First, a few kind words about Neil Young.

I like some of his music, if not so much his singing. He hasn’t been afraid to write politically aware songs, which is so refreshing in a world where 90 per cent of songs are silly love songs. I even have some admiration for celebrities who take a stand, except when they are wrong or just plain stupid. (Example: Jenny McCarthy, minor league celebrity, blaming vaccines for causing autism. A damaging dumbass.)

But Neil, you’ve lost it with the oil sands protest.

As you’ve no doubt heard, Young has launched a full-frontal attack on the oil (or tar, depending on your point of view) sands. He has organized a series of concerts, where all the money will go to towards the Athabasca Chipeyan First Nation Legal Fund. (Also on the tour with him is sultry Canadian jazz singer Diana Krall. Talk about mixing oil and water.)

At a media event Sunday, Young had this to say about Stephen Harper:

“Canada is trading integrity for money. That’s what’s happening under the current leadership in Canada, which is a very poor imitation of the George Bush administration in the United States and is lagging behind on the world stage. It’s an embarrassment to any Canadians.”

Right on, brother. A little overstated, but not by much.

But Young stood by his earlier comments about Fort McMurray, where he said:

“The fact is, Fort McMurray looks like Hiroshima. Fort McMurray is a wasteland.”

Neil, Neil, Neil. All it takes is one really stupid exaggeration to wreck your credibility.

Of course, Fort McMurray doesn’t look anything like Hiroshima, either before or after the nuclear bomb. Young’s colossally stupid comment was made because either he knew that the Fort Mac/Hiroshima comparison would make the headlines (which it did), or because he is colossally stupid. I’m leaning towards Young being smart enough to say something stupid.

In an interview with CBC’s Jian Ghomeshi — where the normally astute interviewer seemed to be so in awe of Young he didn’t challenge him at all — Young stood by his comments, but he called it a “metaphor”.

I’m no grammarian, but I believe a metaphor is “a figure of speech in which a word or phrase is applied to an object or action to which it is not literally applicable”. Since he is comparing one city to another, the Fort Mac/Hiroshima comparison is literal, not metaphorical.

Young also said that the oilsands spew C02 into the atmosphere at a rate equal to every car in Canada every day (I can’t find any reference to this claim anywhere), and that you can smell fuel in the air in Fort Mac (I’ve been there twice, and never noticed a fuel stench, but maybe Young’s sense of smell is more acute than mine). He said Fort Mac is a town “occupied” by Big Oil, when in reality it exists entirely because of Big Oil.

Don’t get me wrong — I’m no fan of the oil industry. I’ve felt for years that Alberta is a wholly owned subsidiary of Big Oil, and I’ve always found Alberta’s pride in the oil industry to be misplaced, if not insufferable. Young has a point about the oilsands, but his credibility vanished with his Fort Mac/Hiroshima comparison.


6 thoughts on “Neil Young’s credibility takes an atomic hit.

  1. Why is this a bad comparison? If something is devastated beyond repair or beyond recognition, isn’t that a fair analogy? Bravo to Neil Young for having the balls to compare one horrific human-made tragedy to another.

  2. You’re right. Hiroshima was no Fort Mac. Hiroshima was rebuilt in a matter of years. Fort Mac will remain a toxic wasteland for far more than a century which is Big Oil’s best estimate for dealing with their lethal, rapidly leaching, tailing ponds. A century at best, possibly several.

  3. Neil young drives a electric car,a lot of electricity comes from coal in the States.I have herd that the U.S. creates way more emissions with there coal burning plants than Alberta.

  4. Maurice

    I’ve been reading you for years and pretty much always agreed with you. However, this is the first time I have had to disagree with you. Neil Young’s credibility is a non-issue as far as I’m concerned.
    I lived in Fort McMurray for well over a decade and it used to be a lovely city of 35-40,000 people with just the right amount of mining to sustain it as a livable community. I eventually moved early 2000 because it was becoming less so. Like Swan Hills in the 70’s.
    I heard the interview and read transcripts and quotes. Neil Young was not describing the city of Fort McMurray with his “metaphor” but the area to the north of it: the mining areas. It really is a wasteland brought about by the completely unbridled tarsands expansion. (And it is indeed tar-sand. Not oil. The tar is processed into low grade oil using a great deal of energy and chemicals.)
    I encourage you and anyone who takes issue with people such as Neil Young that are critical and concerned about the rampant exploitation of the tarsands to drive/fly up to Fort McMurray and continue north of the city to have a look for themselves.
    For the record, the late, great Peter Lougheed himself repeatedly expressed concerns at the rate of tarsands extraction.
    The expansion has to not only stop but be dialed back. People are dying up there.

    Keep your columns coming as I do appreciate reading them.

    1. Thanks for your reasoned comments, Scott. I appreciate your continued reading, even when you don’t agree. Although you make some good points, I still think Young made a mistake with his Hiroshima remark.

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