September 1, 2013 by David K. Sutton
Insomniac Edition: Neil Young – Rockin’ in the Free World (1989)
Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World” is one of those protest songs that can probably be utilized by people of many different political stripes and motivations. Taken at face value, and only paying attention to the title, it could be interpreted as pro-West, pro-democracy, or in other words, pro-American. Much the same as Bruce Springsteen’s “Born In The U.S.A” which was misappropriated by the conservative right (including former President Ronald Reagan), “Rockin’ in the Free World” has a more subversive meaning, possibly even rivaling that of Springsteen’s “Born.”
Now she puts the kid away,
and she’s gone to get a hit
She hates her life,
and what she’s done to it
There’s one more kid
that will never go to school
Never get to fall in love,
never get to be cool.
That’s definitely not something to celebrate while you keep on rockin’ in the free world.
While this song is a product of its time, as it gained new meaning with the fall of the Berlin wall, its original meaning still resonates today. Just the same as Springsteen’s “Born,” the chorus “Keep on rockin’ in the free world” is biting in its sarcasm. While “Born” is an anti-war, anti-Vietnam anthem, “Rockin” is an anti-American exceptionalism anthem. Young is mocking Americans who wave the flag, tell the rest of the world how great the United States is, all while ignoring consumerism run amok as well as appalling human suffering all within our own borders.