The Strange History Between Donald Trump and Artist Neil Young

Published on July 6, 2020

President Donald Trump’s favorite bands and musicians dislike him. Both The Rolling Stones and Elton John, as an example, requested he stop playing their music at his rallies. The Stones went as far to threaten a lawsuit. Imagine your favorite artists disliking you so strongly on a personal and political level they don’t want you playing their music. Horrifying, right? More surreal is the fact that Neil Young of all people is Trump’s favorite musician. Young, too, has recently asked Trump (AGAIN) to stop playing his music.

Trump’s Weird Taste

Trump is 74 years old, so of course classic rock is his taste. He grew up listening to all the acts listed above. What’s strange is, their music represents values that are the polar opposite of Trump’s worldview. The president recently condemned and threatened peaceful protestors, plus had them attacked at Lafayette Park. One of the Stones most famous songs? “Street Fighting Man.” Does Trump even listen to the lyrics of the music he likes? Does he know what rock and roll even really is? He’s THE MAN in the music the Stones and Young have always targeted. 

Why Neil Young?

Neil “the hippie” Young is such a longtime progressive voice in music, and yet, Trump is a fan. “I’ve listened to his music for years,” Trump once said. “His voice is perfect and haunting.” Trump isn’t wrong about the haunting quality, but what does he think about Young’s lyricism and the meaning of the songs? They couldn’t be more anti-Trump if they tried to be. Young champions freedom and change, while Trump champions the horrors of the past; he doesn’t want statues celebrating racists removed, for example. 

Neil Young’s Response 

The Canadiain musician is now an American citizen, too, and plans on voting against Trump in the upcoming presidential election. During the last election, Young was a Bernie bro. Back in 2016, Bernie was his guy. Despite that, he originally wasn’t too upset about Trump playing “Rockin’ in the Free World” at his rallies:

The fact that I said I was for Bernie Sanders and then [Trump] didn’t ask me to use ‘Rockin’ in the Free World’ doesn’t mean that he can’t use it. He actually got a license to use it. I mean, he said he did and I believe him. So I got nothing against him. You know, once the music goes out, everybody can use it for anything. But if the artist who made it is saying you never spoke to them, if that means something to you, you probably will stop playing it. And it meant something to Donald and he stopped.”

After Young spokeout, the Trump campaign responded they’d stop using Young’s song. The statement even went as far to include praise for Young, citing Trump’s love and respect for his music. 

Trump Goes Against His Promise 

Big surprise, right? After Trump promised not to playYoung’s song, he didn’t for a while. Now, the president has brought back “Rockin’ in the Free World.” Most recently, Trump played the song before his speech at Mount Rushmore. 

Now, Young is more vocal about his disgust. The artist tweeted he wasn’t OK with it. A few months ago, Young went a few steps further and wrote an open letter railing against Trump:

“You are a disgrace to my country. Your mindless destruction of our shared natural resources, our environment, and our relationships with friends around the world is unforgivable.… Our first black president was a better man than you are… [It] is not a song you can trot out at one of your rallies. Perhaps you could have been a bass player and played in a rock & roll band. That way you could have been onstage at a rally every night in front of your fans, if you were any good, and you might be… Every time ‘Rockin’ in the Free World’ or one of my songs is played at your rallies, I hope you hear my voice. Remember it is the voice of a tax-paying U.S. citizen who does not support you. Me.”

Will this ever register with Trump? Doubtful. It’s no surprise, however, that after 40 years of listening to Neil Young, he still can’t read between the lines.

Jack Giroux is a Staff Writer at Grit Daily. Based in Los Angeles, he is an entertainment journalist who's previously written for Thrillist, Slash Film, Film School Rejects, and The Film Stage.

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