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Russell Shaw Headshot

Sorry, Neil Young, Music Never Could Change The World

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Yesterday, Neil Young showed his movie "CSNY Deja Vu," at the Berlin Film Festival. The film was shot during the 2006 Freedom of Speech tour by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.

Young, who directed the movie, told reporters:

"I think that the time when music could change the world is past," he told reporters. "I think it would be very naive to think that in this day and age."

I take issue with Neil. Not on his assertion that music can't change the world anymore. My beef is that music alone, never could change the world.

The best music could ever do in the "world-changing" arena, was and is to be an anthemic backdrop for protests, then and now. And maybe to raise a little cash for charity or lobbying some of the objectionable disputes the songs.

Just a few examples:

"We Shall Overcome" was a noble rallying cry for rallies to end the atrocities of segregation. But wouldn't that have happened anyway, without the theme score?

"The Times They Are A-Changin'"- did the iconic Dylan song ever alter the power of the military-industrial complex? And it did not "help end" the Vietnam War. More than 55,000 dead did. And now the song is in a commercial for an HMO.

John Mellencamp's "Rain On The Scarecrow?" Plenty of farm foreclosures, still. And not just farm foreclosures. Rather than bring judicial or regulatory relief, it is even harder to declare bankruptcy.

"War" (What is it good for, absolutely nothing)? -- I think this one's obvious.

"We Are The World," about starvation and wars in Africa? Some $50 million was raised, which is nice. But that's a pittance compared to the problems over there. Pocket change compared to the billions hoarded by potentates who countenance deforesting the land and starving its people through plunder or indifference.

Rwanda, Darfur, and now, sadly, Kenya. That Kumbaya didn't last, now did it.

Or what about the Neil Young-composed (Four Dead In) "Ohio"?

Well we're in a war now. Not that GWB would countenance shooting of college kids, but maybe intercepting their phone calls?

One more from Neil:

"After The Gold Rush," with its immortal line, "Look at Mother Nature on the run in the 1970s."

She's still running, faster than even back then.

No, the real song that best encapsulates the futility of using music as a front-line agent for social or political change is "Won't Get Fooled Again."

"Meet the new boss, same as the old boss."

Indeed. Worse, actually.

Young added: "I think the world today is a different place, and that it's time for science and physics and spirituality to make a difference in this world and to try to save the planet."