Neil Young Documents Anti-War Tour In Film

NEW YORK - Not every musician will make a film that features a fan facing him from a concert audience with two arms raised, middle fingers extended - more than one fan, in fact.Neil Young was singing protest songs on a “Freedom of Speech” tour with David Crosby, Stephen Stills and Graham Nash at the time. Ignoring that kind of nonverbal speech would contradict the message, wouldn’t it?

It was an easy call. Using the nom de plume Bernard Shakey, Young directs “CSNY: Deja Vu,” a film that uses the tumult surrounding CSNY’s 2006 concert tour as a backdrop for exploring divisions in the country over the Iraq war. It opens in theaters on Friday.

Before the tour, Young had released “Living With War,” the blunt anti-war album where he was backed by a full chorus on songs like “Let’s Impeach the President.” There was little mistaking his intentions; one of the film’s funniest moments shows Young almost physically knocked back when a CNN reporter mentioned the song and asked him, “What’s that song about?”

Young invited journalist Mike Cerre along to speak to members of the audience.

“The interviews we got were more positive than negative,” Young told The Associated Press. “But we tried to represent the people who didn’t come by, trying to equalize the positive and negative.”

Neil YoungIt wasn’t hard to find unhappy fans at a handful of shows, most obviously in Atlanta. Many streamed out, or stayed to offer hand signals. Some had inexplicably expected a greatest-hits show. Young said he was blown away watching families fight, the children wanting to stay while their parents were eager to leave.

He also had narrators read from concert reviews, positive and negative. One critic said, “I don’t want to be told how to think by four aging hippies.” Another said CSNY wasn’t interested in free speech, “just the kind they believe in.”

Plainly, he had struck a nerve. No one likes seeing angry fans, but Young had no interest in backing down.

“Just because I’m famous doesn’t mean that I work for the audience,” he said. “I’m not obligated to do anything. I’m an artist. I will do what I want to do. Whatever the consequences   I certainly hope that it’s a civilized reaction.”

Through Cerre’s contacts, “Deja Vu” tells stories of people band members met along the way. The characters include songwriter Josh Hisle, now a performing musician after two tours of duty with the Marines in Iraq; Gold Star mother and anti-war activist Karen Meredith; and Patrick Murphy, an Iraq veteran now a freshman congressman from Pennsylvania.

The title “Deja Vu” is also a hint that Young seeks to draw connections to CSNY’s activism against the Vietnam War roughly 40 years ago.

Young has resisted playing one of his best-known songs, “Ohio,” about the shooting of anti-Vietnam War demonstrators in Kent State, because he didn’t want to seem like he was exploiting the victims’ memories. The song was dusted off and given new context in the “Freedom of Speech” tour.

When he released his album, Young had said it was a shame that someone older had to write those songs, implicitly criticizing the generation fighting the Iraq war. He’s since been set straight, finding a lot of music addressing the topic was being made; it just hadn’t found an outlet. Young now features a lot of it on his Web site, which keeps a constantly refreshed chart on which songs are being played the most.

Young never wants to do such a tour again, and not just because he hopes for peace.

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