NEW YORK (Billboard) - In the spring of 2006, Neil Young was just a year removed from a near-fatal aneurysm when he became so enraged with the war in Iraq that he quickly wrote, recorded and released the protest album “Living With War.”
Not two months after its release, his part-time supergroup Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young launched their Freedom of Speech tour, during which unwitting fans expecting the band’s sweeter side were greeted instead with its serrated edge.
During a three-hour-plus concert, the band played nearly all of “Living With War” and many of the political anthems on which its legend was built, like “Ohio,” “Military Madness” and “Find the Cost of Freedom.” Despite CSN&Y’s anti-establishment roots, the move angered some fans, while inspiring others.
The forthcoming documentary “CSNY: Deja Vu” charts that friction, portraying fans who saluted the group’s efforts and those who felt betrayed by them, while also introducing viewers to Iraq War veterans who are now protesting the war as musicians, politicians and social workers.
Directed by longtime film buff Young (who uses the alias/nickname Bernard Shakey) and due in theaters July 25, the documentary blends concert and behind-the-scenes footage with short news features created by ABC correspondent Mike Cerre.
Young, 62, recently spoke with Billboard about the film. Here are some highlights.
IT’S PRETTY SHOCKING MIDWAY THROUGH THE MOVIE WHEN AN IRATE
ATLANTA FAN TELLS YOU TO STICK IT UP YOUR ASS, AND ANOTHER
REMARKS THAT HE WANTS TO “KNOCK YOUR TEETH OUT” FOR SINGING
ANTI-WAR, ANTI-BUSH SONGS. HOW DID YOU REACT THE FIRST TIME YOU
SAW THIS FOOTAGE?
Well, we knew that it was happening. That wasn’t the first time it happened. Before we even got to Atlanta, we’d experienced that. There were other places. The bull-ometer was pretty high in a couple of places, and I think Orange County (California) was pretty good, Irvine. It was pretty strong there. We had some fights; everything was crazy there. They just went nuts. But they weren’t real close to us. We could see them, and they were just going berserk. But Atlanta was very forceful. I mean, they are so passionate about what they felt, and how they feel about, you know, how we crossed over the line and intruded on something that they believed in so strongly. So you gotta respect people, even if they’re losing their minds at that very moment, and not talking really eloquently. They have their deep beliefs. So we had to use it, because we’re telling the story, and we’re trying to tell the whole story. There was a journalistic responsibility involved.
WHEN YOU WATCH THIS FILM AND WHEN YOU THINK BACK ON THE
NEGATIVE REACTIONS IN THE AUDIENCE, IS THERE A FACE OR A MIDDLE
FINGER THAT VIVIDLY STICKS OUT TO YOU?
I remember some faces. There’s one guy I remember for sure, and he’s not in the movie. But there are things that I remember from all tours. (This tour) was a harrowing experience at times, and it’s not an experience that I would like to repeat. I think it was a one-off.
I think if I did this kind of thing for the rest of my life, I’d become like CNN and I don’t really respect that very much. It’s like the same thing on a loop. I don’t see the need for that. I like to be a full-length program, not a repeating segment.
THERE’S A SCENE IN THE MOVIE WHERE GRAHAM NASH TALKS ABOUT
GOING TO HEAR “LIVING WITH WAR” FOR THE FIRST TIME AND DECIDING
WHETHER HE WANTED TO SUIT UP FOR THIS TOUR. WERE THERE TIMES
WHEN YOU FELT LIKE YOU WERE BRINGING DAVID (CROSBY), STEPHEN
(STILLS) AND GRAHAM INTO SOMETHING THAT WAS ULTIMATELY HARMFUL
TO THEIR BOTTOM LINE AS CROSBY, STILLS AND NASH? OBVIOUSLY, YOU
PLAY TO TWO DIFFERENT AUDIENCES, AND TOURING WITH THEM IS A LOT
LESS OF A PREACHING-TO-THE-CHOIR SCENARIO.
I guess so, ‘cause they’ve been pretty mellow for a long time, and they haven’t done anything. But if you look at the roots, if you look at the original music -- “For What It’s Worth,” “Ohio,” “Military Madness,” “Long Time Gone,” “Deja Vu” and all these songs that were written back then -- “Immigration Man,” “Teach Your Children” -- all that stuff is all rooted in the same message. This is just a different time. So they had a history of doing that, and I thought that was a good thing, because it reached way back for the roots.
Of course, between then and now, they’ve been singing about things they’ve believed in, and also just singing a lot of love songs, and a lot of songs that people enjoy, so it could become kind of like date night going to see them.
