Neil Young’s documentary raises question about whether political musicians have right to ram opinions down throats of audience.

February 16, 2010 22:50
3 minute read.
Neil Young's Deja Vu.

Deja Vu. (photo credit: .)


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Déjà Vu
By Bernard Shakey
NMC United

Déjà Vu, Neil Young’s documentary about Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s 2006 US tour, raises the question about whether political musicians have the right to ram their opinions down the throats of their audience, and whether there remains any relevance in music as a means of social change.

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When David Crosby, Stephen Stills and Graham Nash reunited with Neil Young in 2006 for the first CSNY tour in years, many fans were expecting to enjoy a straight golden oldies show featuring the harmonies and lush guitars that wowed the Woodstock generation. After all, that’s what they had been doing for the previous 20 years, and it’s what we’ve come to expect, and what we’ll expect this spring when Elton John and Rod Stewart come to Israel.

However, hot on the heels of the rush release of Young’s anti-Bush album Living with War,  the reunited quartet galvanized behind the anti-war message which had brought a previous generation together over the Vietnam war. So, instead of “Our House” and “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,” fans who attended the band’s Freedom of Speech tour in 2006, near the mid-term elections, were treated to “Let’s Impeach the President” and “Lookin’ for a Leader,” songs most of them had never heard and which for many, presented an opinion they rejected.

That scenario provides the plot line for Déjà Vu, named after the band’s 1971 album and song, and directed by Young under his whimsical cinematic pseudonym Bernard Shakey. The film consists of ample concert footage of the aging former hippies, plus interviews on tour buses, archive footage of the young group in their heyday, rehearsals in California, footage from Iraq, and interviews conducted by ABC News correspondent Mike Cerre, who was hired by Young to “embed” with CSNY.

While they admit that the shows were mostly preaching to the choir, it was Nash who explained that it wasn’t so bad because his goal was to “get the choir off their asses to do something about the war.”

HOWEVER, SOME of the most riveting moments in the well-made, fast-paced film focus on the group’s foray into the potentially “unfriendly” Red states like Georgia and defiantly performing their anti-Bush songs. The reaction went according to party lines – the Democrats cheered, and the Republicans jeered, made obscene gestures and walked out.


Having paid a hefty ticket price, they expected a trip down nostalgia lane, where even such anti-war tunes as “Ohio” and “Military Madness” have long ago ossified into classic rock fossils acceptable even to balding right-wingers. They weren’t ready for, or willing to accept, any connection between Bush/Iraq and Nixon/Vietnam.

And just as they may have been misled into thinking that the concert would be an oldies show devoid of politics, viewers of the DVD should be warned beforehand that it isn’t a “concert” movie, but a continuation of Young and his band mates’ political agenda.

Young doesn’t attempt to whitewash the group’s sometime-stumbling journey into senior citizenship, as exemplified by a plump Stills taking a tumble onto his back while soloing in “Love the One You’re With,” and Young flubbing a cue on “Carry On.”

But watching the quartet – whose youthful zest and masses of hair once symbolized the robust consensus against the Vietnam war – as aging 60-somethings back on the peace path is as reassuring as it is disturbing. While music and the youth culture were able to have an impact on popular opinion in the ’60s and ’70s,  the AARP generation has a much harder go of it. And CSNY often seem like quixotic figures, fighting against a vaguer enemy while conjuring up the good old vibes in an effort to regain that once-hefty clout.

Can you still be a fan of someone while disagreeing with their politics? There must be Bruce Springsteen fans out there who are for big business and staunch Republicans, but I don’t understand how they can like something but not subscribe to it. Likewise, if you were a devotee of CSNY performing blatantly anti-establishment songs like “Ohio” and “Chicago,” then there’s nothing in “Let’s Impeach the President” that should come as a surprise. The success of Déjà Vu is its ability to raise those issues, and at the same time make it seem like rock & roll is once again something more than just entertainment.

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