Comment of the Moment: Freedom in a New Year
Freedom (1989) by Neil Young -
"The rock and roll coda of the Cold War"
The Comment of the Moment is from our New Year's Day post on Freedom in a New Year by Greg "A Friend Of Yours". (Note: many of the references in the comment below are to the original lyrical analysis of Neil Young's "Rockin' In The Free World".)
Like so many of Neil’s songs, RITFW can mean a lot of things to a lot of people.
For me a few things stand out, but as an overall picture James Lane’s comment comes very close to summarizing the song: "The tune warns us of the complacency of our own lives and the lack of empathy we express for people who are not blessed with the benefits and cushy lifestyle the majority of Americans enjoy. The song is a musical signpost telling us not to lose sight of the problems our society and its less fortunate members face. It is a song of insight attempting to awaken us to the reality of a culture seen on a wider screen…”
I think Thrasher is also very close to the center of the song by concluding that “Young contrasts President Bush's rhetoric and Rev. Jackson's religion as solutions to society's ills, when in actuality, they are nothing more than 'feel good' slogans with little results to show”, as well as “The lyrics of 'Rockin' In The Free World' also refer to the rampant consumerism of American culture and the rise of the disposable society based on waste and pollution.”
As far as the USA Today quote that the song is “a savage attack on the policies of Ronald Reagan and the first President Bush”, I think that while this is true in particular, the song addresses this and America and its history in its entirety, as well as Americans in general. Having said this, the lyric that has always stood out most prominently in my mind is “We got a thousand points of light for the homeless man. We got a kinder, gentler, machine gun hand”, which can only be a swipe at Bush 1. We all know what real effect rhetoric has had on the causes of homelessness, and the specious nature of “kinder, gentler” rationales to go to war- protecting America from problems it has largely created on its own, e.g. Saddam Hussein and oil dependence, and that however you want to view it, America still has a machine gun in its hands. Just ask any Iraqi, then or now.
As far as the song being a pro or anti democracy anthem, that is a concept fraught with all sorts of erroneousness. In the first place, democracy represents a degradation of the republican principles this country was founded on, and is just another form of mob rule, or rule by simple majority. Read the Federalist Papers to find out what the Founders had to say about protecting the rights of the minority. Consider also Socrates’ warning: “Republics decline into democracies, and democracies degenerate into despotisms.'
In any event, at the very least “democracy” is what has created the foul state of the body politic which is hamstringing this country at present. It is what allows the run of the mill politician to function as a demagogue, with no need to have a world view with which to take moral and ethical stances, just to wave a finger in the air to find out which way the wind is blowing. At worst, democracy is used to tell people one thing, and do another. Just look around you at what you find disgusting, and stop wondering how it was all possible. Still, even a republican form of government rightly encompasses democratic features, features obviously not available to the victims of Tienanmen Square.
No, the state of democracy is not what Neil is lamenting. His lament I think is “how could people get so unkind?” This goes for the politics of nations, purveyors of empty rhetoric, and the ignorance, lack of awareness, and unfeeling nature of all of us right across the board.
Finally, Thrasher brilliantly cites JFK’s speech to the American Newspaper Publishers Association. If anyone wants to understand what is happening in this world, how things came to be this way, in what direction we are headed, or the perilous state of freedom confronting us, you need only start right here.
You need only start here to understand the true context of George Bush’s “thousand points of light” reference. It has nothing to do with a call to civic and charitable involvement. Rather, it is a reference to Illuminism, an encoded esoteric call to arms signaling to all the wreckers throughout the world that the time has come to declare out in the open (in George Bush’s own words), a “New World Order”.
Go ahead, roll your eyes, but this is what is happening. I don’t think that Neil wrote the song to reveal the truth of this, but as a way to call attention to the havoc that the George Bush’s of the world, and the higher powers that control them, and their minions, have wreaked in the world. Again, I don’t think that Neil is addressing the esoteric causation of the picture he paints, but wreckage is wreckage, however you care to explain it.
Kennedy knew this, and was the only one in the history of his office to stand up and try to do something about it, with the exception of Lincoln, Washington, Jefferson, and precious few others. It is why he was killed, and why no President will ever stand up again, even if they wanted to, which of course does not describe both Bush’s, Clinton, Carter and Obama, who are active and willing participants. Reagan was the stand in from Hollywood, delivering his lines expertly for those behind the scenes feeding them to him.
The upshot of the song for me finally, is the song titles sentiment itself - keep on rocking in the free world. I think “free” is a sarcastic usage, given what the song chronicles, but still and all, “keep on keeping on”. “Rocking” is an affirmative. It is the power of free expression. Acknowledge the truth of the situation, be angry yes, but do something about it - while you still can. There is no Ayatollah to stop anyone from trying to “be the rain” - yet.
Keep on rocking in the “free” world.
A Friend Of Yours
Thanks Greg, my friend. A profound way to start 2011 indeed.
More on Freedom in a New Year.