Crosby Stills Nash and Young
1974: Atlantic 82648-2
Its hard to know where to start commenting on this particular album. I suppose I must confess first of all that I dont 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. Im very attached to this, and to all memories it evokes for me personally, but Im 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 thats out of the way, Ill jump through the tracks with quick reactions. Screw the track order, its not especially helpful in this case (although I concede that it works well for the album itself), lets start with Woodstock, which is so fucking brilliantly reworked from its original forlorn and transiently-distracted version that its hard to believe theyre actually the same song (sorry, Joniyoure one of my musical idols and I love almost everything youve ever created, but CSNY turned this song from a dirge into a mighty temple of glorious appreciation for what you were vaguely referring tonot just transformation from caterpillar to butterfuly but on beyond that to eagle, really). This is for me one of the greatest encapsulations of the 19691970 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 its 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 Ill add that its 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 dont 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 youve watched parents jaywalk with their toddlers youll 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 thats 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 didnt have a CSNY concept outside of So Far, so Im not sure how perfect a choice that might have been. Helplessly Hoping doesnt strike me as bad, exactly, but Im 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. Dont get me wrong, I dont necessarily disbelieve either of those perspectives in general, its 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.
Lets see, that leaves just the final track, Suite: Judy Blue Eyes, to cover, doesnt it? Theres not much to add to everything thats already been written or said about this one, and Im no keeper of insights and secret gossipy details, just someone whos 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.
Comments © 2005 Mark Ellis Walker, except as noted, and no claim is made to the images and quoted lyrics.