June 18, 2015

“Freedom of Choice is Meaningless Without Knowledge.” Neil Young’s Prolific Response to Trump’s Use of His Song.

 neil young chopper

One of the many editorial decisions that we make (and teach) daily at elephant is the mindful use of other’s art.

Basically if it’s not copyright-free, we ask permission to use it. It’s a legality, but we do this out of respect too. We want to know that we’re sharing people’s work with integrity. This means paying attention not to just permission, but how it’s used—contextual integrity.

During his campaign announcement Tuesday, Donald Trump reportedly used Neil’s infamous “Keep on Rockin'” as a part of his campaign announcement.

Neil was less than impressed, and in typical Neil fashion, didn’t hesitate to voice his feelings on the matter.

According to The Guardian, Trump’s campaign managers had obtained legal rights to use the song…but I still think that Neil’s response kicks some serious a**. It serves as a solid reminder for all of us how we use media to present our own stories, whether they come with explicit agendas or not.


Here’s part of the letter posted on Neil’s Facebook page on June 16:

“Yesterday my song “Rockin in the Free World” was used in a announcement for a U.S. presidential candidate without my permission.

A picture of me with this candidate was also circulated…

Music is a universal language. so I am glad that so many people with varying beliefs get enjoyment from my music, even if they don’t share my beliefs.

But had I been asked to allow my music to be used for a candidate – I would have said no.

I am Canadian and I don’t vote in the United States, but more importantly I don’t like the current political system in the USA and some other countries. Increasingly Democracy has been hijacked by corporate interests. The money needed to run for office, the money spent on lobbying by special interests, the ever increasing economic disparity and the well funded legislative decisions all favor corporate interests over the people’s.

The Citizens United Supreme Court ruling is proof of this corruption as well as are the proposed trade deals which would further compromise our rights.
These Corporations were originally created to serve us but if we don’t appropriately prioritize they will destroy us. Corporations don’t have children.

They don’t have feelings or soul. They don’t depend on uncontaminated water, clean air or healthy food to survive. They are beholden to one thing—the bottom line.

I choose to speak Truth to this Economic Power.

When I speak out on corporations hurting the common man or the environment or other species, I expect a well financed disinformation campaign to be aimed my way.

But Freedom of Choice is meaningless without knowledge.

Thats why its crucial we all get engaged and get informed.

That’s why GMO labeling matters. Mothers need to know what they are feeding their children. They need freedom to make educated choices at the market. 

I do not trust self serving misinformation coming from corporations and their media trolls. I do not trust politicians who are taking millions from those corporations either. I trust people. So I make my music for people not for candidates.

Keep on Rockin in the Free World.

Neil Young.”



I’m looking forward to his new album, The Monsanto Years, due for release on June 29th. Apparently Monsanto isn’t too happy about that either.





Bonus: classic Neil, clear-voiced and baby-faced, just after he wrote Old Man:





Words shape our thoughts.

10 Reasons I love Monsanto.

What do Monsanto, Starbucks & Whole Foods have in common?



Image: Chris Heald at Flickr 

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