Thursday, 25 September 2008
♫ In-depth review: CSNY’s new DVD film ’Déjà vu’,
released ahead of schedule on September 30th 2008, in which Neil Young’s ‘shakey’ film about the super-group’s outspoken and troubled American ‘freedom of speech’ tour of 2006 reveals just how similar our times are to the late 60s: politically we’re in some of the most troubled times we’ve ever seen, but musically things are almost as good as they used to be.
Following this DVD review straight after the CSN compilation review in the previous issue has made me wonder . Even the biggest fans of the trio/ super-group probably don’t know that the band has been releasing albums—together and apart—with more regularity this decade than at any time since the early 70s and that—far from becoming the ‘oldies’ group that every other 60s band seems to be becoming, they are still as brave and ;political as they ever were—just not as often these days. Unlike most ‘political’ groups, CSNY never hung up their peace banners when the
movement died a death at the hands
of glam rock and punk rock in the 1970s. Even Neil, who has been telling us in
interviews for years that his impassioned 1970 Kent State Massacre protest
‘Ohio’ was a ‘one-off’, has been heading back into analysing the American
psyche on his later solo albums. Yet on previous four-way long-players like
‘American Dream’ (1988) and ‘Looking Forward’ (2000) our favourite out-spoken
trio have sounded distinctly uncomfortable when they’ve got together, afraid of
the weight on their shoulders when they get back together and sneaking in the
odd rabble-rousing anthem in-between their more conservative and catchy songs. Woodstock
Even the most optimistic fan CSNY could never have dreamed that the band would get back to their political provocative best—but for better or worse, that’s what we’ve got here. Then again, its not that weird that CSNY are doing this tour now, its weirder that no one else is doing it, that no other group has really united the anti-Iraq protestors and peace promoters the way that CSNY and their contemporaries did back in the bad old days of Vietnam and Watergate. A documentary that is as much of a political hot potato as this one would have been unthinkable even for CSNY just a half-decade or so ago—and then along the aftermath of 9/11, the Bush administration’s re-elections and latest scandals, the lack of headway in the Iraq War and most recently the growing credit crunch and suddenly politics in music is accepted again, with the actions of George W impacting people around the globe and affecting everybody once more, not just the committed few. We’ve been here before of course— and I humbly take back what I said about the title song ‘déjà vu’ not fitting the context of this anti-war project in my review of the soundtrack CD because I see it all now; the song weaves continually throughout this documentary, juxtaposing marching Vietnam veterans with marching Iraqi veterans and telling us over and over that ‘we have all been here before’ - and asking us all why we’ve failed to learn from our mistakes. In this context, Crosby’s classic song isn’t about learning from your past lives anymore—its about the lives of most of the people who came to the concerts who never ever thought they would see the same volume of Governmental distrust and the same level of anti-American hatred that they used to see in the 60s so firmly planted in the modern psyche. Band like CSNY have never been away—but we haven’t needed them as badly as this for a long time and suddenly their songs are far more relevant to our times as they were even a few years back.
The good news is that CSNY are brave and courageous once again, more so than they’ve been since the days of the mid-70s, and are fully in tune with the growing feeling of the world at large that our sudden long list of ‘freedom of speech’ and ‘liberty’ acts that were passed overnight after 9/11 are actually systematically robbing us of our chances to speak out against the policies made in our name, of our need to ‘stand and be counted’. It’s just like Nixon and Thatcher all over again—we all want nothing better than to trust our leaders and have them do what is best for all of us, but when our leaders represent their views over ours and deprive us of our chance to tell us how we feel, then we need music and artists like CSNY to fight back. Having CSNY giving people the chance to have a small tiny voice night after night—even if it’s a voice that half the audience can’t understand or reject out of hand— is entirely the ‘growing old disgracefully’ image we always longed for our favourite, most out-spoken, most committed, most audience-serving band to have (even if do still charge a fortune for tickets, as some wag points out on the documentary). I’ve loved CSNY since I first loved music, but I’ve never been as proud of them as this in my whole music-collecting monkeynuts life-time.
