Neil Young recently pulled his music from streaming platform Spotify because he didn’t want to be associated with Joe Rogan amid a Covid-19 misinformation row. While Young has made some very excellent points, it would be remiss not to point out that the musician himself has also been guilty of spreading misinformation in the past, with a rant dating back to the 1980s about a link between AIDS and the LGBTQ+ community recently resurfacing.
When Young removed his catalogue of material from the streaming platform, he published an open letter that read: “I am doing this because Spotify is spreading fake information about vaccines – potentially causing death to those who believe the disinformation being spread by them”.
During the ’80s, when he made his disparaging comments about the AIDS crisis, Young could easily have been wiped out of the industry. Speaking to Melody Maker in 1985, Young was asked for his thoughts on the AIDS epidemic, which was taking lives at a breakneck speed. Rather than offering sympathies to those affected, he instead allegedly referred to gay people as “f******” and made the situation severely worse for an already marginalised group.
He allegedly told the magazine: “You go to a supermarket, and you see a f****** behind the f***ing cash register; you don’t want him to handle your potatoes”.
By making those comments, Young enhanced the fear of gay people that was rife around this period. It is utterly reprehensible for anybody to make these comments, let alone an individual with a voice as amplified as the Canadian singer.
While that interview might not have been read by as many people who listen to The Joe Rogan Experience, it will undoubtedly have swayed the opinion of some of his loyal fans who went out to buy the magazine. Unlike Rogan, Young has never publically acknowledged his mistakes. The podcaster, meanwhile, has since admitted that he got it gravely wrong, and promised to do better, which is more than can be said for the singer.
However, in 1993, Young did write the song ‘Philadelphia’ for Jonathan Demme’s film of the same name about the AIDS crisis. The director said he reached out to Young because he “had this idea that I would start it off with a giant Neil Young guitar anthem and it would relax all the young uptight homophobic guys”.
According to the 2002 biography Shakey, by Jimmy McDonough, Young donated most of the profits from the track to the Gay Men’s Health Crisis centre. Perhaps this was his attempt at redemption, which all people should be given, partially compensating his previous slurs.
Young was afforded time to make amends, and while he never went as far as a public apology, his actions suggest that he feels guilt for the potentially harmful comments he previously aired. In truth, we are all hypocrites to some degree, but not everyone has the privilege to learn from their mistakes privately.