So Far

Crosby Stills Nash and Young

1974: Atlantic 82648-2

  1. Déjà Vu
  2. Helplessly Hoping
  3. Wooden Ships
  4. Teach Your Children
  5. Ohio
  6. Find the Cost of Freedom
  7. Woodstock
  8. Our House
  9. Helpless
  10. Guinnevere
  11. Suite: Judy Blue Eyes

It’s hard to know where to start commenting on this particular album. I suppose I must confess first of all that I don’t yet own the actual CSN-and-sometimes-Y albums that preceded this, and that until I gave in to my long-time craving for “Southern Cross” and acquired the Daylight Again CD it was the only CSN-etc. album I had. I’m very attached to this, and to all memories it evokes for me personally, but I’m also very attuned to the moments it captures: I cannot listen to “Ohio” without raging furiously about the senseless National Guard murders at Kent State (and significantly the lack of apology or acknowledgement of wrong by anyone responsible or in power).

OK, now that that’s out of the way, I’ll jump through the tracks with quick reactions. Screw the track order, it’s not especially helpful in this case (although I concede that it works well for the album itself), let’s start with “Woodstock,” which is so fucking brilliantly reworked from its original forlorn and transiently-distracted version that it’s hard to believe they’re actually the same song (sorry, Joni—you’re one of my musical idols and I love almost everything you’ve ever created, but CSNY turned this song from a dirge into a mighty temple of glorious appreciation for what you were vaguely referring to—not just transformation from caterpillar to butterfuly but on beyond that to eagle, really). This is for me one of the greatest encapsulations of the 1969–1970 moment and of the CSNY collaboration itself, with their voices shining in such beautiful parallels and tangents that it leaves me gasping at times…I swear, I feel wings are about to burst out of my shoulderblades when I play this loudly.

“Guinnevere” is beautiful in much the same way, actually, but at a much slower tempo, and for me personally it’s forever intertwined with memories of the Renaissance Faire at Whitman College, when I could wear moccasins and loose white cotton tunic-like shirts with embroidered edging and such and enjoy the appreciation so many others shared for that gentle theatricality and other-ness that transcended our pathetic Walla Walla reality at the end of the 1970s. But I digress.

“Ohio,” well, I said the key thing above, but I’ll add that it’s a wonderfully grungy snapshot of blue jeans and alarmingly heightened tensions; the fact that acoustically this recording is almost appalling when it comes to the vocals just underlines the urgency of its creation, and I don’t fault it for that. “Find the Cost of Freedom” could hardly have been placed after any other track. “Our House,” on the other hand, gives me cavities, and “Teach Your Children Well” may be good advice but it hits me with too much bitter irony now as I see so many people who grew up having heard this song now raising their children ATROCIOUSLY (if you’ve watched parents jaywalk with their toddlers you’ll know what I mean for starters). And “Helpless” makes me want to slash my wrists just to be spared ever again having to hear Neil Young singing solo…his “Heart of Gold” is equally repulsive to me, but that’s largely because of a lousy show I ran Sound for back in the 1980s.

I always thought “Déjà Vu” was a weird choice for starting this album, but then as I said I didn’t have a CSNY concept outside of So Far, so I’m not sure how perfect a choice that might have been. “Helplessly Hoping” doesn’t strike me as “bad,” exactly, but I’m entirely too aware of the songwriting craft that went into it when I play it and get distracted by all the alliteration, for example. “Wooden Ships” has just never quite touched me, possibly because the recording quality is ghastly when you hear it on headphones. Also, I get it mixed up with “Déjà Vu” because of the post-apocalyptic preachy tat of the former and the past-lives preachy tat of the latter. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t necessarily disbelieve either of those perspectives in general, it’s just that I bridle at preachy presentation of anything, even good and true stuff. Especially if it ruins a gorgeous little bit of musical composition.

Let’s see, that leaves just the final track, “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,” to cover, doesn’t it? There’s not much to add to everything that’s already been written or said about this one, and I’m no keeper of insights and secret gossipy details, just someone who’s heard it countless times and still finds himself enchanted by the array of flowers laid down here for Judy Collins. I mean, Stills might as well have been writing a dozen sonnets. I suppose in a way this track is a gentle and unhurried form of musical cubism, with the same subject arrayed abstractly from various perspectives but never as an all-out portrait. Of course it should be said that Judy Collins herself is much more than even this effusive tribute suggested.