Bernie Sanders Is Still Rockin' in the Free World

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

Last week I noted my discomfort with the recurring battles between politicians (Trump, Huckabee with Kim Davis) who wanted to use songs at their rallies and the musicians (R.E.M., Survivor) who didn’t want to be associated with them. Of course, the first great such battle of this election cycle came between Neil Young and Trump, who entered his campaign announcement (via escalator) to the strains of Young’s “Keep on Rockin’ in the Free World.”

Like many other people who have used “Keep on Rockin’,” Trump (or whoever chose the song) probably didn’t understand the point. Far from the triumphal jingoism of Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign, Young’s song is angry broadside against the U.S. at the end of the Reagan years:

We got a thousand points of light
For the homeless man
We got a kinder, gentler,
Machine gun hand
We got department stores and toilet paper
Got styrofoam boxes for the ozone layer
Got a man of the people, says keep hope alive
Got fuel to burn, got roads to drive.

It’s no surprise that Young, an aggressive environmental advocate and critic of U.S. foreign policy, wouldn’t be a Trump fan. In fact, Young let on, he was a fan of Bernie Sanders. Reporting from a Sanders rally in Greensboro, North Carolina, Sunday night, I was amused to notice that the senator entered and exited to—what else?—“Keep on Rockin’.”

As Jason Starling pointed out, that might be a milestone for an often-misconstrued track: