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Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Micah Nelson Responds To Neil Young's New Song "Neighborhood"


Neil Young's new song "Neighborhood" (The Drone Song) has begun to stir up a bit of controversy after only a few public performances.

On the YouTube page comments, there is now posted an "Open Letter to Neil Young" on the song's lyrics by Rabih Hamzeh:

Dear Neil,

I caught your show tonight on the second day of the Desert Trip concert (aka “Oldchella”) and, along with 75,000 other fans, was really getting into the show.

Until, that is, you played “Neighborhood”, a new song I had never heard before. It’s a song about “terrorists” “hidden in the dark” that could “end your life tomorrow”. The part that shocked me though, Neil, was this lyric: I think I know who to blame It's all those people with funny names Moving into our neighborhood How can I tell if they're bad or good? And the crowd of mostly middle aged Caucasian people went wild. Now look Neil, I can generally “pass”, okay? I mean I’m fairly light-skinned and I don’t wear a turban or some big long beard (just the requisite hipster facial fuzz). So nobody suspected anything.

But that didn’t stop me from feeling pretty humiliated. It was dehumanizing. I’m Muslim, Neil. And Middle Eastern. I have a “funny name” and, well, I live in a neighborhood. And there are millions of people just like me who are Americans. Besides potentially being “bad” (i.e. terrorists), let me tell you what else we do, Neil, besides just live in your neighborhood. We deliver the paper. And we deliver babies. We operate machinery. And we operate on people. Yes, some of us we drive you around in cars.

And some of us built those cars and others of us designed those cars. We are parents and teachers and, some of us, are huge rock n’ roll fans. All pretty “good” things I think. And “funny name” by what standard exactly, Neil? Unless your name is Sitting Bull, you’re not originally from here either. Sure your ancestors may have come before I did, but that doesn’t make your name, Neil Percival Young, any funnier than mine.

Except that you’re not from here either are you? I immigrated with my family when I was 8 years old and became an American citizen at 15 while I was in high school. I love this great country with all my heart and along with my brother and sister have contributed to society. You and I both live in Los Angeles, but you, sir, are still a Canadian citizen. Well, I won’t judge. Welcome to MY neighborhood Neil, I’m sure you’ve found a lot of GOOD people from all over the world with all kinds of names that have been very welcoming. I’m a human being, Neil, and I have earned the dignity of being an American.

As Khizr Khan (unofficially the patron saint of Muslims if there can be such a thing), father of Humayun Khan, a brave soldier who died in Iraq in 2004, said at the Democratic National Convention “we have undivided loyalty to our country, and with hard work and goodness of this country, we share and contribute to its blessings”. I never again want to feel like I did today, Neil. Standing amongst 75,000 of my fellow Americans for the first time in my life I was made to feel that I was an outsider. At a rock concert. By a Canadian. Shame on you Neil. And shame on everybody else that was there that cheered. I have no doubt that if any other ethnic group was villainized, there would have been an uproar, or at least an uncomfortable silence (and appropriately so).

I don’t want to hear “yes, but some of you are terrorists”. I am not a terrorist. And millions and millions of Muslims, Middle Easterners, and other “funny named” people are just like me. Sincerely, Rabih Hamzeh PS: “Rabih” means spring time in Arabic and “Hamzeh” was the name of the uncle and protector of the prophet Muhammad. What does your name mean?
The above comment is responded to by Neil Young's band Promise Of The Real band mate Micah Nelson (Willie Nelson's son):
Hello Rabih,

As a member of Neil Young's band (I'm the guy in the video playing guitar on the right) and his close friend I can assure you the sentiment of his song "Terrorist Suicide Hanggliders" is not what you've interpreted. The song is calling out the hypocrisy of the prejudice people here in our country, mainly Trump supporters who can't tell the difference between an innocent Muslim man and a terrorist. The song is a critique of shallow, narrow-minded viewpoints that sadly pervade our culture.

The character in the song is not "Neil". Neil is playing a character in the song, representing the racism and fear-based thinking that exists in America today. Neil plays other characters in his songs quite often to paint a picture of an opposing viewpoint while remaining detached from the perspective itself. Take a look at the verses of "Rocking in the Free World" for instance:

We got a thousand points of light
For the homeless man
We got a kinder, gentler,
Machine gun hand
We got department stores
and toilet paper
Got styrofoam boxes
for the ozone layer
Got a man of the people,
says keep hope alive
Got fuel to burn,
got roads to drive.
Keep on rockin' in the free world!

