Fresh off of my jaunt down memory lane with The Beach Boys, I decided to revisit another iconic group: Crosby, Stills and Nash. Sadly, the results were much darker than with the Good Vibrations crew.
Back in 1969, CSN played at Woodstock and immediately became a counterculture sensation. Their anti-establishment anthem “Ohio” defined the Vietnam era for many Americans. While The Beach Boys were surfin’ the days away, CSN was agitating for societal change using soaring harmonies and relevant lyrics.
Along the way, the guys became millionaires, and David Crosby perpetrated a series of bizarre drug-fueled incidents. He only survived his excess by receiving a liver transplant.
But there he was on stage still sounding pretty good. Graham Nash can also hit most of his notes. Stephen Stills, however, has trouble replicating the voice we know from the old tunes. He also looks like an Amish guy. I thought he was going to sell furniture to the crowd.
At first, the folks loved the liberal old timers. They opened with “Carry On” and played a few more of their classic hits. But then, as so often happens in concert land, the group began playing stuff nobody ever heard of — and the crowd grew restless.
The low point of the concert arrived when CSN sang a protest song about alleged traitor Army Pvt. Bradley Manning. He is charged with leaking classified information to the anti-American website WikiLeaks. If the charges are true, Manning put many of his fellow soldiers fighting in Afghanistan in even more danger. He is currently being held at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., and, if convicted, could be sentenced to life in prison.
Nevertheless, Crosby, Stills and Nash believe Manning is a political prisoner who has been brutalized by the U.S. military. So they sang a song lamenting that. The folks who paid good money to savor old memories mostly listened in silence. My bet is that many in the crowd had no idea what was going on. It was certainly a far cry from “tin soldiers and Nixon coming.”
There is something to be said for remaining consistent in your values, so I am not down on CSN for their leftist sensibilities. I simply believe that their sympathies are misguided and that protest songs about an obscure man who may have committed treason are useless. Despite their righteous indignation, the truth is that Crosby, Stills and Nash have no idea what Manning did or did not do.
Also, there is irony in the fact that the trio is comprised of 1 percenters who live very well. Crosby bunks in tony Santa Barbara, Stills in Bel-Air right near Nancy Reagan, and Nash on the lush island of Kauai. Nothing wrong with that; those guys earned their affluence. But a system that allows them to profit from protest might be one to applaud. Hey, guys, how about a song on that theme?
In the end, I was disappointed by the CSN concert. At one time, their voices soared both musically and socially. Now, they are just shadows of a time long gone.