But the bad news is that those expecting to learn about CSNY’s feelings during this controversial tour or even see their talents fully-blossoming again don’t get much of an opportunity to do so here and—perhaps worst of all—we don’t even see the band on a particularly good night; in Neil’s own words the band are ‘all over the place’ during the first few nights and guess which concerts make up the bulk of this documentary?!? What we get instead of CSNY magic, though, is still highly moving—we speak to the soldiers who came back from the war despising what they saw there and found the CSNY tour the best way of letting off years of burning steam and choking anger; we speak to the proud families of those still serving in the army kicking and screaming about the band ‘stuffing their political opinions in our faces’ after paying hard-earned money for a night’s entertainment and escapism, horrified that their off-spring’s defence of their country is being ‘dishonoured’ or even ‘exploited’ by the band; we see Stephen Stills rallying voters at mid-term elections, half of which seem only to be there to get him to sign his autograph for them—and half of whom clearly don’t know who on earth he is; we see journalists re-counting their own horror stories and trying to give their own unbiased opinions of the tour, although on the negative side the fact the chosen reporter is travelling on their tour-bus is surely not conducive to unbiased filming; most of all we see America divided, confused and seemingly split down the middle with citizens confused as how to best serve their country— whether to give Bush the benefit of the doubt and rally behind him or join in with the protests, each side blaming the other for the whole sorry mess.
Thankfully the documentary isn’t all serious —two of the best scenes are the footage of Neil trying to dupe a conservative American chat-show host into allowing him to sing his new song ‘Let’s Impeach The President’ live on air and a clueless American interviewer asking Neil what exactly that same song is all about (the clue’s in the title, surely?!); both of these people clearly haven’t got a clue who these aging hippies are or why the people tuning into their shows should care about what a bunch of mid-60s musicians should think—in contrast, footage like this shows just how little some people know when it comes to what really is going on in American foreign policy these days and make CSNY’s desperation at putting their message across in corporate America all the more clear. But most of this documentary sticks in the throat—even at its bittiest, jumpiest and shallowest, there will be some quote that really brings home the stories of the audience and just why they love/ hate this show and this band so much and it’s been years since I saw a decent documentary do just that.
A group once labelled, unfairly I think, as the most egocentric bunch of songwriters who ever walked the planet, have suddenly become truly selfless with this release, passing their film over to the people who attended it and those who helped make it happen. Sure their songs are telling people what to do as one irate concert-goer points out in the documentary—but it would be worse for a band like CSNY renowned for their honesty to bury their heads in the sand and ignore what is happening to them and their audience. For CSNY fans, the annoying down-side of handing the camera to others to give their two penn’orth is that every time a song seems to build into full throttle and soar, the camera cuts away, to tell us the story of someone else, often completely un-related to the group instead of showing us the power of the songs. Old timers already know how great these songs are—but new-comers probably won’t hear enough of them to be converted into raving passionate monkeynut collectors like me. The up-side of this is that this concert tour was never just about the music and the use of real war footage and audiences half-filled with people sobbing their hearts out and half-filled with people booing and throwing things make the band’s songs seem ever more poignant the few times we ever do hear any of their songs for any length of time. As anti-Bush documentaries go, this isn’t even in the same league as Michael Moore’s ‘Farenheit 9/11’ film (which uses a Neil Young song—’Rockin’ In The Free World’ - on the end credits by the way; why on earth wasn’t that song in CSNY’s war set-list?) and on a purely musical basis, this is shoddy stuff for purely music collectors considering it’s the only film of the quartet out on DVD ( I still recommend CSN’s ’Daylight Again’ DVD of 1983 though). But as a documentary about the importance of music and its power to move people and get them thinking, this is the most important musical documentary we’ve had since
