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  • Writer's pictureWillie Drennan

Where Have All The Hippies Gone?

Neil Young: Rockin In The Free World

Where have all the hippies gone? Where have all the cultural revolutionaries gone? Where have all the old rockers gone?  - when you need them.  Who now owns Yasgur's Farm?  Who now owns the garden?

In the 60's and 70's a Counter Culture Movement of musicians, songwriters, poets, playwrights, novelists, creative journalists (in a free press), painters, film-makers, composers and choreographers etc challenged a global establishment steeped in lust for power and abuse of power. 

A generation of young people, born during a world war and a holocaust, or shortly after, caused a pivotal moment in the consciousness of humanity. 

They challenged the new masters of war. They railed against the elitist want-to-be rulers of the world who endeavored to conscript and coerce the common people into obedience and compliance. They campaigned for the rights, freedoms and equal opportunities for all peoples: regardless of financial status, colour or creed.

It was a revolution. A peaceful revolution. The revolutionaries and the rockers won.

The mood and the scale of this cultural revolution was well encapsulated by the creatives of the era. One of Canadian Joni Mitchell's songs beautifully captured the new surge of hope for humanity that was Woodstock. (1969)

I came upon a child of God

He was walking along the road

And I asked him, where are you going

And this he told meI'm going on down to Yasgur's farm

I'm going to join in a rock 'n' roll band

I'm going to camp out on the land

I'm going to try an' get my soul free

We are stardustWe are golden

And we've got to get ourselvesBack to the garden.

The Cultural Revolution [of the 60's/70/s - not to be confused with the Chinese Cultural Revolution]  and to some extent the Punk Rockers who came later, shocked the Establishment, shocked the System. They had to do something about it. So what they proceeded to do was develop a system of reward in exchange for dependency. It has worked impressively well. The Establishment is back in the driving seat. This is where we are at today.

With the Music Industry (Big Music), Global Media, Big Tech, Big Pharma, Big Bankers, education institutions and governments all under the one banner - all under the one central authority - life in the world of music has been simple and immaculately controlled. Successful big-time musicians are mostly either owned by the big corporations, or funded by governments, or both.

It works like this. Big Music decides who their corporate radio station and TV channel allies give airtime to. They choose which mega stars will be highlighted, supported and promoted by global media. They essentially own those musicians, who signed on the dotted line when requested to. The celebrity musicians are handsomely rewarded via royalties, global tour revenue and promotion. Bona fide members of Big Music are mostly very happy with their lot, including their financial status, and so the System seems safe and secure.

Music legends from 60's/70's era who still stick to their old values seem few and far between.  Among the few who haven't sold out are Van Morrison and Eric Clapton. As Van said at the time: 

You can't stop us on the road to freedomAnd you can't keep us, 'cause our eyes can seeWe have men with insight, men in graniteKnights in armour bent on chivalry.   (Tupelo Honey 1971)

They still can't stop Van on his road to freedom. They can't keep him for his eyes can still see.

Fifty years on, together on stage and on video, Van and Eric have asked:

Where have all the rebels gone?Hiding behind computer screensWhere's the spirit, where's the soul?Where have all the rebels gone?

The pair of them offer some hope for the freedom of music.

Many independent, freelance, musicians have still been able to survive comfortably enough, at least up until March 2020, by performing at grassroot festivals and events and selling their music on CD.

CD sales have been greatly restricted in recent times however, as the digital age has allowed Big Music to control the market. Most of the profits from digital sales goes to those who control Big Music via Amazon, Apple, Spotify etc – who incidently are all owned by the same few billionaires at the top of the pyramid of power. Most creative artists within Big Music never seem to challenge this, as of course they are suitably reimbursed by the industry in other ways.

In fairness Big Music does make it quite straightforward for musicians. They offer fame, fortune and freedom all in the one package. All that is required is complete compliance to the System in order to be as free as the Free Bird of Lynyrd Skynyrd in 1973. Or so they would tell you.

For independent artists their cut of digital sales is only a fraction of what they would previously have earned via CD sales. To solidify their monopoly, the corporates have stopped making CD players and all new cars in recent years are set up for digital music only. No CD players in newer vehicles is one of the major reasons for the huge decline in CD sales.

In spite of this, independent musicians in recent times have still been able to sell some CD's at their concerts to supplement their income. With the Global Lockdowns and Covid restrictions since March 2020 this source of income has once again been further cut back.

So it has been with dismay that I have watched the recent developments between Big Music and one of their corporate bodies, Spotify. This was kickstarted in late January 2022 by Neil Young, one of the famous sons of the Counter Culture Movement when he withdrew his music from Spotify.  That's the Neil Young who as recently as 1989 was still encouraging us all to keep on Rockin' In The Free World.

Neil's action was in protest against the giant corporate platform for having the audacity to allow Joe Rogan to interview a couple of experts in the fields of medicine and science - namely epidemioligist, Dr Peter McCullough and key architect of mRNA technology, Dr Robert Malone.

In other words, a son of the revolution that once challenged the System, that championed the cause of freedoms including free speech, is now some 50 years later, actively supporting the System that is hell-bent on silencing free speech  - that is determined to deny people the freedom to hear alternative views from professionals with credentials, who dare challenge their System.

I'm still trying to get my head around this. Any possibility that Neil Young, the once bold hippy activist, was merely making some sort of principled stand, seemed to be dismissed when it was reported that Neil simply transferred his music over to Amazon. I am fully aware that you can't believe everything that is reported but it does seem likely.

There are good reasons why principled musicians would choose to boycott Spotify. Spotify, along with the rest of Big Music, rips off independent musicians. Skipping from Spotify to Amazon however doesn't qualify as a good reason -  if that is indeed the case.   It would actually be the antihesis of a revolutionary act.

To add to the pain and bewilderment for those of us who embraced the ideals of the 60's/70/s Cultural Revolution, and cherished the music of such artists as Neil Young, his musical partners from that era – Cosby, Stills and Nash have also jumped on the bandwagon.  And adding salt to the wound, fellow Canadian icon Joni Mitchell has jumped on board as well. Here's the last verse of Joni's Woodstock. 

By the time we got to Woodstock

We were half a million strong

And everywhere there was song and celebration

And I dreamed I saw the bombers

Riding shotgun in the sky

And they were turning into butterflies

Above our nation

We are stardust

Billion year old carbon

We are golden

Caught in the devil's bargain

And we've got to get ourselves

Back to the garden.

Beautiful poetic imagery that swayed the hearts of many: especially when sung by Joni herself.

Where did it all go wrong? Perhaps I'm missing some important piece of information? Maybe I'll wake up from a dream and all will be normal again? 

But it does seem like many of the former  hippie revolutionaries are once again ensnared in the devil's bargain. I suspect Yasgur's Farm is now owned by Bill Gates. Those who were stardust, who were golden, do once again need to try get themselves back to the  garden. If they can find it. If Bill hasn't already bought the garden as well. If he hasn't already put it in the garden museum, right beside Joni's tree museum(Big Yellow Taxi 1970) 

On the bright side, we can take some solace in that a new era of Canadians have risen to carry the mantle for freedom into the present day - as Canadian Truckers in 2022 keep on truckin' and Rockin' In The Free World

 Another pivotal moment in the consciouness of humanity is upon us perhaps?

Willie Drennan

5th February 2022

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