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Friday, March 25, 2011

Lennon, Bono & Neil Young: Humanitarian Rebels With Causes

Neil Young
MusiCares Person Of The Year - 2010

This coming Sunday (March 27), Neil Young will be honored with the 2011 Allan Waters Humanitarian Award at Canada's Juno Awards.

The award honors a Canadian artist whose humanitarian contributions have positively enhanced the social fabric of Canada and recognizes Young's compassionate legacy behind events such as Farm Aid, Live 8, and Bridge School Concerts.

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. (Freedom v. 2011)


At 3/25/2011 07:55:00 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

Well said Thrasher!

Neil Young is the absolute real deal, never, ever selling out! I've been following him for 20+ years and it's been one helluva ride. So happy i hopped on.

check out Neil's comments at 4:55, spoken truly from the heart @Farm Aid!


Rusted Television

At 3/25/2011 10:08:00 AM, Blogger Dan1 said...


Totally agree with all that you wrote and I would add ... and maybe I'm saying this too strongly, but its almost insulting that people would compare Bono's activism to Neil's ... not to take anything away from Bono because whatever his ultimate motives may be or however mixed they are ('ie' celebrity activist -- who is serving whom?) Bono has in fact been a voice for good and he's deserving of much prasie for that ... Neil on the other hand serves the cause at the expense of, as you so elequently said, his own marketability - that's special ... its Neil's pure motives that set him far apart from someone like Bono ... its also that good form of being rich and famous and maintaining a normal identity that makes him a real person, a great role model, and someone you can look to as an example of a tried and true activist and humanitarian. I would also add -- if you look at who is left from the 60's and still protesting ... ya know, the numbers have dwindled, Neil's never stopped doing it, LWW was a fabulous example, and so, based on this 40 year+ track record he has you can look back and say Ohio wasn't about being a celebrity and trading in that generation's celebrity currency which was protest, that was the same Neil Young as true activist and he is today ... Its just a cool perspective, another perspective on Neil that distinguishes him and his fine charachter.

Many musicians have cited him as a huge influence musically. Hopefully the same will hold true for keeping it real and giving some back sincerely.

At 3/25/2011 10:10:00 AM, Blogger Sharry said...

My husband and I have tickets for the upcoming Juno Awards ceremony at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto where Neil will be presented with the Allan Water Humanitarian Award. Well deserved and long overdue. I certainly hope that Neil will be making a live appearance to accept his award. A recent article in the press seemed to indicate that this will be the case, but the newspaper has messed up on things like this before. I've also heard from another source that he plans to appear via satellite. I guess we'll find out for sure in a few more days.

At 3/25/2011 10:38:00 AM, Blogger thrasher said...

@Rusted - thanks for vids! exactly.

@Dan1 - thanks for comment. precisely.

Certainly not trying to knock Bono here at all or his work & causes.

But you understood exactly where William Easterly was coming from with Bono, his ego, career, music, and causes. Bono plays it safe with his causes and music relative to Neil.

Neil's career is 2nd to his values and causes. It's really hard to find places where he got it backwards and that is why he is -- in so many respects -- where he is today relative to his peers. It's our very firm belief that if any of his peers were to truly confide on their opinion of NY it would be quite revealing of their respect.

Again, we'd encourage everyone to revisit the listing of benefit concerts that NY has been involved with.

Really. His motives are unimpeachable.

As for Lennon, in many ways, he deliberately imploded his career for his causes. No doubt about it.

Nixon was relentless in going after his critics like Lennon, Young, and others who protested the Vietnam war.

It takes a tremendous amount of courage & sacrifice to do what these guys did.

And to this day, very few recognize the enormous courage it took for NY to release LWW & LITP. Truly & utterly courageous.

Something that Bono would have never done (or did when he could have.)

But Lennon would have for sure if he were here today.

and ... yes .. we are still living with wars & wars & more wars ...

@ Sharry - have fun!!!!

At 3/25/2011 03:33:00 PM, Blogger bandit53 said...

''Congratulations Neil Young'' A Very deserving award for you. Have fun Sharry. I do not have tickets for the Junos but I am planning to go down to the ACC and walk around with my camera to see what I can see. LINCVOLTing in Toronto!

At 3/26/2011 01:34:00 PM, Blogger Worthless Recluse said...

Bono is offensive on multiple levels, but as an Irish citizen, one of the things that rankles most is his tax avoidance. A total hypocrite with a narcissistic personality disorder. Lennon may have been politically naive or misguided at times but had integrity, as does Neil of course.

At 3/26/2011 02:20:00 PM, Blogger SONY said...

No, I'm not gonna to hide my feelings
Couldn't if I tried
No, I'm not holding them inside
Holding back is so close to stealing
Though we both have tried
We could lose it all if we lied.

Neil Young is genuine. In Music, actions, thoughts and rhyme. Any other way and we wouldn't be here enjoying it all.

Congratualtions to Neil.

At 3/28/2011 09:21:00 AM, Blogger Mother Nature on the Run said...

Paul McC's and Paul Hewson's knighthood after making a few bucks off their "anti-British" songs sealed their fate with me.

Their only saving grace is that at least they have a guilty conscience.

Has Neil the same hypocracies?

Would he accept an honor like a royal knighthood from a government that was responsible for economic oppression?


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