Thursday, May 11, 2006

Living With War

The lyrics to the title track to Neil Young's latest album are printed below, with my interpretations and musings (some will certainly say my "hallucinations"). In some cases, I will openly speculate. In other cases, I will speak authoritatively, but in tone only. In other words, I certainly don't claim to speak for Neil or anyone else but myself. End of disclaimer.

2) Living With War
I'm living with war everyday
I'm living with war in my heart everyday
I'm living with war right now

Pretty self-explanatory title and opening lines, I'd say. But, I think that Neil could be pointing out that we all are living with war everyday. Obviously, those (soldiers and civilians) in Iraq are "living with war" in a much more immediate fashion than Neil Young, or you, or I. However, unless you purposely ignore all matters of a geopolitical nature (and how could you, really?), you are living with war at all times.

And when the dawn breaks I see my fellow man
And on the flat-screen we kill and we're killed again

These two lines capture a lot, in my eyes. "And when the dawn breaks" indicates the start of a new day, and fresh hope. "I see my fellow man" brings to mind the obvious fact that real human beings are involved, on all sides. "And on the flat screen" is a shot at materialism, but also an indication of how easy it is to forget that this is really happening. To those of us watching comfortably in our living rooms, we must remember this is life, not just a movie. "We kill and we're killed again"...oops, so much for the fresh hope of a new day. It's the same shit over again: loss of life by all sides.

And when the night falls, I pray for peace
Try to remember peace (visualize)
I join the multitudes
I raise my hand in peace

"And when the night falls" both literally, and figuratively (darkness, violence, the opposite of brightness and hope), "I pray for peace", which is a return to hopefulness and optimism. "I join the multitudes" is another key point; the MAJORITY of those living in the U.S. are now against the war. But, really, even those "in favor" of the war should still hope for peace. Only a truly psychotic individual would prefer war to peace, all other things being equal.

I never bow to the laws of the thought police
I take a holy vow
To never kill again
To never kill again

Interesting lines, and I'm certainly just speculating here. "Thought police" must refer to those in charge trying to intimidate the public into supporting the war (with charges of being "unpatriotic", etc.), and is also a very thinly veiled reference to the domestic wiretapping program.

I'm living with war in my heart
I'm living with war in my heart and my mind
I'm living with war right now are we all!

Don't take no tidal wave
Don't take no mass grave
Don't take no smokin' gun
To show how the west was won

The "tidal wave" has to be Hurricane Katrina, no? Thus, the "mass grave" could easily be on the Gulf Coast of the U.S., or in Iraq, or elsewhere. I love the "smokin' gun" reference, which is a self-referential nod to Neil's song "Mideast Vacation" from Life (1987), but also a reference to the "missing" WMD. "To show how the west was won" is a great line, as it points to "Cowboy" Bush (Mr. "I'm from West Texas" himself), as well as the United States' rather shameful history of westward expansion (genocide?). Many view the current Iraq situation as just one more chapter in what they would call U.S. "colonialism".

But when the curtain falls, I pray for peace
Try to remember peace (visualize)
In the crowded streets
In the big hotels
In the mosques and the doors of the old museum
I take a holy vow
To never kill again

More hopefulness, thoughtfulness, and prayer for peace..."In the mosques" seems like an obvious effort to remind us that there are Muslims right here in the USA. Or, maybe Neil is meaning this to be able to be sung from the point of view of someone in Iraq as well as the U.S. Again, the hope for peace can only be more immediate to those in Iraq than it is to those of us in the U.S.

Try to remember peace
The rocket's red glare
Bombs bursting in air
Give proof through the night,
That Our flag is still there
I'm living with war everyday
I'm living with war in my heart everyday
I'm living with war right now.

Ah, the master stroke of genius...the inclusion of lyrics from "The Star Spangled Banner." The United States is in complete control of how long its troops remain in Iraq. Now, you might argue that Iraq's civil war will only be more bloody if the U.S. pulls out its troops. That's one argument for extending the war. However, there's no debating that we (the U.S.) are the only ones keeping ourselves in Iraq, rightly or wrongly. Sadly, it seems to be more and more apparent that it's been that way from before we even went in to start.


Blogger rabidt said...

For me, this is the key track on the LP. Indeed, it is a very moving and sobering moment when Neil and the chorus go into the Star Spanlged Banner lyrics. Such an idea could have come off as heavy-handed, but Neil walks the fine line with ease here - never falling into smug sarcasm, but instead finding the right emotional tone to give us pause to reconsider this mission and our history. It's powerful, and it makes me feel the regret in this song all the more.

10:09 AM, May 12, 2006  
Blogger Rob said...

I agree, it's the best song on the CD. To me "I'm living with war in my heart" is a pretty and evocative phrase, because everyone knows the feeling, everyone. The choir really makes the song (and really the whole album), keeps it emotionally rooted. Even the most "topical" songs like "Let's Impeach the President" and "Lookin' for a Leader" work as rock songs because they connect on a communal, emotional level.

12:25 AM, May 13, 2006  
Blogger FreeThinker said...

Hey, same here. I dig Neil Young, and I dig Living With War. I just wrote a review on my blog.



11:00 PM, May 15, 2006  

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