Much of that song is satire as well. Neil drives an electric car that he built and is a major advocate for alternative renewable energies and sustainable fuels.

Clearly these lyrics are an ironic statement designed to make people think more critically, or even just to think at all. Take the new verse he added about a year ago:

Got a water cannon for the standing man
Got misinformation from the corporation
In the endless search for a drop of oil
People's lives get shattered while we suck it from the soil
Gotta show the children
We just don't care
So we keep on burnin' it
And put it in the air
Keep on rockin in the free world!

Look especially at the line "Gotta show the children/We just don't care/So we keep on burnin' it/And put it in the air". Obviously Neil cares way more than most people about keeping oil in the ground for the sake of our children and the welfare of the Earth! So you see, it is simply an artistic statement, a powerful tool to present these views in a satirical way and expose them for how horrible they are.

I hope that helps clear things up for you. Neil Young is an artist who has nothing against you or any Muslim people.

Neil is one of the most outspoken people I know against people who hate others for reasons they don't understand. This song is intended to call bullshit on ignorant people who blindly follow fear-mongering in the established media, but just like most great art, it can be interpreted subjectively. I just want you to know that hating on Muslims is not Neil's intention -- it is in fact the opposite.

Neil loves you and is fighting with you against the contagious disease of hate.

Cheers, ~ Micah
Thank you Micah for your well measured response. To say this is a profound and mature statement doesn't begin to do justice to Micah's clear spoken truth.

And may all of our debates continue to be civil and well considered going forward towards that big shift". (Thanks HtH!)

More on satire and irony in Neil Young's song Rockin' In The Free World.


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At 10/19/2016 10:21:00 AM, Blogger Mother Nature on the Run said...

There is nothing magical or symbolic in Neil's lyrics of late. His lyrics are pretty straight forward. He's chronicling events and attitudes into his songs about issues he cares deeply. In the "Neighborhood" or "Drone Song," for example, he's chronicling anti-Islamic fear mongering.

Rabih's concern is lacking in reason. It's unfortunate he was unable to make this inference.

At 10/19/2016 10:35:00 AM, Blogger Hounds That said...

It is yet another way in yet another day to say .... Hate is everything you think it is, only Love will break it down. Namaste

At 10/19/2016 10:35:00 AM, Blogger Mystic said...

Ironic, that you have to explain an ironic song?

Hmmm, the ol' British/Canadian connection and the cultural divide with our fellow Americans?

When you trump in England, it means to pass wind, probably the same wind that is lifting these hang gliders?

Next weeks homework: sarcasm.

At 10/19/2016 10:56:00 AM, Blogger Mother Nature on the Run said...

Aw c'mon. Give the kid a break. There are a lot of people who cannot pass through that wall of deductive reasoning or interpret lyrics in a song and what they mean. Transcribing lyrics is easy for me because I can get inside an artist's head.

At 10/19/2016 10:57:00 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

I clearly see this song from the viewpoint of somone who is frigthened from the look of the future. Maybe he has an unstable job, maybe he is not satisfied with his life in a number of ways, is uncertain how to deal with people with different religions, simply because he doesnt know them at all, he may have to work his ass off instead of getting to know people outside his usual circles. And of course, he got fox news feeding him with all different kind of black and white viewpoints. He is an afraid man. and a xenophobe. But I think Neil paints him in a sort of empathic way. He is just afraid. He tries to understand his world, and therefore, make xenophobic conclusions.

At 10/19/2016 11:03:00 AM, Blogger Pocahontas said...

I think that with so much hate being spread in this country against Islam the writer is correct in pointing out that many listeners will not get the irony and it could put people at risk of personal safety. As Neil Young fans we know the difference but not everyone who hears this new song will.

At 10/19/2016 11:05:00 AM, Blogger Dan1 said...

Obviously he's not a die hard fan or he would have realized that Neil is the last guy that would reinforce xenophobic stereotypes … that said, the guy doesn't help his own case by lambasting Neil in a public forum when some rudimentary homework would reveal that Neil is using his megaphone to call out xenophobes …

Some see life as a broken promise
Some see life as an endless fight
They think they live in the age of darkness
They think they live in the age of Light

It's an Angry world
And everything is gonna be all right
Yeah it's an angry world
Yeah it's an angry world

At 10/19/2016 11:19:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Micah seems like a very likable guy. His caring note above is eloquent, touching and well-intended.

