Rock stars vs. COVID lies: We hope Neil Young and Joni Mitchell have started a thing

Want Spotify to serve up Neil Young’s masterpiece “Heart of Gold?” Forget it. How about Joni Mitchell’s only Top 10 hit, “Help Me?”? It’s not on Spotify anymore, either. And it’s all over COVID-19 vaccine misinformation.

Both boomer rock stars, long-known for marching to the beat of their own drummers, have done it again. They have removed their music catalogs from the popular streaming service because Spotify has allowed popular podcaster Joe Rogan to spread misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines. Good for these two singers.


Young and Mitchell may unleash a revolt if more artists follow with their influential voices. It could be a powerful statement from the artist community.

It’s important to note that these two artists, both Canadians, have a unique experience with vaccines: They both contracted polio as children, not long before a vaccine became available.

New York Times music writer Ben Sisario last week wrote that the artistic revolt led by these 1970s rockers matters, and it all started with Young’s ultimatum: “Spotify can have Rogan or Young. Not both,” Young said in a letter to Spotify earlier this week. Mitchell joined him Friday.

They will both lose up to 60% of the streaming revue from their catalogs. Over the weekend Nils Lofgren and the group Crazy Horse had their music removed, too. Reports that singer Barry Manilow had also joined in were denied by the singer. More prominent names should follow, we hope.

The artists targeted the controversial Rogan, the former host of “Fear Factor,” after a group of scientists, professors and public health experts asked Spotify to take down an episode of Rogan’s podcast from Dec. 31.

Who left who is now at issue too. Conservative media is announcing that “Spotify removed Young” for criticizing Rogan, not that he demanded to be removed. Semantics.

In the episode that insulted the singers, Robert Malone — a medical doctor and researcher — promoted “several falsehoods about COVID-19 vaccines,” according to the group’s public letter, which was issued on Jan. 10.

In past interviews, Malone has compared COVID-19 vaccination efforts in the U.S. to Nazi Germany, and said that Americans are suffering from “mass formation psychosis.” Last year, he and other debunked scientists helped circulate the rumor that spike proteins in the COVID-19 vaccines are toxic, a claim that many experts found no evidence for according to PolitiFact. But he speaks the language of science, coming off as knowledgeable and trustworthy. This is what Joe Rogan does best: brings on plausible experts with dangerous takes related to their field. If only they weren’t so completely false. But, hey, “The Joe Rogan Experience” isn’t the No. 1 most listened to Spotify podcast in 2021 because it’s serving status quo content.

Other platforms are taking action in the form of censorship. Twitter was smart enough to suspend Malone. YouTube has removed the now-viral Dec. 31 conversation between Rogan and Malone from their platform. This begs the question: Would censoring Rogan’s podcast actually keep people from accessing it, or simply bring more attention to a podcast that continues to make news?

Bravo to Young and Mitchell for using their gifts and influence to support science and the public good. Who else is headed down this moral high road?

— Miami Herald

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