Sifting through the rhetoric of Neil Young's anti-oilsands tour
Singer Neil Young speaks during a press conference for the "Honour the Treaties" tour, a series benefit concerts being held to raise money for legal fight against the expansion of the Athabasca oilsands in northern Alberta and other similar projects, in Toronto, Sunday January 12, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mark Blinch
Published Friday, January 17, 2014 5:47PM EST
By 1977, Neil Young had already been around long enough to release a three-record collection of his greatest hits. Back then, Canada had 10 million fewer people and the Alberta oilsands had yet to ship its first barrel of synthetic crude.
Canada’s iconic rocker hasn’t had many chart-toppers since, but at age 68 his greatest hit has just been released -- a nation-gripping soundtrack of bitumen blues he’s promoting on tour this week.
Mayors, premiers, oil companies and even the prime minister have delivered blistering thumbs-down reviews, but the public is undoubtedly enjoying the showdown between old oil and a hostile Young.
True, the singer’s Fort McMurray attack lines have been at odds with reality in spots. Canada’s oilsands do not export to China, as Young insists. Nor are its greenhouses gases greater than all our automotive emissions. And Young has been rightly lambasted for comparing the blackened mine sites where tailing ponds claim the odd unfortunate duck to nuclear-bombed Hiroshima where an estimated 160,000 perished into a radioactive cloud.
Even so, Young knows how to command an audience and he was clearly anticipating the attention. That’s why he drove an electric car for his Fort McMurray survey, lest the hypocrisy of fossil fuelling his jetset lifestyle became an issue.
Once there, he ignored the reclamation sites where buffalo actually roam to view only the wastelands downwind from smokestacks, the better to be blasted with eye-watering fumes.
As his tour winds up this weekend, it’s clearly been mission accomplished.
Young’s actions have prompted plenty of overreaction, which have only served to keep the spotlight on his crusade.
Decent tickets to his Calgary concert in the heart of the oilpatch on Sunday are commanding $500, so there’s clearly no musical backlash.
And the profits will finance court challenges by the long-suffering Fort Chipewyan First Nation, whose leaders have struggled for decades to secure government attention for their forgotten treaty rights.
Neil Young may not have the best voice anymore – I’d argue he never did – but it’s still loud enough to be heard right across his native country.
An Old Man to some, a heart of gold to others, he’s earned the right to be rocking and socking in the free world. All we have is the right not to listen.
That’s the LAST WORD.