There are a tonne of extras on the DVD , from an interview with a rather bored Neil to a full 40 minute re-tread of Neil’s ’Living With War’ album, complete with mocked-up CNN footage to illustrate such lyrics as ’here in the days of shock and awe’ and ’after the garden has gone’. Just as with the soundtrack CD reviewed earlier on this site, this solo album sounds surprisingly flimsy without those CSNY vocals in tow and even the presence of a 100-strong choir can’t cover up the loss of the three-some—but if you don’t already own the album, this is a fantastic value-for-money way of getting the main songs played on the ’freedom of speech’ tour and Neil’s own put-together footage (taken from his website) is moving most of the time. Best of all, though, is the montage of faces for the song ‘find the cost of freedom’, showing us every single American soldier who had died in Iraq up to the making of the film. Even though this trick has been borrowed from the ’director’s cut’ of Woodstock (where CSNY’s performance of the same song illustrates a list of names of performers and organisers who had died between taking part in that 1969 festival and the late 1990s DVD release), this 38-year-old Stephen Stills song—rejected from the film ’Easy Rider’ and only ever released originally as a CSNY B-side— is so spot-on for this footage and so moving that watching this straight after the film you can’t help but cry for the loss of life on both sides of the war, whether you think Neil and co have got things right or are barking up the wrong tree. (...continued next page...)
The end verdict? As I said earlier in my review of Neil’s solo ‘Living With War’ album (which makes up the bulk of songs used on this tour), this documentary will become old very quickly once Bush leaves his office next year and the Iraq war comes to a close (if it ever ends in our life-times of course, depending on who the next American president is and how badly America still needs oil). But just as CSNY’s old songs still fit the bill for this modern anti-war tour, so too will these songs resonate with some of us in some way, long after the garden has gone. My only real reservation is that if CSNY were going to try and be brave and shock everybody with this release, they should have gone even further, giving us more, obscurer songs from after the ’classic years’ (Crosby’s ’Stand And Be Counted’ (‘Lookin’ Forward’, 2000), Stills’ ‘Treetop Flyer’ (‘Just Roll Tape’, 2006), Nash’s ‘Soldiers of Peace’ (@American Dream’, 1988) and Neil’s ‘Comin’ Apart At Every Nail’ (‘Hawks And Doves, 1980) would have been even more fitting than the ones they sing here). But that’s a minor quibble and perhaps its selfish of me to want to see more CSNY on a documentary that, really, is about our times and not about CSNY at all. Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young have always been, in my opinion and in that of many others, the bravest and most relevant band of their day, willing to speak out and stand up for things when others were afraid to, feared their voices would be silenced or their careers ruined by their political stance. Right now CSNY are the bravest and most relevant band of our day too, something which doesn’t say much for the bands of today but says plenty about CSNY and how much their songs still mean to us, even all these years later.
Monday, 22 September 2008
♫ What a dull week in the world of AAA groups. Absolutely nothing has happened to any group discussed on this site, well as far as I know anyway...they’ve probably all been leading really interesting lives this week and doing all sorts of exciting activities, but there haven’t been any that I’ve heard about. I can’t even comment on Macca’s ‘Jools Holland’ appearance this week, because he pulled out of it at the last minute, unannounced, something that meant I had to sit through 10 minutes of blooming Metallica just to see if Macca was really not on or they were hiding him in a cupboard for the big finale or something. (His absence wasn’t explained, but is very probably something to do with all the flak Macca’s been getting for announcing his Israel show the Israel show; to be fair, Jools’ programme is broadcast live and Macca probably agreed to do the show before the Israeli thing erupted last week — or at least, Jools’ programme is live on Tuesdays anyway. For some odd reason there’s an ‘extended’ repeat show on Fridays—how on earth can you have an extended version of something that’s live?!?) Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour will be appearing on this week’s show on Tuesday/ Friday— more on that next week.
