Photo from the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago showing a line of protestors jeering a line of national guardsmen armed with rifles and bayonets.

Pondering the Political

It seems as though it is an exceedingly long time since Neil Young pulled his music from Spotify* in protest to “The Joe Rogan Experience’s” position vis-à-vis COVID information. It has been less than a year. He was joined by India.Arie, Joni Mitchell, Nils Lofgren, and his former bandmates David Crosby, Stephen Stills and Graham Nash last January/February. Think of those musicians what you will, but odds are Daniel Ek wasn’t shaking clogs with the departure.

At the time, CS&N collectively put out a statement:

“We support Neil and we agree with him that there is dangerous disinformation being aired on Spotify’s Joe Rogan podcast. While we always value alternate points of view, knowingly spreading disinformation during this global pandemic has deadly consequences. Until real action is taken to show that a concern for humanity must be balanced with commerce, we don’t want our music — or the music we made together — to be on the same platform.”

That is in keeping with the peace, love and understanding ethos that characterized many musicians in the late ‘60s, early ‘70s, when there were positions taken about the war in Vietnam and the proliferation of nuclear weapons. They unapologetically took a stand.

Fast forward a few months, and here is David Crosby explaining why his music was back on the streaming service:

“I don’t own it now and the people who do are in business to make money.”

In March 2022—a month after the statement of with a noble stance—David Crosby sold his catalog to Iconic Artists Group. Arguably, Crosby became an iconic artist as a result of his worldview and expression thereof. (Yes, there is his talent, too.)

But his explanation at the time was that he, then 80, was, like other musicians, not in a position to tour (in March 2022 there were 15,584 deaths related to COVID, or about 6% of the deaths in the U.S. that month.).

And like other people in general, Crosby had (and has) a need to pay the bills, and if he was going to be able to get someone to buy his work, then so be it.

The point here is not to pick on Crosby. At least he and his colleagues made a public stance, albeit ultimately a rather limp one.

///

In 1990 an organization named “Rock the Vote” was established by music executives. The problem then was there was censorship (sort of the opposite “Joe Rogan Experience” problem) of rap and hip-hop musicians. The question that one might have about that is whether these music executives were concerned with freedom of speech or the ability to move product. The objective of the organization was to register young people to vote. You may recall that in the 1990 presidential election George H.W. Bush won (thank you, Florida Man), so evidently there wasn’t a sufficient amount of rocking. (Yes, the Democrats won the popular vote by 7.8%, but we’ve heard that song many times since and it really doesn’t make any difference.)

Rock the Vote, which continues to exist, has this explanation of what it sees as the rational for its existence on its website:

“Young voters are new voters and as new voters they face unique obstacles to voting that result in turnout that is historically 20 to 30 points below older voters. This discrepancy is even greater in midterms, state and local elections. As a result, our democracy continuously fails to represent youth, generation after generation.”

Which is somewhat puzzling. Let’s change the “voter” to “driver” in the first sentence:

“Young drivers are new drivers and as new drivers they face unique obstacles to driving that results in turnout that is historically 20 to 30 points below older drivers.”

To follow that analogy:

According to the National Safety Council:

“Sixteen- to 19-year-olds represent 3.5% of licensed drivers, but account for 8.9% of drivers in all crashes and 6.0% of drivers in fatal crashes. Other age groups are under-represented. For example, drivers 65 to 74 account for 13.7% of licensed drivers, but represent only 6.9% of drivers in all crashes and 7.7% of drivers in fatal crashes.”

In other words, 16-to19-year olds evidently get out there and drive. Perhaps not particularly well, but they do it.

Getting keys from a parent or buying a vehicle is hard when you’re young. Getting to a polling place isn’t. Especially if you get the car.

Tufts University’s Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement calculated after the 2022 midterm elections: “27% of young people (ages 18-29) turned out to vote.” That participation number of that cohort is the second highest in 30 years, with the turnout in 2018 being 31%. Thirty years, incidentally, puts the metric back to 1992, two years after the establishment of Rock the Vote.

The point here is not to talk about the past election or the percentage of voters who show up (NBC News has it that in the last election that while 34% of voters were from 18-44, 66% were 45+).

Rather, it is to consider whether musicians play a role in society at large that goes beyond the commercial.

///

Outside the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago, the MC5 performed. And performed and performed and performed. For hours.

According to Wayne Kramer, Neil Young showed up but didn’t perform. There was, after all, a riot going on.

Laudable though the MC5’s politics may have been, the band really didn’t have much of a commercial existence, putting out three albums: Kick Out the Jams (1969), Back in the USA (1970) and High Time (1971). And the protest in Chicago, which was primarily against the Vietnam War, and was a protest against the Democrats because Lyndon Johnson was the president. Arguably that protest—against the Dems and against the war—arguably didn’t work out so well because Richard Nixon was to gain the presidency (he won the electoral college over Hubert Humphrey 301 to 191, with George Wallace getting 46). And the war continued.

Although the recent Trump presidency seems to many like an unmitigated shit show, recall this lyric penned by Neil Young and performed by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young in 1970:

Tin soldiers and Nixon coming

We’re finally on our own

This summer I hear the drumming

Four dead in Ohio

There were four students at Kent State University who were shot by Ohio National Guard members on May 4, 1970, during an anti-Vietnam protest.

In November 1972 Richard Nixon crushed George McGovern in the presidential election: 520 electoral college votes to 17; 60.7% of the popular vote. Yes, Nixon won in Ohio.

Nixon signed the Paris Peace Accords in January 1973; South Vietnam fell in April 1974, but by then Nixon had ignominiously left office.

CSN&Y weren’t to release an album until 1988, American Dream. Ronald Reagan was president. And evidently not many cared about that album, as it reached only #16 on the Billboard 200. . .which was better than the #26 that 1999’s Looking Forward achieved. Bill Clinton had started his second term in office back then.

///

In April 2022 Crosby announced that he contracted COVID.

In May, according to Variety, he told a high school journalism class, “It has been awful. COVID is a very weird disease. It makes you feel absolutely freaking awful.” And he announced he was done with touring: I’m too old to do it anymore. I’m too old to do it anymore. I don’t have the stamina; I don’t have the strength.”

One wonders about where the “concern for humanity” is going to come from when Crosby and his colleagues are no longer with us.

And to what extent musical engagement will matter.

*Yes, some of his music is there. But not at his behest.

///

Video: Democratic National Convention Riots – Chicago 1968

From Wayne Kramer’s youtube channel.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *