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January 26, 2022

By Mike Tomano

© 2022 Fossil Entertainment Group

Earlier this week, Neil Young laid down the gauntlet to Spotify: Rogan goes, or I do.

Young wrote his management and record label demanding they remove his music from the streaming service.

“I am doing this because Spotify is potentially causing death to those who believe the disinformation being spread by them. Please act on this immediately today and keep me informed of the time schedule,” Young stated. “They can have Rogan or Young. Not both.”

Spotify decided to chuck Neil and keep Rogan. What evokes speculation is whether Young listened to The Joe Rogan Experience, and exactly what “misinformation” spurred his decision.

To be fair, Spotify is not a major source of income for Neil. In the beginning of 2021, Young sold half of his song rights to The Hipgnosis Songs Fund for a sweet $150 million.

To say Neil’s music has importance to me is an understatement. Growing up, my friends and I listened to his 70s albums constantly. His music was handed down to us by older brothers and sisters like a grandfather bequeaths an army rifle. He was a rebel, a freethinker, a hippie, and a head. He did his own thing in his own way.

His albums were poetic and adventurous, their tunes resonated deeper than those of KISS or Foghat. From the racist past of Alabama to the lonely woods of Winnipeg, the plight of the American Indian to the crash-and-burn of Nixon and the gunning down of campus protesters, Neil led us on a journey into the blood-soaked fabric of our times.

We’d listen to his Decade collection and look at the cover photos, checking out his cool Gretsch guitar, his well-worn denim and his cold, deep stare illuminated by the fireplace. Neil had the aura of a drifter and the spirit of a dreamer, a sonic explorer who put soul into feedback as he rode upon The World’s Greatest Garage Band, Crazy Horse.

I wore out his seminal releases Everybody Knows This is Nowhere, After the Gold Rush, Zuma, Comes a Time, Time Fades Away, Rust Never Sleeps and Harvest. I’ve given away more copies of Tonight’s The Night then Neil probably has owned.

His music shaped a large portion of my life’s soundtrack and one album in particular, 1974’s On the Beach, was a dear friend during an extremely rough patch in my life. I listened to that cassette nightly during the mid-80s, its existential lyrics and haunting melodies kept my head together while my heart was broken. It remains a favorite, an LP that I listen to without interruption or distraction, lost in its bedraggled beauty. Still cathartic.

When Neil played Chicago on January 31, 1983, the kids from my neighborhood grabbed tickets and took a C.T.A. bus to U.I.C. Pavilion. For us high schoolers, it was our first real concert. Excitement filled the back of the bus, fueled by a communal bottle of Jack Daniel’s.

The concert was divided, the first portion acoustic classics and the second set new music. While we weren’t enthusiastic about the material from his electronic album, Trans, we celebrated his gall. The record company wants another “Heart of Gold”? Let ‘em suck on this!

The 80s found Neil butting heads with the Geffen label execs, who charged his foray into synthesizer-laden Kraftwerkian music on Trans, and his Elvis-tinged rockabilly follow-up, Everybody’s Rockin’ a breach of contract. Neil was not going to let any “suit” tell him what to do. No corporate swine’s bean-countin’ nephew was going to dictate Neil’s art. Geffen sued Neil for not being “commercially viable.” Neil The Warrior read the fine print and counter-sued, pointing out the “complete creative freedom” stipulation in this contract. Neil finished out his contract with Geffen then returned home to his original label, Reprise.

So, yeah, I know my Neil Young. Those 70s classic albums I know by heart, every note, every word. I’ve seen him numerous times in concert. Each time reignited my belief in the power of music.

The Smell The Horse Tour came to The Rosemont Horizon on January 29, 1991. Neil Young & Crazy Horse with special guests Sonic Youth and Social Distortion. Read that lineup again. Hours of mind-blowing music, explosive energy, and that youthful feeling of this is exactly how life should be. Every band on the bill played as though all our lives depended on it. We not only heard the music, we felt it, and we shared it. Few concerts I’ve attended (hundreds) match the intensity of that show.

On October 3, 1998, I covered Farm Aid for the radio station I worked at. Armed with recording equipment and camera, my coworker Dave Bellah and I arrived at The (then) New World Music Theater in Tinley Park, Illinois. The weather was unseasonably cold, even for October, and, forgetting to bring a jacket, I dug a snow camo jumpsuit from the trunk of my Buick. I always hated being cold, so it was either look like a goofball or be miserable.

Addressing the media, Willie Nelson brought attention to the impact Northeastern ice storms and drought in southern states had on farm families. He emphasized farms were the economy in rural America. Losing farms meant losing schools, businesses, and churches. Farm Aid would fight factory farming of hogs to achieve equitable pricing for farmers. Neil sat in, but said little. When the conference ended, I jumped at the knocking opportunity.

“Neil, do you have a moment? Mike Tomano from WYKT,” I said, as if that mattered.

“Yeah,” Neil replied. I had prepared what to say, knowing the artists were pressed for time.

“I want you to know that your music matters greatly to me.” Neil stared at me. Dave held the Nikon N2020 at the ready.

“Um, do you mind if I get a photo with you?”

“Sure,” Neil said, looking past me and nodding to someone from his crew.

We put our arms around each other and smiled.

Dave hit the shutter-release button.


Neil and I continued to smile.

Click. Click.


The authenticity of our frozen smiles waned. A bead of sweat stung my eye.

“Can you hold on a sec?”

I rushed to Dave and grabbed the camera. I fidgeted with it in futility, hoping I’d blindly make the correct adjustment. I glanced back at Neil. There was that cold stare from the Decade album photo. “Oh, shit,” I whispered to Dave, handing back the hopefully-ready-to-go camera.

“Sorry ‘bout that,” I said, returning my arm to Neil’s back and flashing a fresh smile. Neil’s arm remained at his side now, and his smile seemed to have gone to grab a beer. He grunted.

Dearest Dave ventured to lighten the building tension. “Say Cheese!”, he yelled as he pressed the button. A shrill whirring emitted from the camera, a red-light flashed, the lens popped off and crashed to the ground, and the roll of film loosed from its bowels.

I could feel Neil’s body turn to stone. Chin down, I peered up into his steely eyes.

“Are you out of your fuckin’ mind?” Neil shouted. “I don’t have anything else to do but stand here while you two learn how to use a camera?” He stormed off into the backstage area.

I stared into the distance, summoning transportation to another place, another time, another planet. Dave, looking like a scolded schoolboy, clutched the camera in its Mission Impossible tape recorder post-self-destruction state.

The press tent was now empty, save for Dave and me and someone laughing behind us.

“Dude, that was cold,” Darius Rucker said, shaking his head, trying to control his laughter.

“Yeah, I fucked that up,” I said laughing along with him. Darius shared Hootie & The Blowfish had traveled all-night following a Detroit show to be a part of the Farm Aid Concert. Though tired, he’d gladly take a picture with me. We gave it a go, but the camera was fried, and the resulting photo left only my flash-induced yellow eyes next to Darius’s teeth visible. Think crime-scene remnants of The Cheshire Cat.

Neil Young. A recurrent character in this movie I call My Life. A musical hero and, more than that, one of the artists who shaped me. And one of the few who cussed me out.

His music is in my blood. I won’t get too bent out of shape over his Joe Rogan hissy-fit. Neil’s cranky and belligerent, always has been. Neil Young was born an angry old man, November 12, 1945. Long may he run.

It’s odd that Neil’s roles as a critic of government overreach and champion of personal freedom have seemingly faded, with him joining the sports-team mentality of partisan allegiance that shuns any discourse that challenges narrative. Joe Rogan did not promote anything to his audience. He merely conducted conversations with doctors who hold views in contrast to those of Fauci and the CDC. Did Neil listen to Joe Rogan’s interviews, or did he fall in line with the truly misleading “270 Doctors Call Rogan A Menace to Public Health” headlines?

I’d like to believe the Neil Young that spoke truth to The Kent State Massacre would understand an artist’s questioning the government or the presentation of opposing views in the marketplace of ideas.

The Joe Rogan Experience averages eleven million listeners per episode.

Is Joe Rogan the new story of Johnny Rotten?

I hope Neil Young will remember; Spotify don’t need him around, anyhow.




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