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Neil Young Rockin' For The Free World

DETROIT (Reuters) - Neil Young, the singer-songwriter who has been "Rockin' in the Free World" for nearly 40 years, has been earnestly rocking for the free world since Sept. 11.
The Canadian-born performer, who now lives in Northern California, was among the first entertainers to lend his voice in solidarity with the survivors and heroes of the suicide hijackings that left some 3,000 people dead or missing in New York City, suburban Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania.
He performed John Lennon's "Imagine" and accompanied Pearl Jam vocalist Eddie Vedder on the "America: A Tribute to Heroes" telethon 10 days after the tragedy.
He also called together this year's reunion tour with David Crosby, Graham Nash and Stephen Stills to provide "some kind of feeling of comfort" to their audience.
And, most notably, he wrote "Let's Roll," which appears on his newly released solo album "Are You Passionate?", a release that debuted at No. 10 on the Billboard charts its first week in stores.
The song's title was taken from the words of United Airlines Flight 93 passenger Todd Beamer, one of the doomed travelers believed to have overpowered their hijackers over Pennsylvania on Sept. 11. Authorities believe that confrontation thwarted the hijackers' attempt to steer the plane toward the nation's capital.
Positioned at the center of the album, "Let's Roll" is at once a chronicle and a tribute to those who, according to Young, felt "You got to turn on evil when it's coming after you."
"There was no effort made to make it actually factual; it's just basically an image of what happened, the way it hit me," said Young, 56, whose previous socially conscious recordings included 1989's "Rockin' in the Free World" and 1970's "Ohio" about the four students shot to death by National Guard troops during a demonstration at Kent State University.
"It struck me as heroic in a legendary way. It's such a pure example of heroism. There was no reward involved. These guys weren't doing this to be martyrs or because they thought they would get a pay-back," he said.
But, Young adds, he figured someone else would get to it before he would.
BIDING HIS TIME
"I said to myself, 'There's gonna be 10 people that come out with songs called 'Let's Roll' next week -- there'll be two country 'Let's Rolls' and a rock 'n' roll 'Let's Roll' and an R&B; 'Let's Roll.' They'll be everywhere.'
"So I sat back and waited for six weeks or so, and nothing happened. And then (President George W.) Bush goes on TV and says, 'Let's Roll,' and for me that was the last straw. I said, 'I just gotta do this. I don't care if it's the most obvious thing that ever happened."'
Young released the song as a single shortly after he recorded it in November, 5 1/2 months before the release of "Are You Passionate?"
But Young still bristles at the attempts of some to dictate public tastes in music in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy. When he performed "Imagine," Young was unaware the Clear Channel Radio group had suggested a list of songs that its stations might avoid playing after Sept. 11 -- which included the Lennon song. He said it was "the most ridiculous damn list I'd ever heard about" and calls its authors "completely out of touch with reality."
"It pissed me off when I read about that list, actually. I thought it was a joke; 'Bridge Over Troubled Water' -- what the hell's wrong with that song?' Gimme a break."
Like most of Young's other albums, "Are You Passionate?" focuses on human issues -- mostly about maintaining relationships over time. He started work on this batch of songs in late 2000 with his band Crazy Horse.
But dissatisfied with the way they turned out, he took most them back into the studio last year with a group that included most of the legendary Memphis R&B; outfit Booker T. & the MG's -- also the backing band for Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young on their current tour.
One track, "Goin' Home," was retained from the Crazy Horse sessions, but the rest display a soulful bent that Young says gave the album the optimistic feeling he was looking for.
"It's just that the groove and the feeling and the vibe of the music was more uplifting," he said.
With the CSNY tour wrapped in late April, Young is performing dates with his own band in Europe this month and next before returning to North America for a summer concert tour. By Gary Graff
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