In the past I have I found attempts to 'explain' Neil's lyrics doomed to failure. They are all about you using your imagination, associating yourself with them, feeding off the artist's own improvisations. "Doesn't mean that much to me, to mean that much to you". So the fact that his latter-day lyrics are often easily explainable and tied-down, for me, is something that demonstrates their inherent and fundamental weakness, not their strengths.

As Poncho Sampedro said about some of Neil's more modern lyrics:

"It’s like he just described a room or a situation and it wasn’t as magical as some of his other lyrics which make you think it could be your room or your situation. It was just too blatant of a description."

So: it's a good thing that folks 'misunderstand' the lyrics, sometimes. It's a sign that there is at least a little bit of depth there.

Incidentally, Leonard Cohen's latest 'single' (You Want It Darker) is a cracker, both musically and lyrically. It's restrained arrangement, lyrical ambiguity and haunting otherworldly overdubs reminds me in no small way of Safeway Cart off Sleeps With Angels. It reaches out and grabs you whilst stying firmly in the shadows of mystery; a quality shared with all of Neil's best work.


At 10/19/2016 11:32:00 AM, Blogger thrasher said...

Once again, another demonstration that Neil fans are some of the most knowledgeable and astute music fans out there.

In particular, thanks Scotmans for the measured reply.

Interesting comment on Safeway Cart. A fantastic song that POTR should cover someday.

Thanks to all for the wheat filled dialogue and making this a fun place to hang out.

There's way too much chaff in this angry world so it's great to see everyone here doing there part to speak out against the madness.


At 10/19/2016 01:20:00 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Dear Rabih,

Please don't listen to Revolution Blues. You may take Neil for a paramilitary nut.

At 10/19/2016 01:35:00 PM, Blogger Mother Nature on the Run said...

Can we verify the letter isn't a hoax? Where was it published?

At 10/19/2016 01:48:00 PM, Blogger thrasher said...

@MNOTR - The letter was published on the YT link above.

That said, someone may want to follow Rabih Hamzeh link and see whether he actually did attend Desert fest and is a legit DNA-based individual and not a synthetic troll-bot.

At 10/19/2016 02:05:00 PM, Blogger Mother Nature on the Run said...

" ...Now, pull that drummer out from behind that bottle.
Bring me my pipe, we're gonna shake it.
Slap that drummer with a pie that smells.
Take me down to California, baby
Take me down to California, baby
Take me down to California, baby..."

At 10/19/2016 02:30:00 PM, Blogger Mother Nature on the Run said...

The syntax & lexicon clash with main purpose of writing letter. A person capable of writing this letter is also capable of understanding the main intent of song.


At 10/19/2016 02:40:00 PM, Blogger thrasher said...

Thanks MNOTR.
Yes, our hunch as well. Faux contrived outrage as a distraction.

Let's see wht happens when the album is released. If we see an orchestrated campaign with these talking points then we'll just know it's an automated troll program and ignore.

If real muslims come forward concerned over this song, that'll be another thing. But we have a hunch that many persecuted muslims have bigger issues which to concern themselves.

I can't wait for someone to give Rabih Hamzeh a hard time about spending 100's or thousands of dollars on a bunch of rock starts singing a bunch of old songs. :)

Hopefully, this doesn't turn out to be another LWW backlash deal...

At 10/19/2016 03:31:00 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

What about a sticker on future albums/songs saying "Attention! Might contain dangerously ironic/sarcastic content!" Or "Beware of the lyrics! Stick to the melody!" Are people actually getting dumber each day?!

At 10/19/2016 03:32:00 PM, Blogger Mother Nature on the Run said...

POTR killed on "Alabama." More barn!!!

At 10/19/2016 05:45:00 PM, Blogger Greg Mantho said...

I'd also be interested to know the veracity of this letter, and its elements. Did the crowd really cheer at the lyric? If so, how many cheered thinking as Rabih did, that the lyric was in fact Neil's real sentiment, and not a satirical view of fear mongering? I agree that Rabih must be relatively new to Neil and his music, to not automatically err on the side of Neil adopting a lyrical persona, as most of us do, but I also hope I can empathize with someone who faces prejudice on a daily basis being a little over sensitive. You know, walk a mile in my shoes, and you might feel differently about some things.

