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Flight 93's Beamer inspires song by Neil Young

Sunday, December 16, 2001

By Linton Weeks, The Washington Post

The song begins with an overdrawn one-note drone from Neil Young's European church organ and several chirps of a telephone. Then comes the squawking-walking sound of a guitar and Young's wood-rasp whisper. Your neck hairs tingle.

I know I said I love you,
I know you know it's true,
I got to put the phone down,
And do what we gotta do.
One's standing in the aisleway,
Two more at the door,
We got to get inside there,
Before they kill some more.
Time is runnin' out . . . let's roll.
Time is runnin' out . . . let's roll.

Every once in a while you catch the signature chord-play of Booker T. Jones, he of the masterful MGs, on his trusty Hammond B-3 organ. The result is an eerie call to arms, called "Let's Roll," that Young and Jones say they were moved to produce.

'Let's Roll' online

Listen to Neil Young's song at the Reprise Records Web site.


"Neil and I have a pretty good understanding of each other," says Jones, 57. "You don't have to figure out what to do on a song like that. We were just able to pull it off."

This isn't the first anthem written in the aftermath of the September terrorist attacks. Paul McCartney penned "Freedom." Alan Jackson released "Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)." Still, Jones and Young were concerned about how the country would accept another 9-11 tribute.

So far, Jones says, so good. Radio stations in Los Angeles, New York and other cities have been featuring it. Don Imus has been using "Let's Roll" as a bumper before commercials just about every morning on his nationally syndicated radio show, which is also shown on MSNBC.

No time for indecision,
We got to make a move,
I hope that we're forgiven,
For what we gotta do.
How this all got started,
I'll never understand,
I hope someone can fly this thing,
Get us back to land.
Time is runnin' out . . . let's roll.
Time is runnin' out . . . let's roll.

Is it the song that is moving? Or is it the echoes of Todd Beamer's last conversation on Flight 93, which crashed in a Pennsylvania field? "Are you guys ready?" Beamer asked the other passengers who were planning to jump the hijackers. "Let's roll."

President Bush used the same two words in a rousing early-November speech.

Inspired by a Newsweek story recounting the fatal flight, Young, 56, wrote the song and unveiled it in the studio where he and Jones were working on a new CD. The two have known each other for years. They toured together in 1993.

"We have been working on a project for a while here," Jones says from his home near San Francisco. "We had some other songs that had already been recorded."

Young played the new song for everyone and "it kind of changed the way the album was going," Jones says.

A pair of MGs -- bassist Donald "Duck" Dunn and drummer Steve Potts -- were sitting in on the recent recording session. So was Crazy Horse guitarist Frank Sampedro. Young sings the lead, the other musicians back him up in a low, military-like chorus.

Jones is not known for his singing. He and the MGs, inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992, were famous for instrumentals such as "Green Onions" and "Time Is Tight." Young was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1995.

"Let's Roll" has the forward-march feel of Young's "Ohio," which was written in a similar flash-fashion response to the shootings at Kent State University in 1970. Young has a political bent. Along with Willie Nelson and John Mellencamp, he also organized the Farm Aid benefit concerts.

Music critic Dave Marsh points out that Young, who hails from the peace-loving land of Canada, has chosen to live in the United States and adopt certain right-wing tendencies. "It's all been downhill since 'Ohio' in terms of Neil's analysis of current events," Marsh says.

The new song, he adds, is "jingoistic."

Well, of course it is. Desperate times call for desperate measures. And bars. And beats. And Booker T's.

Better than Sgt. Barry Sadler's "The Ballad of the Green Berets," more jarring than Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the USA," "Let's Roll" is a rock-and-roll reaction to the attack on America.

The song is not for sale. Yet. Jones says the tune may be released on a single, with proceeds going to victim relief funds. It will also be included on the new CD.

For now, you can listen to "Let's Roll" free on the home page of Reprise Records,

And you can hear Young's wild-whining wail:

No one has the answers,
But one thing is true,
You got to turn on evil,
When it's comin' after you.
You got to face it down,
And when it tries to hide,
You got to go in after it,
And never be denied.
Time is runnin' out . . . let's roll.

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