Q&A: Neil Young hopes documentary will spur debate

Fri Jun 13, 2008 7:45pm EDT
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By Wes Orshoski

NEW YORK (Billboard) - In the spring of 2006, rock singer-songwriter 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, 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.

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 introducing viewers to Iraqi War vets who are now protesting the war as musicians, politicians and social workers. Directed by Young and due in theaters July 25, the film blends concert and behind-the-scenes footage with short news features created by CNN correspondent Mike Cerre.

Q: One of the film's most powerful scenes shows Atlanta fans angrily filing out of the venue, not before telling you to go to hell, and that's putting it kindly. When you look back on the tour, are there faces and middle fingers in particular that stick out?

Neil Young: "I remember some faces. There's one guy I remember for sure, and he's not in the movie. This 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."

Q: Besides Atlanta, the reaction in Orange County, California, was particularly bad, and even spurred fights. Did the negative reactions cause you to second-guess yourself at all?

Young: "There was never any sense of giving up or anything. We went from July 4 to September 10 on the tour, and I remember feeling glad that we weren't playing on September 11. There were moments throughout it where you just shook your head and said, 'God, what are we doing?' But the songs were there, the feeling was there, the audience was there, and we were doing it."

Q: Crosby, Stills & Nash play to a different crowd than you do as a solo artist. You must have also been aware of the fact that there was less preaching to the choir going on than there would have been on your own tour.   Continued...

<p>Neil Young addresses a news conference to present the film 'CSNY: Deja Vu' running at the 58th Berlinale International Film Festival in Berlin February 8, 2008. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke</p>