Sing it, Neil

He’s one of our National Treasures.

I dare you to challenge that.  The man has a body of work that runs the gamut from inspirational and incredibly harmonic, to silly rockabilly, to political commentary that can strip paint with its caustic words.

The night before last he showed up in town to kick off a very important journey.  He’s putting the boots to our current federal government and defiantly and loudly– in that signature growly voice of his- taking them to task for their irresponsible governance and stewardship of this great land of ours.

He’s done this sort of thing before, of course.  Way back when, he wrote a couple of tunes about racism and its continuing evils that resulted in something of a ‘song battle’ with one of the stalwarts of Southern rock.

And then there was this one- critiquing the politics of George  H. W. Bush.

Seems Stephen Harper fancies himself something of a musician.  He’s serenaded those who follow his party line a number of times now.  You’d think he’d have some level of respect for someone who has conquered the musical world to a rarified degree while participating in raising awareness about things that impact or concern him greatly.

Evidently not.

I started this post yesterday on my lunch break and intended to finish it once at home and settled in after some dinner.  But while prepping said dinner I tuned in to Evan Solomon on the venerable CBC to hear him lead the convo about Power and Politics.  Topic?  Should Neil Young be talking about the tar sands?  So.  I listened intently- and with anger and frustration, per usual, as the Conservative ‘analyst’ worked her rhetoric into a full head of steam- and then thought about what was said over the course of the rest of the evening.

Do I like the tar sands?  Not so much.  I have a few close peeps who have been involved in natural resources industries- some of them for decades– and I have formed my opinions regarding things like fracking and the tar sands (interesting that they call them the ‘oil sands’ these days- new lingo for a new, positive spin.  We NEED oil– ‘tar’ has a much more ambiguous association, and the most accurate descriptor- ‘bituminous sands’- means nothing to anyone) based in discussions with them and my own readings about the ways in which we ‘withdraw’ our resources from our collective Canadian Bank.

My opinion about this stuff isn’t really the point of this post though.  Nor is Neil’s, if it comes to that.  It’s all about the ability to speak up and create awareness that a single perspective- in this case, that of Harper’s government- shouldn’t be accepted without reflection and analysis.

Do I concede the point that we live lifestyles that are reliant upon fossil fuels?  I do.  Do I also believe that this is an unfortunate and unsustainable reality?  Yes.  The production of new, cleaner forms of energy has to become a priority, but our current federal government is not on the same opinion page as I am, as far as that goes.  And that, for me, is at the heart of the issue that Neil has brought to the forefront for discussion.

His focus- which is being supported by his current tour- has to do with government violations of First Nations land treaties in the on-going quest for fossil fuels at any cost.  I respect that- and his dedication to a cause that he feels strongly about.  The issues- both environmental and cultural- are myriad and often-complex and all deserve a fair hearing and examination.

Harper’s Conservatives have a pretty singular line of defence/purpose in their approach to the extraction and production of natural resources: the economic bottom line.  They have to push for this straw as a means of maintaining a grasping hold on the idea that Canada has weathered the worldwide financial crisis and is doing just fine, thank you.  Despite a falling Canadian dollar and rise in unemployment numbers.

One of the commentators last evening made the point that the two things- the environment and the economy- needn’t be presented as an inescapable dichotomy- but this is exactly what Harper’s Conservatives are doing.  Oil-at whatever cost- or no economic growth.

Anyway- I didn’t intend for this post to become a political rant (you can find those all over the place today).  I was spurred to write this because I, unlike what’s-her-name-the-Conservative-pundit-from-Evan’s-show-last-night, think that Neil has done veryvery good- leading this charge and creating discussion.  While she would maintain that sure, debate should take place, she questions his methods and means of bringing the issue to the surface (his own version of ‘fracking’, if you will).

I maintain that someone who has earned a voice- through his decades of social commentary and activism- and who is inherently entitled to express that voice- by virtue of his Canadian-ness- has every right to use whatever means he can come up with to present his message to any and all among the electorate that might take the time to listen to him.

Anyone who can shake said electorate out of our apathy/complacency/laziness and make us pay even cursory attention to something important, has my full support.  If even a handful of people- who otherwise wouldn’t have bothered concerning themselves with anything going on out there in those Alberta tar sands- take even a small portion of Neil’s message as a starting point to learn more about the situation?

Bravo, Mr. Young.

It seems that something pretty substantial (read: catastrophic) has to happen these days to get people off their butts and invested in anything other than the Golden Globes or Game of Thrones.  I, personally, applaud anyone willing to do some homework and take a stand on something they believe in strongly- whether they are a scientist, a teacher, a student, a Parliamentary Page, or an enduring and important Canadian musical voice.

Neil Young is not claiming to have all the answers.  He is sounding an alarm asking those who might listen to him to wake the hell up and look into these things a trifle more deeply than they might otherwise be wont to do.  And THEN form an opinion regarding which perspective makes the most sense.  He certainly isn’t expecting- like the Conservatives seem to be- that Canadians will continue to ignore the systemic dismantling of scientific institutions and projects that maintain the environmental standards that allow for the protection of all our natural wonders and the violation of executed treaties with our First Nations all for the furtherance of a politically-expedient economic bottom lineAnd the votes of those in the petroleum industry that might help them retain their somewhat-tenuous hold on the federal government.

This is what we all need to be doing.  Whether our audience is in the millions- like Neil’s- the thousands, or, as in my case, the 398 followers of this here little blog, voicing our concerns about negligence, corruption or tunnel vision among those elected to determine the future of this incredible country of ours is a responsibility of citizenship.  Too many of us have abrogated that responsibility lately.  Neil has not.

That’s why, even if he had never recorded Harvest (a mandated musical staple for Canadian cottage weekends/camping trips) or hung around with those other guys and produced tunes like Helpless and albums like Déjà Vu, he is one of my  heroes.

Never more so than this week.

I’ll leave him with the last words (from his response to what the PMO spokesman had to say about his tour and its mandate):

“As a Canadian citizen, I am concerned that this government is not acting within the advice of science.  When people say one thing and do another, it is hypocrisy. Our Canadian environmental laws don’t  matter if they are broken.”