♫ Anniversaries this week: Craig Chacquico (Jefferson Starship 1974-86) turns 54 on the 26th and Linda McCartney (24th) would have been 67. Events of the week: the chart debut of the Beatles’ farewell LP Abbey Road in 1969, the chart debut of 10cc in 1972 when first single ‘Donna’ came out of nowhere to chart at #2 and the first week at number #1 for the Hollies’ re-issue ‘He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother’ 20 years ago this week, a staggering 19 years after the single reached #3 the first time round.
♫ And this week’s top five: how could I miss commemorating ‘National wombat week’ a fortnight or so ago? Had I known I would have used this subject on this list sooner (curious fact for you too—’wombat week’ is the same as ‘fibromyalgia week’ which is why I missed celebrating it earlier- are the two weeks related?!) So, in honour of the Australian mammal that simply doesn’t get enough publicity, mainly because he’s usually asleep when other animals are getting busy for the cameras, here is our list of the top five wombat ditties (sort of):
5) I Am Wombat (hear me roar, in numbers too big to ignore)… (Helen Reddy/ I Am Wombat... Err, sorry, I Am Woman, 1972). We all thought this was a feminist anthem when it came out, but could it be that Helen Reddy actually meant to sing about wombats in this song and couldn’t pronounce the word? No? Ah well, she should have done!
4) Wombat (Lindisfarne/ Back And Fourth, 1978) “Wombat so mild, wombat so meek, wombat so devastatingly unique, wombat be good to me…” OK, so Geordie favourites Lindisfarne had probably never even heard of wombats when they wrote this song, but given how itchy and scratchy my old battered vinyl copy of this song is, that might just as well have been singing ‘wombat’ in the chorus…
3) Bald Headed Wombat (The Kinks/ The Kinks (1st album), 1964) “I’ve been driving with a bald headed wombat, gonna make me mean, yes lord, make me mean”. This old traditional blues number, allegedly ‘re-arranged’ by Kinks producer Shel Talmy in order to get the song-writing royalties (it sounds like every other version ever made of the song to me) never did make any sense anyway, so this interpretation can’t possibly be any more daft than the real story behind the song, whatever that might be. Curiously enough, I own a wombat who likes watching formula one, so this song fits rather too well…
2) Wombat (John Lennon/ Double Fantasy, 1980) “Wombat, I can hardly express my emotions and my thankfulness” Lennon’s more or less final release in his lifetime showed just how much the ex-Beatle had changed his outlook on life since his heady days as one of the fab four. ’You Can’t Do That’ and ’Run For Your Life’ are often trotted out as two of the most sexist songs the 60s ever produced, but to be fair on Lennon he went overboard trying to re-dress the balance once he met Yoko (His 1972 song ’Woman Is The Nigger Of The World’ remains one of the most controversial songs of Lennon’s solo career and is routinely absent from Lennon best-ofs, despite the fact that it was actually one of his bigger solo hits). The (almost) last song of Lennon’s lifetime finds him toning down his political slant for something that caused rather less controversy when it came out, despite being just as flag-waving in its own quiet way. For the purposes of our site, however, Lennon is surely celebrating loving wombats (honest he is).
1) Remember You’re A Wombat (Wombats, err sorry Wombles/any of the Womble best-ofs on the market which-are-nearly-all-filled-solely-with-tracks-taken-from-the-first-album-anyway-because-that’s-the-only-one-that-sold-before-the-novelty-passed, 1974) Novelty hit about green-fingered beings who live on Wimbledon common or a deep meaningful composition about snooze-loving Australian mammals who spend most of their time sleeping while upside down, which interpretation out ofd these two makes more sense to you?! Incidentally, music has long been associated with wombats...well, since about 2005 actually, when a promising new group called The Wombats released their first record. So proving that we at the Alan’s Album Archives are not the only monkeynuts people in the world. That’s all for this week, see you next time (if you haven’t run away screaming!)