Neil Young’s previous homophobic comments during the AIDS epidemic are now the focus of a public debate on social media.
Last week, Neil Young decided to remove his music catalog from Spotify, sparking an intense online debate. Artists like Joni Mitchell and Nils Lofgren have also pulled their music to stand in solidarity with Young. Young says he was unhappy with Spotify continually giving Joe Rogan a platform to spread misinformation about the coronavirus. In a terse ultimatum, Young summed it up by saying Spotify can have “Joe Rogan or Neil Young, but not both.”
Now, public health comments Neil Young made during the AIDS epidemic are surfacing online. In an interview with Melody Maker in 1985, Young slid into a homophobic rant as he spoke about Reagan’s gun control policies and AIDS. In particular, Young called gay people ‘f—ggots’ and tied them to the HIV/AIDS epidemic. “You go to a supermarket, and you see a f—ggot behind the f—kin’ cash register; you don’t want him to handle your potatoes.”
The comments have since been republished by numerous other publications, including The Los Angeles Times and Rolling Stone.
Young has found himself on both sides of the political divide. In 1989 he wrote the anti-George H.W. Bush song, “Rockin’ in the Free World.” He was also one of the most vocal critics of George. W. Bush in the 2000s.
But in the 1980s, Young was a vocal supporter of Ronald Reagan’s policies. In the early days, AIDS was thought to be a disease spread by homosexuality, particularly by gay men, who were frequently targeted and ostracized. AIDS was even called the Gay-Related Immune Deficiency (GRID) for a brief time.
Young made those comments 37 years ago, but it also highlights how a person’s opinions can change over the course of nearly 40 years. The reaction online to these comments has been a bitter divide in what seems like a politically charged debate. Those who support Young say he’s allowed to change his views over the course of three decades. Others point to the hypocrisy of a grandstanding public figure.
“He was 40 years old at the time he made that comment, and hasn’t apologized for it since,” one commenter on Reddit blasted.
So far, Spotify has agreed to highlight its COVID-19 misinformation policy on any podcast episodes that mention the disease. But the platform has publicly stated that none of Joe Rogan’s content meets the eligibility requirements for takedown.