01.13.2014 08:51 PM

In Tuesday’s Sun: keep talkin’ in the free world

OTTAWA — So a rock star popped up in Toronto on the weekend and pronounced on politics. People noticed. Some got upset, some were happy.

Happens all the time. This time, it was Neil Young, who was raised in Winnipeg but hasn’t lived in Canada for half a century. Other times, it’s been movie stars or TV stars or other kinds of celebrities — Pamela Anderson on the seal hunt, Robert Redford on the oilsands, Ted Nugent on guns, and so on.

Doesn’t just happen in Canada, either. Last week, one of the biggest stories in the world was about the North Korea visit of former Chicago Bulls star Dennis Rodman, who is stupid, saying stupid stuff. He later apologized for his stupidity.

As a musician — I’ve been playing in punk bands, badly, for decades — I have never really understood why anyone could be persuaded to listen to anything we say. We’re musicians, we play music. (Again, in my case, badly. But I remain proud I could take a beer bottle full in the chest and not miss a beat.)

Why does anyone care what movie stars and rock stars have to say about politics? Well, for starters, because stars get more attention than mere politicians do. They’re better looking than politicians are and they’re way more interesting.

There’s also the monkey on a bicycle factor. We know, and the monkey probably knows, that it shouldn’t be riding a bicycle. But we cannot tear our eyes away, and we await the (perhaps inevitable) disaster.

Alice Cooper, who according to urban legend bit the head off of a chicken — and who later went on to regularly play golf with assorted Republican notables — is contemptuous of rock stars who have political views. He has sneered at past efforts of REM, Bruce Springsteen and John Mellencamp to unseat George W. Bush.

Go ask Alice, you might say, and Canadian Press did. Said Alice: “To me, that’s treason. I call it treason against rock ’n’ roll because rock is the antithesis of politics.

“Rock should never be in bed with politics.”

Warming to his subject, Alice said: “If you’re listening to a rock star in order to get information on who to vote for, you’re a bigger moron than they are.”

But here we are, listening to Alice — a registered Republican and a self-described moron — tell us who we shouldn’t be listening to. I don’t think anyone should listen to anything Alice does. Musically or otherwise.

He is right, however, when he seems to suggest that celebrities aren’t oracles for complex political theory. They are, after all, celebrities. But Toronto Mayor Rob Ford isn’t the sharpest knife in the political drawer, either, and he got himself elected mayor of one of the biggest cities in the world, didn’t he? High IQs and politics are often mutually inconsistent concepts.

Sure, Neil Young was a jerk for likening the oilsands to Hiroshima. That kind of exaggerated rhetoric is silly, and likely offensive to the families of the tens of thousands of people who were slaughtered there on a single day in August 1945.

But Young is entitled — as is Springsteen, Bono and many others — to offer an opinion, even an exaggerated one, on politics. Sometimes, some good comes of such things.

So, Neil Young, say what you want. It is welcome, even if it isn’t always going to be right.

And, if you can be persuaded to return home, you’d have a pretty good shot at becoming Toronto’s next mayor, if you’re so inclined.


  1. smelter rat says:

    Listen to Neil’s interview on Q. He defends his Hiroshima remark quite eloquently. He also doesn’t give a rat’s ass what you or I or anyone thinks. He is fundraising for a cause he believes in. That seems to have upset the harpercon crowd. Tough titty. Also, to compare his work to Alice’s is like comparing Bach to Miley.

    • Matt says:

      He also doesn’t think before he speaks.

      He said today the TARSANDS don’t affect him because he drives an electric car.

      Really Neil?

      Are your tour buses that take your band, crew and the transport trucks carrying equipment from city to city electric too? No they arent.

    • debs says:

      I actually love what Neil is doing. And tbh I think, like you, that he comes off eloquent and quite intelligent. He certainly sounds a sight more intelligent…and alot less over the top then joe oliver…Harpers oil weasel.
      His information is just as accurate if not more so than anything harper has pulled out of his book of bs.
      and yeah he has the harpercons worried…as noted by their nasty reactions.

  2. Matt says:

    Except Young is talking out of his ass.

