By Jon Wiederhorn
Last night, Neil Young exchanged fighting words with a man dressed as an ear of corn.
The skirmish was part of a sketch on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. In the setup, Colbert asked Young, who was there to promote his upcoming album Earth, why he is opposed to GMOs (genetically modified organisms made into food). “What’s wrong with them?” asked Colbert, making it look like a straight interview about a serious subject.
“A study just came out saying there’s absolutely no nutritional difference between people in Europe, who generally don’t eat GMOs, and Americans, who do eat GMOs,” Colbert continued.
Replied Young: “That must be a Monsanto study that didn’t notice the terrible diseases and all of the things that are happening — why these things have been banned throughout Europe and throughout the world — why 38 countries around the world banned GMOs. They didn’t just label them.”
Suddenly, a man dressed as a genetically modified ear of corn walked on and said, “Hey you with the hat! Why don’t you say that to my corn face!”
Colbert apologized for the apparent interruption. “I’m sorry, Neil. This is one of our interns. He’s a genetically modified ear of corn. He goes to NYU.”
As the skit continues, the corn says, “You got something you want to say about the GMOs? I’m all ear!” Following further commentary from Young, the corn becomes increasingly more flustered. He stands up, balls his fists and shouts, “You wanna ban me, Neil? Well, old man you better take a look at your life ’cause it’s gonna end right now,” paraphrasing Young’s classic song “Old Man.” Then, the overheated corn shouts, “I’m so angry,” and explodes into a shower of popcorn.
Earlier, in a more serious interview segment, Colbert told Young, “I like you because you are an unreconstructed individualist, hippy love-booster,” and asked the veteran rocker, “Do you believe in love?”
“I believe especially in love and no fear,” replied Young, who gave himself a hug. “Love is still there. Love is in the music. It’s just a word that needs to come around again, big time. I love love.”
Changing the subject, Colbert asked Young if he believes in the power of Bernie Sanders. “I feel the Bern big time,” replied Young, who then admitted that he can’t vote in the election since he’s a Canadian citizen. Even so, he said he and his countrymates will be directly affected by the outcome of the next election.
“I’m a neighbor, and as such I am affected by what happens, even though I live here,” he said. “Not only that, but is not the President of the United States the leader of the free world. Well, I am the free world.”
The comment was likely a reference to Young’s recent comment that he would allow Donald Trump to use his song “Keep on Rockin’ in the Free World” for his campaign even though he’s not a supporter — a move that drew criticism from many, including on-again, off-again (currently off) bandmate David Crosby:
Everybody makes mistakes sometimes There's one twitter.com/pweefs/status/…—
David Crosby (@thedavidcrosby) May 25, 2016
The interview maintained its strange tone, as Colbert asked Young about Earth, which features one new song and a bunch of career-spanning material remixed to include sounds from nature and the city, including chirping birds and honking car horns.
“We’re all here together, let’s face it,” said Young, explaining his decision to mix organic and inorganic sounds. Then he got cryptic. “Let’s not forget about the vanilla singers and the corporate harmony. We have a hologram of the corporate harmony. They float above the stage in the live performance and tell everybody how good they are. Everything’s fine. It’s great. Very positive.”
Of course, Young couldn’t leave the stage without plugging his widely criticized high-fidelity Pono personal audio player. As he’s said for years, streams and MP3s just don’t cut it for people who actually listen to music.
“They can’t play what I do,” he said. “We play music. We play live music and it has air and atmosphere…. We don’t fit. This doesn’t fit on the regular thing that everyone listenes to today.”
When Colbert commented that the music machine looked like a chocolate bar, Young replied, “For your ears, it’s even better than a Toblorone.”
The interview segment wrapped up with Young talking about how the music industry needs to be driven by more than just singles. “I missed the memo that said that albums are not happening anymore,” he said. “It’s all about albums being a rip-off and only one song is good on the album so that’s all you need to get. That is complete…”
“Singles are great,” Young concluded. “It’s just that there’s more to it than singles. There’s more to love than the first kiss.”