The new rock and roll rebellion

HANS HOFMANN, (1880-1966). Red Sun, 1949. Oil on canvas. 24-1/8 x 29-3/4 inches (61,2 x 75,4 cm).


Neil Young, a cry for truth

“If it cries out for truth instead of help, if it commits itself with a courage it is not sure it possesses, if it stands up to point out something that is wrong but does not ask for blood to redeem it, then it is rock and roll. roll” (Pete Townshend).

Did Neil Young know the movie would end like this? Of course he knew. With 76 years of life and almost 60 years of career, the Canadian guitarist and composer knows enough about the music industry to know where the power lies and how it operates. It may sound anachronistic in times of so much pragmatism, but it fits the character's profile: in Young, it's not about strategy, but about convictions.

To recap: this week, Neil Young published a letter to his manager and his record company – which then deleted him from his official page – in which he took a position on the podcast The Joe Rogan experience. "Spotify is spreading false information about vaccines, potentially causing the deaths of people who believe it," he said. “I want you to inform Spotify that I want all my music removed from the platform. They can have Joe Rogan or Young. Not both”.

It is necessary to quote the letter as it is, because there were later analyzes based on an alleged ultimatum or blackmail that did not exist: Young demanded that his music be removed from Spotify, and indicated the podcast as the reason. He knew it was futile to ask them to drop Joe Rogan, who, with his 11 million listeners and a $100 million contract, has far more power.

As Pete Townshend put it in that quote included by Charly García in Yendo from the bed to living, Neil Young shouted for truth. It was not a selfish, rhetorical or useless gesture. A few days ago, more than 300 specialists in medicine, infectology, immunology, scientists, researchers, signed a open letter in which they demonstrated to Spotify the same as Young. They especially mentioned the 1757 episode of The Joe Rogan Experience, a lengthy conversation with Robert Malone, a pandemic-denial physician whose Twitter account was suspended due to his dangerous remarks about vaccines. In addition to comparing sanitary measures with Nazism, Malone equated vaccines with castration and female genital mutilation and is one of the defenders of the theory put forward by another legendary rocker, Eric Clapton, who said that the public is “hypnotized” with subliminal messages to get vaccinated.

The average age of listeners The Joe Rogan Experience is 24 years old. Analyzes abound on how social networks and the universe gamer have been fertile ground for right-wing discourses to grow among young people. “This is not just a scientific or medical concern; it's a sociological question of devastating proportions, and Spotify is responsible for the growth of this activity on its platform. We urge Spotify to immediately establish a clear and public policy to moderate misinformation on its platform.”

The science sector communique did not appear in any major headlines. Young's letter traveled around the world. Lost old Neil?

In 2015, the Canadian launched The Monsanto Years, an album dedicated to denouncing the consequences of agribusiness in modern times. It didn't shake the power of the corporation too much, but that wasn't the point. Again, it was not a question of strategy, but of convictions. It's better to burn out than to fade away, "it's better to burn than to fade slowly", he sang in Rust Never Sleeps, from 1979, a phrase more often quoted for appearing in Kurt Cobain's suicide letter than for its conceptual weight. Neil prefers to burn in support of his opinions than to be diluted in the great ocean of don't mess with.

In the background, of course, is a debate that obviously will not be resolved here: where freedom of expression and the malicious use of means of dissemination – conventional or new, such as networks and platforms – collide to propagate false, dangerous messages. for public health or for the integrity of people? Again: Neil Young didn't ask for blood to redeem. He expressed a new disagreement with a platform that he has already criticized in the past (for the distribution of money, for the quality of the audio), he withdrew from it.

But he got to his feet to point something out. And there were those who criticized him for bringing attention to Joe Rogan, giving him a new following, but it's another thing to sit back and see how things play out. And a guy who has already exposed Monsanto, and in his shows and actions he defends another form of food production, is not one to sit still. Rust Never Sleeps: Rust never rests. Neither is Neil.

But it's not even a generational issue, it's not fitting to give in to the temptation to glorify legends like Young for continuing to defend music as a vehicle for commitment. There's Clapton, who back then and a long time ago got in serious trouble for his racist and anti-immigrant speech, but then had the extenuating circumstance of being living on a heroin cloud. In alliance with another heavyweight like Van Morrison, the guitarist had expressions as dangerously tortuous as those of Rogan and Malone, forcing the audience to the necessary exercise of separating the musician from the person. Like a good part of humanity, among artists of any age, all kinds of opinions appear. There are old vinegars that produce some embarrassment, there are ragpicker teenagers more awake than some figures.

The issue, ultimately, is the gesture. Spotify is not going to give in and the “regulations” on the networks are always relative: just look at how many times users report hate speech that, after an “analysis” by the platform, it is concluded that it “does not violate our rules”. What Young did was put a potent focus on the subject. Its existence does not depend on Spotify, it has built a solid career without streaming, their songs have a life of their own. Rogan does need that amp, and the amp needs Rogan to keep the wheels of the business turning, a business that measures in the tens of millions.

"I support free speech, I have never been for censorship," Young said in a new letter on Friday. “Private companies have the right to choose what to profit from, just as I choose not to have my music on a platform that disseminates harmful information. I am happy and proud to express my solidarity with frontline health workers who risk their lives every day to help others.” In passing, the musician again pointed out the platform's audio shortcomings ("Spotify plays music at 5% of its quality, and charges you as if it were the real thing") and nailed: "When I left Spotify, I felt better. And as an unexpected bonus, I sound better everywhere else.” It wasn't the only bonus: that same Friday, Joni Mitchell moved the board even further. “I decided to remove my music from Spotify. There are irresponsible people propagating lies that cost lives. I express my solidarity with Neil Young and the global scientific and medical community.”

On Saturday night it was announced that Nils Lofgren had been added to the list. "When these heroic women and men, who spend their lives healing and saving ours, ask for help, you don't turn your back on them for money or power," the Crazy Horse and E Street Band guitarist noted on Young's website. “Listen and accompany them”. The musician announced the removal of his work from Spotify in the last 27 years, and asked the record companies that hold the rights to his previous production to do the same.

Beyond the principles that have guided rock music since its inception, its representatives have long understood that songs cannot change the world. But they make it more livable, less distressing, and many understand that it's not worth keeping silent. Or not even trying because they are losing fights. Or shrug and resign yourself to the fact that, well, that's the way it is, tough luck, the bad guys win. Keep on rockin' in the free world, keep rocking in the free world, also asked Neil Young in 1989. In this he continues. It doesn't matter the platform.

*Eduardo Fabregat is a journalist and musician. author of Little Failures: What Success Doesn't Show (Editions B).

Translation: Fernando Lima das Neves.

Originally published in the newspaper page 12.


See this link for all articles