    He says “Lets look at the scientific studies……” the goes on to cite a study which claims incidents of cancer in Fort Mac, the heart of oil sands country, are much higher than the average, and concludes it’s BECAUSE of the oil sands.

    Problem for Young is the College of Physicians has debunked that study over and over again.

    • dave says:

      Methinks there have been studies the past decade that show evidence that there are quite a few carcinogens and suspected carcinogens downstream, and there are blooms of some types of cancers among the people downstream. But you’re likely right in that the connection has not been made for sure between those carcinogens and the cancers. (Sort of like it took quite few years to make a connection between tobacco smoke and some kinds of cancers)
      Not sure which College of Physicians you’re talking about…Alberta’s, I suppose.

      Meanwhile, if you get your fish sticks from over there, think about it.

    • Attack! says:

      Problem for you is you only remember the bullying charges & ‘Ethical’Oil’s selective retelling of them but not the ultimate outcome: the whistleblowing doctor was exonerated,




      and now they’ve commissioned a new study to confirm his findings they chased him out of the province for daring to report:


    • david ray says:

      Matt, it’s comments like yours that prompted me to coin a new word yesterday.
      because riddle me this.
      How is it you can poison thousands or millions of people with gas quickly (Syria or Iraq or yes the holocaust) and it’s called genocide but do it over 50 or 100 years and it’s “good management of our resources for all Canadians” as chief Harper fartcatcher stated yesterday as a reply to Neil Young’s opposition to tarsands extraction AND refusal to settle Native land claims.
      As I slowly fumed over the online vitriol aimed at Neil Young I wrote a song in what I hope is his style that very afternoon. If there really are six degrees of separation maybe someone will pass it along to him. You can listen to it here as I banged out a quick home made mp3. Oh, and just like Neil I don’t give a fuck whether you like it or not. This note’s for you.



      they’re tearing up the tar neath the Athabasca stars
      so we can drive our cars and then ignore the scars
      you can see from the far side of mars


      what a hell of a way to treat our world
      what a hell of a gift to our boys and girls

      when the kids come out to play
      and the clouds have all turned gray
      we can tell em we got paid to make the mess we made

      what a hell of a way to treat our world
      what a hell of a gift to our boys and girls

      so take pictures of leaves, so the kids will believe
      that once there were trees that made air to breathe

      what a hell of a way to treat our world
      what a hell of a gift to our boys and girls

      they’re tearing up the tar neath the Athabasca stars.

  3. smelter rat says:

    Tell it to the people living there with cancer.

  4. smelter rat says:

    Then there’s this, from an Alberta Cancer Board study:
    The investigation has confirmed a total of two cholangiocarcinoma cases and six colon cancer cases in Fort Chipewyan over the 12-year study period (1995-2006). The observed number of cases of these two types of cancers was within the expected range of cancer occurrence of the community.
    The number of cancer cases observed in Fort Chipewyan was higher than expected for all cancers combined and for specific types of cancer, such as biliary tract cancer and cancers in the blood and lymphatic system. In particular, increases were found for biliary tract cancer in men and for lung cancer in women. This increase was based on a small number of cases and could be due to chance or increased detection. The possibility that the increased rate of cancer is due to increased risk in the community, however, cannot be ruled out. An increased number of cases of biliary tract cancers, cancers in the blood and lymphatic system and cancers of unknown primary seen in the most recent six years (2001-2006) compared to the first six years (1995-2000) of the study period warrant closer monitoring of cancer occurrence in upcoming years.
    Before epidemiologic studies are used to investigate the causes of the increase, further studies are required in order to evaluate the possible cancer risk posed by living in Fort Chipewyan, by tracking a cohort of residents who have lived in the area within the past 20-30 years.
    Whether people living in Fort Chipewyan have an increased risk of developing cancer is still not clear. This study did not investigate the association between the risk of cancer for Fort Chipewyan residents and the effects of possible environmental exposures. Health concerns voiced by the Fort Chipewyan community, the existing evidence about the potential environmental contaminants in the area, along with an absence of a general increase in cancer rates in the comparison communities, justify further investigations that would include the analysis of many potential risk factors, such as lifestyle risk factors, family history, as well as occupational and environmental exposures. Future work on cancer investigation and control needs to be part of the overall assessment of health status in the community.

