Neil Young’s Spotify ultimatum is doomed: it needs Joe Rogan

Neil Young clearly does not read psychology journals.

Or he’d know ultimatums are a bad idea. Threats tend to backfire like a 1970 AMC Gremlin. This is true in relationships and in business, especially when there is a power imbalance. For example, let’s say I give my wife an ultimatum. I demand she watch every Jays game with me this summer or divorce. I can tell you right now, after she stopped laughing, she would help pack my bags. My all-or-nothing threat would leave me with nothing as I watch the Jays alone in my new rental pad with a grimacing smile and single tear resting on my cheek.

Neil Young just made a similar mistake. On Monday night, in a post on his website, the Canadian rock god issued an ultimatum to Spotify via a letter to his management and label. He wants his music removed from the streaming giant at once because he can no longer stomach “false information about vaccines” coming from Spotify’s “The Joe Rogan Experience.”

As the singer wrote to his team: “I want you to let Spotify know immediately today that I want all of my music off their platform. They can have Rogan or Young. Not both.”

It’s like a Meryl Streep movie: Spotify’s Choice. Young won’t like the ending.

But I suspect most people can sympathize with his exasperation. This pandemic has been stretched and twisted like a glob of Silly Putty by misinformation. That said, Joe Rogan is not doing anything today he hasn’t done throughout his career as a podcaster. He has long conversations. He goes down rabbit holes with guests. There are no filters. There is no agenda. Whether you agree or disagree, his show provides a platform for discussions that are increasingly rare in this age of Big Tech censorship. It’s why he is the ringmaster of the most successful podcast in history.

I’m constantly baffled by those who believe, a) Rogan is a threat to civilization and, b) he can be banished from the culture with a boycott, open letter or magic wand. This is folly. Even if Spotify dumped him — not happening — Rogan could reach the same number of eyes and ears on his own.

That’s why Spotify opened the $100-million vault to get the exclusive distribution rights.

If Rogan moved to a cave in Kabul with a blowhorn, millions of his fans would descend on Afghanistan to keep hearing what he has to say. He’s a one-man media powerhouse.

And that is why Young’s ultimatum is doomed, and maybe why he has since deleted the letter. Joe Rogan doesn’t need Spotify. Spotify needs Joe Rogan. Spotify doesn’t need Neil Young. Neil Young may or may not need Spotify, not sure. But in the wash, all of this makes any corporate decision simple. If it must choose one, Spotify will pick Rogan. Come on. I’ve been on vacation and faced breakfast decisions — Eggs Benedict or Spanish Omelette? — that were more agonizing.

I have great admiration for Young’s music and his willingness to always be a foot soldier who tries to have both boots on the right side of history. But this time, he’s howling at the wrong Harvest Moon. Liberals and progressives should be co-opting the open-mindedness of people like Rogan and Bill Maher — not demonizing their spiritual travellers as pariahs and monsters.

If Young wants to wage war with anti-vaxxers, he should start by focusing on the misinformation now rampant within his own industry. Forget Rogan. Forget the pro athletes whose anti-jab views hog the headlines. Why are so many musicians belting out ’rona misinformation?

That’s the question Young should be asking.

Eric Clapton recently said the world is under the spell of “mass hypnosis” and subliminal advertising when it comes to vaccines and public safety measures. OK. Van Morrison believes lockdowns have all but turned the world into Guantanamo Bay. Joseph Arthur, a songwriter of exquisite talent, has also tumbled down a sad rabbit hole, framing measures to mitigate a pandemic as a battle between tyranny and freedom. He might consider a free concert inside the nearest ICU. Hopefully, the noisy breathing machines don’t wreck his acoustics.

This is the fight Neil Young should commence. Not with Spotify or Rogan, but with anti-vax colleagues in the music biz. He should be challenging everyone from Busta Rhymes to former Stone Roses’ frontman Ian Brown. There should be like a spoken word Coachella — Vaxella? — in which pro-vaccine artists, including Young, Brian May, Dolly Parton and Gene Simmons, debate the tone-deaf skeptics in their midst. The heart of rock ’n’ roll has always pounded with a backbeat of anti-authoritarian and anti-corporate impulses. The truth is, most musicians are by nature libertarians who can carry a tune. And being wired to question the establishment, to challenge conventional wisdom, this is often a noble corrective — until the world is stuck in a pandemic.

Then these freedom fighters with guitars become part of the problem.

Neil Young? Take on your conspiratorial colleagues who don’t possess the lateral intelligence to differentiate between the Man and the Microbe. The planet is closing in on 10 billion administered doses of COVID-19 vaccines. The doomsayers, including Rogan guests, past and future, need only do the math: if these inoculations were dangerous, we’d know about it by now. End of story.

This is the battle song Neil Young should keep on rockin’ in the vaxxed world.


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