoken out numerous times in both song and deed, we would argue that Bono was never willing to put his personal politics ahead of the band's success.

living with war cover art
Living with War

One can only reflect on Young's nearly career suicide inducing release of "Living with War" -- bolding calling for the impeachment of a sitting United States President for lying about an unjust war -- to understand that he places his incredibly fearless positions far ahead of career decisions.

Lennon and Young are/were rebels. Bono isn't.

As William Easterly contends:
There is something inherently noble about the celebrity dissident, but there is something slightly ridiculous about the celebrity wonk.

Lennon paid a price for his activities. We now know from subsequent Freedom of Information Act releases that the FBI monitored and harassed him. In 1971, President Richard Nixon set in motion a four-year effort to deport him, which failed after the political tide in America turned against the war.

In this role, Lennon was continuing a venerable tradition: the celebrity as a crusader against the wrongs committed by those in power. In the 19th century, the celebrity activists were not musicians but writers. Charles Dickens, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau and other authors loudly supported the abolitionist crusade against slavery. Harriet Beecher Stowe went further and wrote "Uncle Tom's Cabin" to boost the anti-slavery cause - a sort of 19th-century equivalent of "Imagine."

U2's Bono and George Bush
The White House, Washington, DC - 10/18/05

Bono once said:
"My job is to be used. I am here to be used. It's just, at what price? As I keep saying, I'm not a cheap date."

No one -- no one -- would ever, ever imagine Young making such a cynical statement.

Easterly concludes:
True dissidents - celebrity or not - play a vital role in democracy. But the celebrity desire to gain political power and social approval breeds intellectual conformity, precisely the opposite of what we need to achieve real changes. Politicians, intellectuals and the public can fall prey to groupthink (We must invade Vietnam to keep the dominoes from falling!) and need dissidents to shake them out of it.

True dissidents claim no expertise; they offer no 10-point plans to fix a problem. They are most effective when they simply assert that the status quo is morally wrong. Of course, they need to be noticed to have an impact, hence the historical role of dissidents such as Lennon who can use their celebrity to be heard.

We need more high-profile dissidents to challenge mainstream power. This makes it all the sadder that Bono and many other celebrities only reinforce this power in their capacity as faux experts. Where have all the celebrity dissidents gone? It's not a complicated task.

All Lennon was saying was to give peace a chance.

Congratulations Mr. Young.

You've made great art, you've spoken truth to power, and you never sold out.

So keep on rockin'. in. the. free. world.


At 1/28/2011 10:56:00 AM, Blogger SONY said...

"One can only reflect on Young's nearly career suicide..."

Suicide implies an active effort on the part of someone to intentionally eliminate their existence. At least that's my definition. I can not percieve any time that uncle Neil had that in sight. He has followed his gut and his muse to make music that basically oozes out of him most times I imagine without a conscious choice on his part. He's the medium between the inspiration and the persperation, that which is tangible.

The fact that others may say he's doing it to himself I don't think enters his evaluation. The release of his music is not the main part of his 'career' choices, only his decision of the music and the what, the when and the why of what he actually is. It's a bummer for us only when he doesn't put out what he makes(think Toast, among others). But I doubt there is much consideration other than the 'can you feel it now' process through which he decides.

Lennon said "if we're gonna be in the papers, it might as well be for peace", so in that vein, he was using the system to make his point, consciously, as a tool. Lennon, like Neil, was responding to the inate and and natural perspectives he had on issues of the time. And his behavior, in speak, action, writing and singing, showed it.

In any event, it is actually encouraging to have the examples of Neil Young and John Lennon to look too, to emulate, to admire, to examine for us to expand our own efforts and understanding of what it can take to make the world a better place than we find it. If only the warmongers, greedlusters, liars and haters would wake up to the same ideas.

At 1/28/2011 11:40:00 AM, Blogger thrasher said...

SONY _ point taken. Probably a poor choice. But you get my drift. Thnx.

At 1/28/2011 01:00:00 PM, Blogger Jonathan said...