  5. Matt says:

    Take a read of what a camera man hired by Neil Young and Daryl Hannah for an anti oilsands piece had to say after filming.


    Under the title When Neil Young and Daryl Hannah came to town

    “What we didn’t shoot was as informative about the narrative as what we did shoot. We did not film any reclaimed land. We didn’t film any new extraction operations using greener technology. We didn’t film any industry experts. We didn’t film Neil’s diesel burning bus that his crew rode in. We didn’t film the environmentally conscious community active in Fort McMurray. That stuff wasn’t on the agenda.”

  6. Cameron Prymak says:

    I like Neil and his resolve and I think most Canadians like him too.

  7. bigcitylib says:

    1) Pretty sure Neil still owns land in Canada. Used to come out to Van Island occasionally to check up on his property.

    2) Neil Young KNOWS green energy. He built his own hybrid car. He’s not a random celeb spouting off.

    • debs says:

      i know people underestimate how intelligent young is. He is not some aging hippie rockstar has been. The guy has alot of smarts, along with his music. I love that he handles himself so well, he makes the harpercons look petty and stupid.

  8. Steve T says:

    There are lots of industries, in Canada and elsewhere, that are involved in producing/re-selling/extracting a product that is not 100% squeaky clean. Virtually nothing in modern society is squeaky clean.

    As just one example, the much-ballyhooed electric car that Neil Young drives – where does that electricity come from? Many people decry the environmental impact of hydro power. Wind and solar produce an infintessimal percentage of Canada’s total power supply, and they too have their downsides.

    So, when a loudmouth like Neil Young (or any other celebrity/rockstar) starts to target one area, and make ridiculous comparisons to things like Hiroshima, it just shows how far detached they are from reality. Until Neil and the other celebrities want to start paying the salaries of the thousands of people who make their living in these industries, perhaps they can get back to their own areas of expertise (singing / acting), and stop pretending they know jack shit about other areas.

  9. JH says:

    Well Mr. Young can do as he likes and folks shouldn’t get too upset. He’ll do his 4 shows and go back to California. There’ll be little impact. With the LPC and the Cons in favour of Oil Sands Development and Keystone, ‘no doubt the world is unfolding as it should’. The only major party out of step is the NDP. They will have no affect on Canada’s energy policy and Liz May’s Greenies including Suzuki even less.

  10. Kelly says:

    Maybe the NDP will, maybe not. But Europe might…whether they slap a tax on the laughably inefficient “oil” we produce or invent a technology that helps reduce oil consumption in the future and thereby lowers its price to where tar sands oil too expensive to produce and uncompetitive. If Canada were collectively smart we would put everything we had into inventing the technology that makes our resource obsolete before someone else does. I’d rather our economy benefit from those patents.

  11. Bill Templeman says:

    Warren, I’m not with you on this one. Yes, Neil Young is not a scientist, yes, he can be accused of celeb tourism and yes, his Hiroshima remark was easy to misinterpret but, but, but…his core point is unassailable: The Government of Canada has a long and sad history of pissing on treaties with First Nations when it is convenient to do so. The Cree in the proposed Jack Pine development area stand to lose everything. The elevated Fort Chip cancer rates are real; see the links on this blog. This is why Young is raising funds to join the fight back. What makes us as Canadians squirm is that we know the history of broken promises and ignored treaties. We try to blame First Nations poverty on corrupt band leadership, which just doesn’t wash. First Nations’ leadership is no more corrupt than our own in non-native Canada. We know that we have played a huge role in the impoverishment of First Nations across this country and the degradation of their land. I’ll take Neil Young’s spin over Alice Cooper’s any day. Harvest vs. Wrecking Ball indeed….

    • Ottawa Civil Servant says:

      First Nations are in poverty for reasons particular to each. However, the only ones that are successful have resources and good governance. If you want to see poverty, hopelessness, dependence, and high mortality rates, go to a reserve with neither of these. Go to see Chief Theresa Spence.

      You know what happens to non-native communities in similar situations? They close. People don’t die. They move to work, build new friendships and prosper. Think Mulroney closing a US Steel town when he ran the company. Evil? No, necessary.

