Neil Young’s ode to veterans
Ah, another real surprise from my Netflix streaming queue! Tonight, I clicked on CSNY Deja Vu, Neil Young’s movie of the 2006 tour that came together in the wake of Neil’s album, Living With War, expecting to find a concert film with a few topical touches around the edges. Woah, Nellie, was I off base! Instead, the four old hippies play supporting actor roles for a slew of Iraq and Vietnam war veterans and family members in a pean to the hearts and souls of those who’ve followed their leaders into battles that, in the end, just didn’t make sense. Neil even got Mike Cerra, a CNN reporter who spent three tours with a unit in Iraq, to “embed” with the tour and provide a documentary-within-the-movie about how people reacted to the tour, in the midst of that heated “you’re either with us or with the terrorists” period in America.
I suppose this shouldn’t have been such a shock. While Neil’s album got the most attention for two rousing anthems, Let’s Impeach the President, and Looking For a Leader (presaging the 2008 primaries: “…maybe it’s a woman, or a black man after all…”), at its heart were five moving songs honoring the sacrifices and eternal burdens of our men and women in uniform. One was a sung from the point of view of a soldier who didn’t return, wishing he could be with his family (clip on YouTube); the title track sang for the internal and external wounds, “I’m living with war….every day…in my heart…..in my mind; I take a holy vow, to never kill again, to never kill again…” (clip on YouTube; also not available for embed)
With the movie, Neil took this theme and moved it front and center, creating a moving portrait of the costs, and the folly, of war, and celebrating anti-war veterans from the 60’s and the 90’s. The songs become interludes, a thematic backdrop to the human story; we generally hear just a verse or two of most of the tunes, both new and old. At the movie’s climax, “Find the Cost of Freedom” is transformed from a hymn of resistance into a requiem for every soldier killed in Iraq up til then, vets singing along, moms in tears….and as on the album, the encore during the fade-out is David, Stephen, Graham, and Neil bringing their celestial harmonies to bear on “America the Beautiful.” These old songsters remind us, and the younger generation, that the hippie vision was always about the deep, true heart of the dream of what American can, and should, be.
Wowser. Nicely done, Bernard Shakey.