This takes me back to my freshman year of college, watching the movie "The Godfather", with a predominately white, privileged group of kids like myself, who knew next to nothing about what it meant to grow up as a black person in America- this was 1976. In the scene where the family heads are discussing the relative merits of getting into the drug business, when one of the characters made the statement "In my city, we would keep the traffic in the dark people- the colored. They're animals anyway, so let them lose their souls", when most of the audience laughed I looked up to see a couple of black students leaving in disgust. Although I didn't laugh, neither did the scorn and heartlessness of the statement register with me. To say the least, it took me a few minutes to direct my attention back to the screen, after getting such a disturbing view of myself. My antennae wasn't up, and therefore I didn't see it coming. Likewise, it isn't hard for me to consider that the antennae of the concert audience, or of the posters on this blog, is not up in a way that it must be up for Rabih. Don't get me wrong, I'm not pointing a finger, or discounting the good points being made, just saying maybe look at it a little more from the perspective of the Rabih's among us.

A Friend Of Yours

At 10/19/2016 05:54:00 PM, Blogger thrasher said...

@Greg - Really, really good points. And we're glad we're having this conversation.

Yes, undoubtedly, anyone unfamiliar with Neil's music may have had Rabih's reaction. And it is a legitimate reaction to a "perceived: slur.

But. But at the same time when you write an Open Letter to Neil, write 7 well-constructed paragraph's and post it on one the web's largest sites, you need to really think these things through.

And that is is what is suspect here.

You bring up The Godfather scene from the past. Another analogy is the whole "Sweet Home Alabama" business. Exactly the same. A bunch of folks getting all stirred up about mis-interpreting lyrics.

fair criticism is always fair. Lies, distortion, manipulation, hidden agendas are an entirely different matter.

At 10/19/2016 11:43:00 PM, Blogger Alan said...

Neil Young's fans are largely peaceniks, hippie types, ideologically speaking. We are against murder, bombing, GMO's, hate, etc. I saw this song live and knew immediately that he was playing a character who had a small mind, riffing on a Redneck. Never in a million years would Neil Young preach hate. He is an Environmentalist Warrior Musician battling GMO Roundup poison, still standing for Standing Rock and what is right. He is a protector and a contributor to the First Nation legal fund. He did a series of benefit shows for them. More than any other rock musician, Neil Young has stood for a thousand causes. He writes about the present moment sometimes and this election year in the US has shown us how disgusting and criminal Trump and Hillary both are, if one gets news from a source other than television. Trump's fans are racist assh*les and Hillary's fans don't care that she has built her fortune on pay to play with foreign Gov'ts and grifting at the Clinton Foundation. She is more likely to start a war than Trump, mostly because she will win and he will defeat himself. The uneducated low-lifes who attend his rallies do probably talk just like Neil sings in the song. No worries, bro. Racism exists almost everywhere, but not in the Neil Young universe. If you want to see that shit, just watch Ted Nugent for a few minutes. Peace. Love. Happiness. Thanks, Micah, for clarifying and testifying. i caught your show in Boise and it F'n Rocked! You are great, and so is the band. I am the fan who walked out on the grass during sound check in Boise. You guys sounded great! -Alan in Seattle

At 10/19/2016 11:55:00 PM, Blogger Alan said...

PS- I was smiling during the entire show. Anyone could've seen my smile as I watched Neil and the band from the front row. But I am a Jill Stein Green, pro Peace, Anti GMO, Anti War, and yet I have a shaved head and perhaps look like a thug to some people, despite any tattoos! More likely I would be the guy punching the Redneck outside the rally, if anything, and only after he injured someone else with violence. I March Against Monsanto every year in Seattle. Yes, we in the crowd are smiling as we watch our 70 year old Hero stay true to his art and write a slew of great new songs. He plays Grunge Harmonica like a Demon but that is as mean as he gets. Oh, he might get a little grumpy early in the sound check, but don't worry. He is a perfectionist. He is the last man standing. He has no peers, essentially. Dylan puts out 2 covers albums from the Sinatra songbook and Neil Young plays benefit shows to stop Pipelines! I meant to say in the above writing: Neil Young has played more benefit concerts than any other performer or Rock musician, by far. He donates money to environmental groups which perhaps helped turn the tide in Canada right before they kicked out the fascist, Stephen Harper. Long live Neil Young and Promise of the Real. Thank you for the positive messages in your music! -Alan in Seattle

At 10/20/2016 06:17:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love these purely passionate posts defending NY, who really doesn't need to be defended. Neighborhood is a great song. It made me think of this young man from Pakistan who comes to my sporting goods store whom I befriended. We talk a lot and lately he is very scared to be here{ he works here half the year}in America. We talk politics and the great outdoors and he is very scared of Trump's rhetoric against his faith but he's equally concerned with Clinton.I really wish there was someone else to vote for. Most of my customers are pro-Trump so most would agree with the lyrics but I knew exactly what NY was doing.Im scared to and Neil's music is conforting.