      And as for Fort Chip, it’s farther from Fort Mac than Ottawa is from Montréal. And it is located on undisturbed oil sands (i.e. the source of the supposed carcinogens from Fort Mac, is exactly what they live on and draw their water from.)

      If there is a link, it must be fixed. But why do all the Tory haters deny the science if one of their icons pushes the panic button?

      In my opinion, Young deserves as much respect as Playmate of the Year Jenny McCarthy.
      Go ahead, haters.

      • smelter rat says:

        You need a history lesson.

      • dave says:

        Now I have to go and check which way the river is flowing over on that side of Alberta.

        I don’t see myself as much of a hater…more a guy who doesn’t care much for cool aide.

      • Bill Templeman says:

        Dear Ottawa Civil Servant: I am not a Tory hater; I am just not a Tory voter. Many Tories are fine folks. Hugh Segal is a prince, for example. Now lets deal with your charge ‘deny science’. OK, here’s some science. Water flows downstream. If I live upstream from you on a river, whether it be 200 meters or 200 kilometers upstream, and I put lots and lots of really toxic stuff in the river, sooner or later that really toxic stuff is going to be in your part of the river. And if you drink the water, or eat fish caught in the water, you are going to be getting the really toxic stuff in your system. And you may get sick, or worse. Fort Chip is downstream from Fort Mac. The Athabasca River flows through the tar sands area around Fort Mac. Really toxic stuff leeches into the river from the waste water collection ponds. Folks in Fort Chip eat fish caught in the same water. They get sick, or worse. Clear?

  12. bobfrombob says:

    I’m not with you on this one either. Killer is a great album. So is Love It To Death.

  13. Al in Cranbrook says:

    I’m more than tired of multimillionaire do-gooders, most of whom own multiple homes/mansions with garages full of luxury vehicles, running around the world telling the rest of us peasants how to live proper…and to be sure we minimize our “carbon footprint”. Several prominent names immediately come to mind. It’s the “do as I say, not as I do” crap, over and over and over again.

    They use their celebrity status to peddle their beliefs/ideologies shamelessly. It’s a free world, so they’re entitled, so whatever. But the very least they owe everyone is to be well informed, whatever their cause-du-jour.

    But the worst…and most typically so…part is their deliberate manipulation of the facts, as we read in this CTV report…


    Sadly enough, some people are influenced by this garbage, and allow themselves to be led like mindless sheep.

  14. james Smith says:

    So I started to think; what if this story was similar, but from a different Artist with a different PoV. How would it play? I don’t mean causal connection dopes like Jenny McCarthy, but say Chad Kroeger (cringe) announced a concert series for Ethical Oil.
    Our bias gets in the way of how we view the issue, we can’t help it.
    But I’d love to read what the Trolls would say if that concert series was announced.

    • !o! says:

      Interesting. Kings would often commission songs about themselves from minstrels. There’s entire genres of authoritarian music, they’re often steeped in nationalism/militarism etc. People have made cases that national anthems are similar.

      They don’t usually resonate with the public unless there’s a very very widespread apparatus to propagate pretty ridiculous levels of nationalism.

      Funny how the party of tell-everyone-we’re-for-fiscal-restraint is also the party of spend-to-promote-nationalism though: http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2011/10/12/canada-bicentennial-tories_n_1007877.html

  15. Derek Pearce says:

    Hmmm. Boy I’m feeling picky toward you these days lol, but… you’re a punk rocker, and have worked war rooms, made a kick-ass song about Mayor McCrack, yet… musicians should stay away from poltiics? So, it’s just a co-inkydink you happen to have worked in politics and are in a band? Is punk then really about nihilism rather than commentary in-faint-hope-of-change? You’ve got some splainin’ to do!

  16. patrick says:

    You got a platform you had better know what you’re talking about and be able to defend your thoughts. Really that’s all.

  17. !o! says:

    I dunno, music, especially folk music (but really it’s in all genres) has never been apolitical. Music has often (almost always, depending how broadly you want to look at it) been the means by which movements spread and political messages get passed on. The messages generally aren’t establishment messages, but that’s kind of the point.

    and you can’t really separate the music from the musician.

  18. Kaspar Juul says:

    Apologies to geography too

  19. Cameron Prymak says:

    Sweet Home Athabasca

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