If I could point to one moment, one watershed experience in my youth that single-handedly shaped my understanding of life, of politics, and most importantly, of rock and roll, it was when Neil Young and Pearl Jam performed “Keep On Rocking in the Free World” at the 1993 MTV Video Music Awards:
First off, can you believe that actually happened at the MTV Video Music Awards? Something that authentic? Something that pure? I mean, MTV is now a horrendous conglomeration of reality TV and over-produced pop music videos with absolutely ZERO soul. Hell, there’s hardly any music at all, not to mention rock and roll. But the early 90’s were different. Rock was being restored.
And so was a kind of raw realism about the American society in which we find ourselves – the consumeristic, militaristic way of life that makes us an empire like so many empires before us. The grunge movement was recovering something that was lost after the liberated 60’s gave way to the lost and addicted 70’s and finally grew up into the compromised and greedy 80’s.
It was recovering the blast of musical empire resistance innovated by the likes of Neil Young.
In this performance the spirit of that previous generation and the spirit of my own generation converged, and I was forever changed.
And I haven’t been able to shake that resistant spirit since.
So this 4th of July weekend, when many Americans will be celebrating a war of independence that allowed us to create our very own empire, I won’t be getting too patriotic. Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful to live in this country. There are freedoms offered that other places don’t have, to be sure.
But God Bless the USA is not a banner I can wave. Because these freedoms are too tangled up in the web of a violent and greedy empire.
What I can do this weekend, and most assuredly will do, is keep on rockin’ in the free world.