..... poetry .....



"You Don't Have To Cry"

   "You Don't Have To Cry" is the song (legend has it) that Crosby, Stills,
   and Nash first sang together at Mama Cass's Topanga Canyon house,    virtually electrocuting their hosts.  In those early days, they found more
   joy in shocking their friends for the sheer fun of it than playing before    thousands in stadiums. 

I, too, was electrocuted at the tender age of 14
    when I was shown to my 10th-row center seat
    by the group's manager, as a family favor. 
I had already been infected five years earlier with the 
    affliction of band conviction.
Playing in, and writing for, rock bands. 

Thankfully, my father saw that the pop music world 
    was changing fast.
What other teenager could boast of a father who insisted
    that his son compose regularly?
And he made darn sure that I experienced first-hand
   the artists that were turning the world inside out. 

   Just who were Crosby, Stills, and Nash?  All were considered rebels in    their youth — one a cat burglar, another an expert wrestler, the third
   a gang member.  Alas, only fleeting mischief until real fame caught up
   with them.  They probably had no idea back then that they would
   tour the world, influence a whole generation of musicians, and be    
   honored guests at the White House.

   How is it possible that men barely in their 20's could create work of
   such depth, subtly, and emotional impact?  Despite their unassuming
   look, "beginners luck" was not at play here — heavy rehearsals and a
   clear vision were, though Grace did manage to slip into their guitar
   cases.  All were experienced enough to be refugees from well-known
   bands of their day, nurtured by legendary and generous peers who were    themselves reeling from their own bands' respective self-destruction.

When their first record came out, I, like many around me, 
     was mesmerized—I simply wore out my copy.
I didn't fully understand why it captivated me so,
     why it resonated in me in such a singular way.

But I could feel the intimacy that this group was creating  
     by offering nearly half of its songs as ballads. 
And I could feel from my early days of bandleading that 
     someone on the inside was guiding this project:
The blond gent from Florida who
     wrote half of the songs,
     played two-thirds of the instruments 
     ("Captain Many Hands" Stills) 
     and provided the real leadership.
I surely felt the range of their early music passions —
 as they were my passions, as well.

More American than apple pie, 
    sweeter than cooked yellow corn, 
       deeper that Yosemite Falls,
They exemplified what we Americans do best: 
    Synthesize and Re-invent. 

   What I heard then in their debut recording was what most teenagers    heard — soaring vocal harmonies with perfect blend, compelling melodies    with vivid lyrics, and intricate instrumental underpinnings with inspired    solos.  
   What I hear now as I guide my students through their own musical    journey is what prompted me to write this ode in the first place.  True,
   I can describe those qualities in far more detail now than I could four    decades ago.  But it's really the deep sense of balance and architecture 
   of the recording as a whole that fascinates me most.

   It's ten songs and nearly 43 minutes form one giant arc, not unlike the
   St. Matthew Passion by Bach.  Not only is the shape of the whole
   recording symmetrical, but so too are the sections themselves as they    relate to each other.    
   electric band songs                        (medium & up tempo)
        2 acoustic songs                       (esoteric duet/folk-based trio)
           2 electric band songs      (medium & slow tempo)
        acoustic songs                       (esoteric duet/folk-based trio)
   2 electric band songs                        (medium & medium tempo)

   The opening and closing songs are the most complex structurally,    bookends, as it were.  The opening "Suite: Judy BlueEyes" has the
   deepest hybrid of acoustic and electric instrumental colors, while the    closing "49 Reasons" uses a constant alternation of triple and duple
   meter sections.  Even the song midway through the recording "Wooden    Ships" has a major change in rhythmic feel.  This is real balance as deep
   as you'll find in any pop music from the last half century.

     Crosby, Stills, and Nash's debut recording felt like it was 
          created by musicians who could clearly see the horizon
          without a care for who else could see it.
     Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young's debut recording felt like it was 
          created by musicians who could clearly see the horizon
          and knew that the whole world was waiting
          for their impression of it.

   Sometimes we can only clarify what makes something truly magical by    seeing something that is almost magical.  Such is the case with the
   follow-up Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young release.  There are some stellar    moments here to be sure, including the bold transformation of Joni    Mitchell's dreamy ballad "Woodstock" into an up-tempo rock anthem.  
   No expense was spared: over 800 hours of studio time, opulent    arrangements, great guest players, and lavish packaging.  At last, the
   group achieved one of their primary goals — to capture the feeling of
   their live performances. 

The year that the CSNY LP came out
    I was still in high school,

    watching the nightly news as the country was seething,
    hotter than at any time in our history,
    save the Civil War.
And that's what it was at my home, 
    a civil war...
My sister eventually left home
     to live at a commune far, far away,
     my father, paralyzed with anger and disappointment,
     my mother, studying Swedish anticipating a move
     to a less hostile country,
     I, deepening my affliction of band conviction.

People were arguing everywhere:
     in classrooms, 
     at band practices,
     in checkout lines.
But the music rang out everywhere...

   What happened in that intervening year between these two recordings? 
   Imagine taking an elevator from the ground floor to the 82nd at warp    speed.  All the fame (and groupies), the "awesome drugs", and huge    expectations from fans and critics alike, took its toll.  So did the    simultaneous collapse of each players' romantic relationships, and the    inevitable discovery of everyone's personality flaws.  (This last dynamic    would plague the band throughout its rocky, and still continually
   evolving career).

   One of the inevitable by-products of touring is that a band's repertoire    becomes very coherent.  For example, in the jazz world pieces tend to    get looser, while in the pop domain songs often become tighter, with
   a palpable in-your-face energy.

It's like a great restaurant that expands and loses
    some of its subtlety (or portion size),
    a beautiful woman who uses too much makeup,
    or a great band that is over amplified.
Everybody tells you that it's even better,
    but you just end up scratching your head... 

   In the end, it comes down to the subject matter of each song, the clarity
   of that vision, and whether the artist has created a sense of three-
   dimensionality in their performance.  Clearly the album as a whole is
   very strong, with some exceptional songs such as the title track and    "Teach Your Children".  I found, though, CSNY's Deja Vu recording
   to lack the same compelling storytelling and fundamental sense of
as their earlier CSN release.  Hence, it was not surprising to
   learn that the group recorded the majority of their tracks in isolation    rather than as a group like the CSN project. 

As I approach the end of this ode,
     I am reminded that analysis is 
     never an end unto itself.
It must always be in service to the Great River 
     of artistic experience,
     like all of those musicians who enriched the lives of 
     Crosby, Stills, and Nash.

I am now looking at my new child—
      spunky and glistening, 
      a reconstructed Latin arrangement of Graham Nash's
      "Lady Of The Island"
that was born just after beginning this ode.

(March 2010)




©2010, Michael Smolens