At one point during the first of his four concerts at Carnegie Hall this week, Neil Young grew tired of the rubes who shouted song requests. "You guys finished?" he reportedly asked, throwing shade in the direction of the balcony. The artist is 68 years old and a lot of us have known of him all of our lives. Does anyone seriously think this mule-stubborn, muse-following man is going to start being a human jukebox now? The ticket buyer pays for a performance, and with Young you take what he wants to give. Nuts to the fans' sense of entitlement.
On Sunday, at Toronto's Massey Hall, the long-time California resident will give the first of four Canadian concerts in benefit of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation (ACFN). A legal defence fund has been set up to combat oil companies and governments over oil sands development in northern Alberta and the possible obstruction of First Nations' rights. The performances, which include appearances by jazz chanteuse Diana Krall, have been dubbed the Honour the Treaties shows. Next week sees Young move on to Winnipeg (where he lived as a teenager), Regina and Calgary.
Another incident at Carnegie Hall on Monday apparently involved the offbeat clapping of audience members at the the start of Ohio, Young's stunning response to the gunning down of four students by National Guardsmen at Kent State in 1970, at the height of the Vietnam War. In the liner notes to his 1977 anthology Decade, Young would write: "It's still hard to believe I had to write this song." The protest anthem, not the last one he would compose, came to Young quickly and was recorded live off the floor at Record Plant Studio 3 in Hollywood. David Crosby, according to Young, cried upon completion of the take that was released as the single.
If Young found it hard to believe that a Canadian would be required to speak for America's anti-war outrage, what does he think now about his upcoming concerts in aid of native citizens of a country he hasn't lived in for 47 years? Perhaps he sees it as a duty, just as he might when it comes to his LincVolt mission, involving a fuel-efficient 1959 Lincoln Continental that he owns. According to the project's website, the goal is to "inspire a generation by creating a clean automobile propulsion technology that serves the needs of the 21st century" by reducing the demand for petrol-fuels enough "to eliminate the need for war over energy supplies …"
Young's vintage Lincoln is a big car, as you might imagine – plenty of room for passengers.
Protest song was a big deal once, but activist-troubadour Billy Bragg had a rude awakening recently at a demonstration he organized against bankers' awarding themselves lavish bonuses. According to a writer with New Musical Express, some 28,000 people put their name to Bragg's Facebook campaign, but less than 100 of them showed up at London's Hyde Park for the event.
Young's Massey concert, to no surprise, is a sellout. But who's coming for the cause? Who wants to hear Mother Earth (Natural Anthem) or something off his 2006 album Living With War?
As far as Young's cranky demeanour on stage, he's always been highly particular about his presentation. On his first ever night at Massey Hall he scolded a photographer there. "Could you not do that?" he asked, plainly heard on the album Live at Massey Hall 1971. "The clicks are out of time. It makes me take my mind off what I'm trying to do."
Yappers, clappers, snappers and anyone else attending Young's upcoming Canadian concerts should probably just let the man whose autobiography is titled Waging Heavy Peace get on with whats he's aiming to achieve, on stage and off. There's an argument to be made that Young is not only Canada's greatest living songwriter, but that he represents the country's conscience. We'll have time to clap when he's done – when we're finally on our own.