One of Canada’s most beloved musicians says he’s glad that oil-industry officials had a fit earlier this year when he condemned Alberta tarsands developments. In January, Neil Young compared what’s happening in Alberta to the destruction that occurred when an atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima in 1945, calling the bitumen industry “an embarrassment to many Canadians”.
“I think I really hit a sore spot, ha ha ha,” Young told the Georgia Straight in an interview backstage at the Orpheum Theatre. “I’m very happy with the way it was characterized. They tried to get rid of my records and everything [a Fort McMurray radio station briefly stopped playing his songs], but they wouldn’t go away. The darn music just sticks around.”
Young was joined by environmentalist David Suzuki for a series of brief media interviews before the Blue Dot Tour show began on November 9. Suzuki launched the cross-country tour earlier this year to urge Canadians to support a constitutional amendment that would protect the environment. It’s a cause the Toronto-born singer-songwriter heartily endorses.
“We believe in the same thing and we’re both Canadians,” Young said. “We believe that Canada deserves to have the right to clean air, clean water, a clean home, and a clean environment in their Constitution. We demand getting there for all of Canada, and anybody who agrees with us should go for that.”
Young also told the Straight there are some people who think that they’re actually saving the Earth because they’re supplying energy by extracting bitumen from the ground. But he insisted they’re wrong and that there are other ways of generating energy that don’t threaten the planet.
“The fossil-fuel age is over,” Young declared.
He’s been a harsh critic of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s support for tarsands developments. When Young was asked what he thinks of virtually every major newspaper except the Toronto Star endorsing the Conservatives before recent elections, he said that corporate-owned newspapers and the corporate sector share a common objective.
“They all work together, and they have a very short view of the world,” he said. “It’s called a three-month window of opportunity for profit, and that’s not the way to run the country. So you’ve got to remember where the information comes from.”
He remains optimistic about the future of the planet, despite the devastating impact that fossil-fuel companies are having.
“I don’t give up on the human race,” Young said. “We are very smart. We can do many things, and we’re very capable of recovering what we’ve lost.”
Young stated that he’s been inspired throughout his musical career by Indigenous peoples. He explained that they have a belief system based on supporting the Earth and respecting animals, including those that are killed to feed humans. And he suggested that people can learn to live in harmony with the Earth if they adopt the philosophy espoused by First Nations people.
“There wasn’t a time when I wasn’t in a band where we didn’t have something to do with it—from Buffalo Springfield and all the history of everything we sang about,” Young said. “We always referred to the Indigenous peoples, the original peoples.”
Suzuki is also an admirer of First Nations. He recalled that when he began hosting The Nature of Things in the 1970s, TV producers wouldn’t hesitate to show a picture of a drunk aboriginal person on skid row in a show about alcohol abuse. But he said it became unacceptable by the 1990s.
The veteran environmentalist sees this as a reflection of the rising importance of First Nations, as covered in a new book by John Ralston Saul called The Comeback.
“What we have seen is the rise of unbelievably powerful, articulate leaders like Miles Richardson, Guujaaw, and Art Sterritt, and a number of people who really changed the whole image,” Suzuki said. “I mean, First Nations people have been at the absolute bottom of the social totem pole in this country, but now they have risen up.”
He compared their trajectory to the Black-power movement in the 1960s.
“The white kids were all kind of envious because there was so much pride and people standing up for what they were,” Suzuki added. “And I see that now with a lot of people going, ‘Holy cow. I didn’t know anything about them.’ ”
At that point, Young noted that North Americans are beginning to adopt Indigenous values.
“We’re starting to wake up to organic food,” he said. “It gets mentioned all the time. We’re starting to understand that seeds shouldn’t be manufactured and controlled genetically. We’re starting to get a grip on the fact that nature is very important to us.”
Recently, Young has been spotted out on the town in Los Angeles with his girlfriend, Daryl Hannah, who shares his passion for fighting the oil industry. But before the Straight had a chance to ask about that, a handler from the David Suzuki Foundation said the time was up.
It was too bad, because it seemed that Young was just getting warmed up.