At the Livingston, Montana coffee shop where I've been forced to work this week due to an Internet meltdown at my farm, they play a lot of Bob Dylan on the stereo, especially a lot of sixties Dylan. This means that while I'm poking around the Web, reading stories about Donald Rumseld and how the White House is 'shaking' itself up by unloading its top media liason and forcing Karl Rove to give up his 'policy' duties and concentrate on 'politics' (a distinction whose very existence pretty much sums up what's wrong in Washington), I get to hear 'Masters of War' and 'Hard Rain' in the background. The songs haven't dated. They've matured. What seems dated are current events, which seem so much like events from forty years ago that I wasn't surprised to read this morning that Neil Young is releasing a new album that sounds as though it will be filled with protest songs similar to the ones he used to sing during the last big civil war that we inflamed by trying to stop.
I'm a fan of Neil Young, and yet I'm not so sure I want to hear this album. Nor would I be eager to jump up and buy a new Dylan album with the same concept. I sense self-imitation in the air. I sense too much satisfaction all around. "You loved it when they took on Johnson, but you'll be ecstatic when they slam Bush!" It's not that Young's not perfectly entitled to a political second act, it's that his musical protests this time will come with a stamp of cultural approval and a solid-gold provenance that will make them too respectable, I fear. Lashing out against power just isn't the same when an artist can be assured, up front, that he'll be loved and applauded for doing so just as he was when he did it before, when it was a risk.
"I ain't going to work on Maggie's farm no more." The song was playing as I wrote this. It's got one of those lyrics that seem applicable to about a million situations then and now and in the future. Rebellion. Frustration. Humiliation. Come-uppance. The fundamental human right to be a squirelly, ungovernable wise-ass (as long as one can handle the whippings it brings.) A song of vignettes, of savage little sketches. A song which doesn't need a sequel.