Neil Young and Al Gore shared the stage for about 40 minutes this past Thursday at the annual Dreamforce Conference in San Francisco, whose theme was “Reimagine Everything,” which is meant to be futuristic, but also carries more than a wisp of nostalgia, especially when two guys with their storied histories are talking.
Every year Dreamforce takes over the Moscone Center, the major downtown conference center, for four days along with the adjacent Yerba Buena Gardens, for the part future of-marketing part personal growth tribal fest.
Among this year’s Keynote speakers, along with Young and Gore, was Arianna Huffington, who for the past couple of years talks almost non-stop about sleep. How we don’t get enough. Why we need more. That lack of sleep is the source of almost every bad decision or poor performance an otherwise good person makes. Arianna gushes about sleep like she was the first person ever to take a nap. Like, after spending a half-century or so on this Earth, one morning she woke up in wonderment, rubbed her eyes and went, “WOW. That was AWESOME!” Who knows? Maybe when she talks in her sleep she gabs about being awake.
After a while, Arianna introduced “mindfulness” guru Eckhart Tolle, which was a perfect choice for her, because if there’s one person who can put you to sleep in a hurry, it’s Eckhart. Tolle said that “Eighty percent of all our thoughts are useless,” but in this case, I think he under-estimated himself. The pair chattered about staying in the moment and the myth of multi-tasking, while many audience members sat riveted, pecking away on their smart phones.
And then there was Gore. Long gone was the fat, bearded Gore who manifested for a while after winning-but-losing the 2000 presidential election. Here was clean-shaven Al, almost svelte, nattily attired in a suit, and animated. He’s still focused on the environment, of course, but having made the case back then for global warming, now his attention has shifted to harnessing the sun’s energy for solar power, and developing other renewable fuels.
Neil Young was at Dreamforce to speak about Pono, his technological music revolution tool, which restores, according to Young, roughly 95% of the data, i.e., “sound,” that mp3 files strip out, causing us to hear but a small fraction of the artist’s musical vision.
But before addressing that, Young joined Gore onstage at the end of the ex-veep’s presentation for an impromptu colloquy. Young looked like he’d just rolled out of bed – from 1970 – clad in an unbuttoned work shirt over a lived-in T-shirt, jeans and straggly hair.
Dapper Gore embraced him, chuckling, “Livin’ in the real world.”
Neil has these wild, fierce eyes. The kind that make you constantly affix your gaze on him for fear that the second you don’t, he might suddenly grab a pot of scalding water and douse you with it.
The two of them are apparently friends from way back. Young’s been over to Gore’s house. Gore attends Neil Young concerts and knows his songs well.
Young stared intently at Gore and thanked him, as heartfelt-as he could, for having the courage, alone among politicians at the time, to produce “An Inconvenient Truth,” which, you might say, put global-warming on the map.
A bit later, Gore lauded Young in turn, for being singular among musicians for his commitment to environmentalism and spreading the message through his art.
Al, as always, reveled in wonky facts and figures about the rise of renewable fuels and the need to switch from fossil fuels. Neil told of giving out free organic cotton T-shirts at concerts and singing about the climate so that fans can literally “feel” the message and relate to it emotionally.
Gore said that the United States became “the greatest country in the world,” because, historically, it collectively elected people who made wise decisions, but that in our big money/internet age, this was changing. Young decried that the majority of people favored doing something about climate change, but that politicians weren’t listening. Gore countered that he “had a little experience” with having the majority of the public’s opinion not count.
When Young spoke about how each “post-vinyl” music delivery format – CDs, mp3s and now streaming, successively stripped out more and more music data and listening to these files was like looking at a Xerox of a Picasso, and how our hearts and souls craved the full experience, he was talking about music, sure, but it was also a metaphor for all the things we’ve lost in our lives as we’ve relied more on more on “data” to supplant experience.
And listening to Gore and Young wax intelligently and eloquently on the environmental calamity that awaits us if we don’t have the will to take action, it was impossible not to “Reimagine everything” turning out differently if, back in 2000, the Supreme Court had ruled 5-4 the other way.
To paraphrase another 60s era stalwart: Ah, but I was so much older then, I’m Young-Gore than that now.