At 10/23/2016 03:18:00 PM, Blogger John said...

Well, these comments made for an unpleasant read. Firstly, belittling Muslim man's interpretation of a song about a song equating Muslims with terrorists (albeit done ironically) because he's obviously not a "die hard fan" or intelligent enough is just despicable. You don't know this person, you don't know what they have to put up with. Why should they stay silent about something they perceive as hurtful or damaging because it was your favourite singer that made them feel this way? Even if he's wrong about the song's intentions, so what? Racism and far right politics are on the rise again, I don't think it's a trivial thing here to call out anyone to question what messages they are putting out. Neil's heart is in the right place but does that matter if people do take it on face value? Because you can bet your life that there were plenty of racist white people thinking Neil was speaking from their point of view and that their opinions about Muslims are valid.

Secondly, the blinkered view that it must be a hoax account or a troll is mind-boggling. The fact that you all seem to see yourselves as right-on, socially conscious, liberal hippies falls short when you don't have the wherewithal or empathy to think that a real person could have different feelings about a thing you like.

And Thrasher:
"If real muslims come forward concerned over this song, that'll be another thing. But we have a hunch that many persecuted muslims have bigger issues which to concern themselves."

What makes you an authority on what Muslims can and can't be angry about? Yeah, there is far worse things happening in the world to Muslims and far worse (not to mention deliberate) acts of racism towards them but surely all perceived racism should be challenged and we should all stand shoulder-to-shoulder with each other to make this world a better place. Micah rose to the challenge and wrote a diplomatic, reasoned and reasonable response to Rabih; that is positive and it is a discourse. The comments here is more like a witch hunt.

At 10/23/2016 03:45:00 PM, Blogger thrasher said...

@John - spare us the faux outrage, please. You seem like more of a victim than Rabih himself, really.

Also, check the update here and our apology to Rabih... fwiw...

A little humility would go a long way.
peace... give it a chance

At 10/24/2016 05:00:00 AM, Blogger John said...

First he's a bot and now my outrage is faux, is anything real anymore? I saw your update after posting the above but I still think my point stands. Dismissing someone's grievance outright because it relates to your favourite artist is an awful thing to do. Dictating from your place of privilege (I'm going to guess that he mainstream media isn't talking about you like you're some kind of Hollywood villain lately) what a Muslim can and can't be upset about is wrong. If you can't see that then I don't know what more I can say to convince you. I will say that it is disturbing to see the same head in the sand logic as Trump (the elections are rigged; those women are liars; I never said that!; it's just locker room talk) being used here against an individual (he's a bot; he's not a real fan; that outrage is false; it's just irony) because he felt offended at something that is, on the surface, addressed to him and his family. Maybe I'm old fashioned in thinking that when talking about racism or perceived racism, you stand with the person who feels oppressed and don't compound the problem by acting as if you know better.

At 3/11/2017 12:50:00 PM, Blogger Charley D said...

Taking a different stand here, Micah's true explanation rocks, it was evident to me already, but it's not a good message, too many unfortuantely ill equipped to understand it. I knew what Neil meant in "Terrorist Suicide Hang Gliders", because he emphasizes differences thru character (even the title has that hint). It's what Carol O'Connor so magically did in "All In The Family", thru acting show hypocrisy, prejudice and it's foolishness. But Micah, the initial writers respectful complaint hits home, when he writes how many people around him (MW's in their 50's - which I am) CHEERED LOUDLY. I am sorry, but those people were NOT cheering because they got Neil's real message, they cheered those words more in Trump-like agreement. To me, that means Neil's deeper message does not hit the mark with many - and out of respect to those of different names who love to attend Neil shows, he should stop playing that one live. It does place a spot light on those in attendance resembling that sect of people, not a good thing. Good intent, not understood.


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the zen of neil
the power of rust
the karma of the wheat