But those guys were into it 100 percent. I mean, Stephen does not like people to not like him, and I respect him for that. And he’s a very sensitive guy, so I could understand that, but even with that he wanted to do it. He said, “Yeah, I’ll do it,” and he sang “For What It’s Worth” every day and every night. He played his heart out. But he kept saying, “Well, it’s like a political cartoon, you have to see it as that,” and he was always trying to soften the blow a little, and that’s the way he is, and that’s cool. But I think he was with us, and he believed in what we were doing, or he wouldn’t have been there. And Crosby and Nash were right there from the beginning, because they don’t care so much how the reaction’s gonna be. They’re not as concerned with that as they are just with singing about stuff that matters to them. And they agreed with the songs, and they wanted to sing ‘em.
IN THE MOVIE, YOU TALK ABOUT NOT SINGING THE SONG “OHIO”
FOR YEARS, BECAUSE YOU DIDN’T WANT TO CAPITALIZE...
I thought that right at the beginning. That’s what bothered me about the song in the first place, and that’s why I rarely sang it. But in this tour, it took on a context of being part of history, so we played it again. But I did many tours with CSNY where I would hardly ever do that song. If you saw us do it, you saw us on a rare occasion. Crosby loves to do the song. He just wants to do it every night. And I just can’t do it. It’s too personal, it’s too real. It’s about people who actually died that we feel were our audience. They could have been in the first row at our shows. These were students. That’s who we played for. That’s why I didn’t want the cameras at Woodstock, because they were in between us and our crowd. This is the way it started. It started with a total connection. There was no facade, there was no style, there was no posing. It was a real deal happening. And it had so much energy that people are still living off of it today. They’re still building off of it.
WHAT ARE YOU HOPING TO GAIN FROM THE RELEASE OF THE FILM,
AND THE DVD THAT WILL FOLLOW IT?
Discussion. Debate. Open forums. And it does do that to people. You’ll see what happens when this film comes out on the Internet. You’ll see people talking. It’ll be interesting. It’ll open up a thing, and that’s what it does. That’s what the music did. That’s what happens. It happens in the audiences. I saw families fighting within the families, the kids wanting to stay and the parents going, “No, we’ve got to get out of here. This is no good.” The parents dragging the kid out, and the kid looking back. And we’re not talking a 10-year-old, here. We’re talking college kids being driven out by just straight-laced fathers, the classic father image of strength. Not much compassion, but a lot of strength.
IS THERE A CERTAIN AMOUNT OF DISAPPOINTMENT YOU HAVE IN
YOUR OWN GENERATION? WAS THAT ONE OF THE REASONS FOR DOING THE
FREEDOM OF SPEECH TOUR?
Actually, I’m encouraged by my own generation, because they still remember enough. They’re the ones that are trying to move forward. The youngsters today, the ones in school, the college kids, they’re not threatened like my generation was when they were in college. They’re not threatened with going to war, the imminent draft, that they’re going, that they’re going to be in the lottery, that they’re gonna go, and maybe die. Kids today are thinking, “Will I work for Google? Am I going to be lucky enough to work for Google? Or whom I’m going to be working for? Am I gonna get a dotcom job? Maybe I’ll be working in an environmental company. Maybe I’ll get some cool job. Maybe I want to be a designer, maybe fashion. What am I gonna be doing with my life?”
They’re not going, “I don’t want to go to Vietnam. I don’t want to go to Afghanistan. I don’t want to go Pakistan.” There’s no threat so there’s protest. So our generation, my generation, still remembers what we went through, and they still have the fire. They’re making a lot of noise about Bush. When I see them out in the crowd, I’m not disappointed. I’m proud of them, because they’re still there. Because they remember what it’s like.
IN THE LINER NOTES TO “LIVING WITH WAR,” YOU THANK BOB
DYLAN FOR INSPIRATION. DID YOU GIVE HIM THE ALBUM? HAS HE HEARD
I don’t think so. I know I didn’t give it to him. I imagine he may have heard part of it. He may have heard all of it. I really don’t know. I talked to him a couple years ago, maybe a year-and-a-half ago. He really liked a performance that I did of “Walking to New Orleans” on TV. He saw it and he called me to tell me that he liked it. I call him to tell him when he’s great, when I see him being great. I like to call him and tell him: “You’re f---in’ great. You’re still rockin’. You f---in’ really got it.” Ya know, somebody’s got to tell him. And he is great. You may think that everybody is telling him all the time how great he is, but I don’t know about that. Coming from me, I just wanted him to know how I felt, because I love the guy. I think he’s a great artist. So I want to be supportive, whenever I see him really step up. So he returned a favor to me. We have a friendship.