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Heavy Ammunition for Content-Based ESL/EFL
Sixties Elder Rips It Up with New Protest Album

For ESL/EFL teachers looking for ways to tap student interest with real-world text and audio that is supported by a compelling geopolitical context, there is good news: Neil Young--who has rocked in five different decades--is bringing out a protest album!

Young, whose musical tapestry spans from Buffalo Springfield's "For What It's Worth" to CSNY's "Ohio," has been releasing the lyrics from his newest CD on a crawler at his Web site,, during the past five or six days, and will be streaming full audio for free from the site beginning April 28th. Days later, the CD itself will start being distributed nationwide and worldwide.

In "Families," Young puts into words the anguish of parents and spouses whose fallen family members are deprived of a public funeral ceremony.

When you try to bring our spirits home
Won't you celebrate our lives in a way that's right
For our children and families...

In "Shock and Awe," the president is criticized for a failed U.S. policy in Iraq.

Back in the days of "mission accomplished"
Our chief was landing on the deck
The sun was setting on a golden photo op
...Thousands of bodies in the ground
...No one sees them coming home that way
...Thousands of children scarred for life
Millions of tears for a soldier's wife
Both sides are losing now...

"Lookin' for a Leader" is a singularly upbeat song--judging from the lyrics--in which Young issues a hopeful call to a new generation of Americans.

Lookin' for a leader
to bring our country home
Re-unite the red, white and blue
Before it turns to stone
Lookin' for somebody
Young enough to take it on
Clean up the corruption
And make the country strong
...We're lookin' for a leader
With The Great Spirit on his side...

The lyrics of "After the Garden" seem to suggest either a global environmental disaster or the loss of a dream or ideal.

What will people do?
After the garden is gone
What will people say?
After the garden
...Where will the people go?
After the garden is gone
What will people know?
After the garden

In "The Restless Consumer," Neil Young portrays a voracious American market blinded to the conditions, aspirations, and needs of the rest of the world's citizens.

The restless consumer flies
Around the world each day
With such an appetite for taste and grace
...The restless consumer lies
Asleep in her hotel
With such an appetite
for anything that sells
...A hundred voices from a hundred lands
Need someone to listen
People are dying here and there
They don't see the world the way you do
...But we don't talk to them
So we don't learn from them...

Another song that I am really interested in hearing, when Neil Young's new album begins streaming later this week, is "Flags of Freedom."

Flags that line old main street
Are blowin' in the wind
These must be the flags of freedom flyin'

Church bells are ringin'
As the families stand and wave
Some of them are cryin'
But the soldiers look so brave

Lookin' straight ahead
Like they know just where they're goin'
Past the flags of freedom flyin'

Sister has her headphones on
She hears the music blaring
She sees her brother marchin' by
Their bond is everlasting

Listening to Bob Dylan singin'
in 1963
Watchin' the flags of freedom flyin'

...Have you seen the flags of freedom?
What color are they now?
Do you think that you believe in yours
More than they do theirs somehow?

The title song is "Living with War," one of the most honest attempts by anyone I've seen, to sew together the tattered strands of Islamic rage, Western fear, and human urges towards both peace and violence.

I'm living with war every day
I'm living with war in my heart every day
I'm living with war right now

And when the dawn breaks I see my fellow man
And on the flat-screen we kill and
we're killed again
And when the night falls, I pray for peace

Try to remember peace

I join the multitudes
I raise my hand in peace
I never bow to the laws of the thought police

I take a holy vow
To never kill again
To never kill again...

In an interview on CNN last week, Neil Young said, "No one owns the post-9-11 mentality," and insisted that true patriotism entails the belief that everyone has the freedom of speech to express their ideas.

One song whose lyrics had not yet been posted the last time I checked, on April 25th, is the one whose title has most fully captured the attention of the American public: "Impeach the President." When asked what else the song included, Young explained that it was simply a list of reasons for impeaching President George W. Bush. "It's a long song," he added.

A national dialogue on today's U.S. policy in the Middle East seems to be forcing itself on the American media and, ever so slowly, on the political leaders of the United States.

It is a grassroots effort at raising awareness and increasing our understanding of the intended and unintended effects of the invasion of Iraq, a military action that took place because the administration was able to ignore the voices and warnings of millions of Americans and tens of millions of people around the world protesting for more peaceful, far-sighted solutions.

From what I've read, the new music by Neil Young is good old-fashioned "heavy metal" rock, which means it features his amazing talents on the electric guitar. Even if your taste goes more to the soothing tones of classical music, easy listening, or folk songs, there is something that seems right about an artist like Young using loud metal to express that he disagrees with an administration which has demonstrated itself to be somewhat tone-deaf and dogged in its persistence with a policy on terror that is falling apart.

No matter what our opinion is on the war in Iraq, the war on terror, or other pressing global, social, and political issues, the new protest music from Neil Young provides themes for imaginative teachers to use in setting up content-based, richly contextualized, English language learning activities.

That a rock-music elder felt inspired to compose these new lines and promote further dialogue on such vital matters should be very motivating to anyone who works in a knowledge-producing profession like ESL/EFL teaching.

Let's see if we can experience, together with our students, a real shift in our mentality, opening new possibilities and opportunities for creating solutions and discovering further challenges that keep us growing nearer to a full realization of our human potentials.

Article by Robb Scott

2006 ESL MiniConference Online