Rusted Out

Neil Young is attempting to put the final seal on any pretense that rock music was ever about “speaking truth to power” or any such nonsense — not a moment too soon in my opinion. He is threatening to pull all of his music off Spotify unless that online service removes podcasts that “spread misinformation” about Covid-19 vaccines, specifically focused on the most popular podcaster of all, Joe Rogan. With this great ultimatum in defense of conformity to the government’s official version of scientific certainty, Young proves himself to be precisely the sort of establishment-tethered rock and roll icon that Van Morrison and Eric Clapton poked nasty fun at in Morrison’s “Where Have All the Rebels Gone” last year.

In the end, the rock rebellion was all salesmanship, commercially mass-produced bravado, without an ounce of real courage or even basic respect for humanity to back it up. Here at the rusted out end of his career, Young’s “rebellion” manifests itself as an outright rejection of freedom of speech and the open discussion of ideas — concepts which, by the way, have no value at all other than as protections of controversial or minority views. You know, the sorts of ideas that every authoritarian government everywhere would like to forcibly remove from the marketplace under the convenient label “misinformation.” 

The crux of Young’s demand:

“I want you to let Spotify know immediately TODAY that I want all my music off their platform,” he continued. “They can have [Joe] Rogan or Young. Not both.”

Hey, hey, my, my. Let us be quite clear about what Young is saying here. He is not saying that he will not play Rogan’s podcast on his home computer, or host that program on his own website, which would be perfectly within his range of rational choice. (I don’t listen to Rogan’s podcast either.) He is saying that he refuses to allow a service owned and operated by others to present his voice to the world unless they immediately stop allowing someone else’s voice to be heard. Such a demand, particularly regarding such a genuinely debatable and uncertainty-laden issue, would have been considered shocking and outrageous at one time, at least among adults with any concern for freedom and peaceful coexistence — and particularly coming from someone as intellectually and politically insignificant as an over the hill popular entertainer. Today, however, as the world quickly turns to the Chinese Communist Party for its comforting and life-simplifying model of official truths and official falsehoods, most people will barely bat an eye, or will perhaps even regard Young’s ultimatum as heroic and worthy of emulation.

From “I despise what you say, but I will fight to the death for your right to say it,” to “We refuse to allow the world to continue until we have erased you and everything you believe in” — the trajectory of a civilization rusted out, and now fully asleep. Good night, Neil Young, and good riddance.

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