I think Bono's heart is definitely in the right place and he has done lots of good/ beneficial charity work throughout his career. Was this supposed to be a gentle jab at him??

At 1/28/2011 02:14:00 PM, Blogger SONY said...

S'OK T. I sometimes think alot of folks have looked at what Neil has done and thought similarly, without the understanding of what actually is happening. I KNOW you understand it. Many a review on his work has stated some nialistic bent about the self-destructive, cataclismic poor judgements of Neil relative to THEIR take on it. Generally they are uninformed, unimpressed, undereducated, and underexposed to the medium of Neil Young. That's their problem, certainly not Neil's or ours.

The championing of causes by artists, musicians and writers (and all) is a great thing. Some jump on the wagon as it travels near. Others ARE the wagon, they can't help it. It's what they are, not just what they believe. It's the force.

As a 'citizen of the planet' I would suspect that the recognition for being a 'good deed doer' that Neil receives is a bit of excess for him, as the pleasure and the reward is wrapped up in seeing things change for the better in the direction for which he is working.

At 1/28/2011 03:27:00 PM, Blogger Dan1 said...

I think what's unique about Neil is that he has never sought the limelight - avoided it probably a better description - but he's been willing to leverage his celebrity power when its in the interest of a cause he believes in. Same for his music - he's a career long activist still calling out the ills of society NOT to sell records and in fact at the expense of more stardom ... This Note's for You is a great example -- barred from MTV and then later he wins an award ... so I agree that one can give Bono the benefit of the doubt and say his primary motivation is to do good, but hard to deny he's got a strong secondary motivation which is to become more famous and rub elbows with those in power -- nothing wrong with that but in my opinion different than Neil who seems to have the primary motivation for doing good and no major secondary self interested agenda .. in fact he's willing to sacrifice his own self interest - 'ie' the Tyson tie-up in gigs for the gulf - if he thinks it'll achieve an altruistic benefit, and hence Neil's activism and altruism is a purer and more admirable form in my view. BUt lots of room for celebrity do gooders at the top of the Mountain ... just think Neil's brand is particularly unique and admirable.


At 1/28/2011 05:16:00 PM, Blogger thrasher said...

@Jonathan _ re honor, not really jabbing him so. Much as saying Neil & Lennon are on a different trip.
@Dan _ exactly. Thanks!

At 1/28/2011 07:38:00 PM, Blogger BIGCHIEF said...

As a young 'hippy' at the peak of Lennons activist period, even I thought that some of his and Yoko's shenanigans were a little 'over the top' as far as I was concerned. Although I believe that his motives were sincere, his celebrity status was preyed upon by the likes of Abbie Hoffman and others to advance their political agendas. He certainly attracted the medias attention with events such as the 'Bed In', along with being a magnet for other celebrities of the day, such as Timothy Leary and others, who thought that they too would be percieved as 'hip' by association. Whether or not Lennons activism helped to end the war is up to debate, however, it did manage to inspire a paranoid president and his F.B.I. director sidekick J.Edgar Hoover to invest a lot of time and energy in an attempt to have him deported. I have often wondered why this same paranoid president didn't seem to be as threatened by being the subject of a song that was written by a Canadian citizen who was living in the U.S.A. 'Ohio'was an obvious attack against Nixon, calling him by name in a much more direct manner than anything that Lennon had ever attempted on record. Although it wasn't an 'anti-war song', it was written immediatly during the aftermath of four students at Kent State University who were killed by members of the Ohio National guard during an 'anti-war rally' on campus by order of President Nixon. I haven't researched the time frame of these events, however, it's possible that Nixon had become too pre-occupied by other scandels (Watergate)to waste his time going after another hippie rockstar. Even his crossdressing buddy Hoover had deserted him by then. That wouldn't be the first time nor the last that Neil would 'shoot from the hip' and write songs in the moment to express his feelings when certain events take place.Neil's political views change almost as often as his musical styles. At any givin time you never know what neil your gonna get. Ohio, The War Song, Campaigner, From the right-wing songs on 'Hawks And Doves', to the left-wing songs on 'Living With War', 'Lets Roll'!


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