© 2005 by Spider Robinson; all rights reserved.
No, I’m not talking about a movie with Sidney James, Charles Hawtrey, Joan Sims and Kenneth Williams.
But I do intend the same basic pun, between “Carry On” meaning to continue, to maintain, to persist—and “Carry On” meaning to have a good time, to raise a little hell, to party up a mainday breeze, to cause talk and suspicion, give an exhibition, perhaps even…who knows?…find out what it is all a-bout.
And of course it makes the perfect lead for this entry—because that’s the title of the song they opened with, last Saturday night at Vancouver’s Orpheum Theatre. “They” being the best goddamn rock and roll band in the land, Crosby, Stills and Nash.
Carrying on is what those dudes do. What they have always done, despite some of the most massive handicaps and disasters and traumas imaginable. Despite what Graham correctly calls “time we have wasted on the way.” Despite changes in times, changes in taste and fashion, changes in politics, changes in national self-image, they have continued to not only produce outstanding work, they have somehow always managed to do what Jeanne and I have taken as our own holy task: to raise, and exhibit, hopes.
They did so before a packed house of ecstatic people, ranging in age from about six to ninety-something. This was not aging dinosaurs cranking out a diluted version of their younger selves. This was powerful men in their prime doing what they do best and have been doing best for 36 damn years: the new material drew as many standing ovations as the golden classics, and the classics sounded better than the originals. Only part of that, I think, is the infusion of new creative energy they’ve gotten in recent years with the arrival of the great songwriter/keyboardist James Raymond. I believe their recent mutual creative renaissance is also due to their joint realization that they’re needed again, maybe more than ever.....that the times once again call for them—no, beg for them—to take on their Aspects, and raise up their Attributes.
They’ve come through.
They opened with “Carry On,” as I’ve said. And did they ever.
Graham sang his anthems “Military Madness” (“…is killing my country...”) and “Chicago” (“We can change the world/rearrange the world/it’s dying/to get better…”) and “Cathedral” (“Too many people have died in the name of Christ for anyone to heed the call”), brilliantly, all to thunderous applause.
Stephen dedicated his stunning virtuoso performance of “Ol’ Man Trouble” to all the newly homeless in Lousiana and Mississippi, and when he sang “Feed The People” from his brand new album MAN ALIVE (just out this week!), the poor hungry people in the Superdome were all I could see, and the first encore was his all too apt anthem of paranoia, “For What It’s Worth” (“Stop—what’s that sound? Everybody look what’s goin’ down…”). Damn right.
When the crowd recognized the opening notes of David’s classic, “Almost Cut My Hair,” they went stone nuts; he assured us he meant to “…let my FREAK…FLAG…FLY!” in a voice so loud and pure and true it was a literal battle-cry, and we roared back our own. When he told us that “…it appears to be a long time, such a long, long, long, long time before the dawn,” every one of us sang along in weary agreement. When he sang the first-ever science fiction rock and roll song, “Wooden Ships,” about a post-apocalypse world in which survivors search for edible berries, once again I think most if not all of us were picturing the dazed wanderers and starving victims of the bitch Katrina.
Steve Stills’s guitar work was so outstanding, so incandescent, that he even startled Jeff Pevar once or twice. He roamed the stage like a panther, playing with the ferocity and edge of his old mate Neil Young, and I believe the energy burning inside him was the shocked heartbreak of his beloved South finding expression.
If you want to be reminded how you got through the Sixties, when it seemed like they were shooting anybody who was worth a shit, catch Crosby, Stills and Nash the next time they pass through your town. Or go out and score the 4-disc box set that magnificently captures their first 35 years, with and without Neil Young.
That collection ends with the song they ended the night with. I know every one of us in the audience was singing along, because partway through all the gentlemen on stage stopped singing, for a verse, and there was no audible change in the sound. We were singing words we had come there to hear, words we had come there to sing.
And you, of tender years,
Can't know the fears that your elders grew by,
And so please-- help them with your youth,
They seek the truth before they can die.
Teach your parents well
Their children's hell will slowly go by,
And feed them on your dreams
The one they pick’s the one you'll know by
Don't you ever ask them why: if they told you, you would cry,
So just look at them and sigh…and know they love you.
Jeanne and I had one of the most magical days of our lives, as David’s guests. We were privileged to meet the entire band—including James Raymond, who went out of his way to be gracious and kind to us, the great Jeff Pevar (the only guitar player Ray Charles was ever polite to), ace bassman David Santos, Zen drummer Joe Vitale, and the terrifying Hammond B-3 pilot Mike Finnegan. Both Graham and David dedicated songs to us by name from the stage, a truly dizzying thing.
But that’s not what I want this entry to be about. That stuff is personal. There is some genuinely gruesome and tragic shit going down on this continent just now. America is starting to realize that the karma driving slowly but relentlessly up its ass with outsize tires is a big old gas-guzzling brute of an SUV, driven by a smirking jackass it elected twice. The chickenshit has come home to roost. Thousands are dying because the MREs that were intended to feed them, and the National Guard that signed up to deliver those MREs, and the infrastructure they would have used to do it, are presently around the other side of the planet, being used to kill strangers for no rational reason anyone has yet managed to articulate. Babies are floating in dirty water in New Orleans, and we can all see what colour the stranded faces in the Superdome are. I honestly believe white America would have shown desperate black Americans more compassion back in the 1950s. The couple of dozen or so real terrorists that actually live on this planet (nowhere near Iraq) must be laughing their asses off as we do their work for them: the monsters are due on Maple Street. This is not a time to brag about stars I’ve met.
But it is time for all of us to heed those stars, and the message they still embody after forty years.
Teach your children well. Their fathers’ hell will slowly go by. Feed them on your dreams. Please.
As I post this, CSN LIVE 2005 still has a few gigs left to play, from Los Angeles to Las Vegas. See http://www.crosbystillsnash.com for information. Don’t miss them if you can possibly help it. They can heal what ails you. They are what the doctor ordered, and why the preacher danced. I haven’t had a concert experience that powerful in a long time: they held a packed opera house full of people of all ages and walks of life spellbound for nearly three hours—using nothing more than beauty, truth, and talent.
And don’t overlook Stephen’s brand new tour de force album MAN ALIVE. Or last year’s career-landmark double-CD CROSBY• NASH, with incredible songs by James. Or for that matter, the equally awesome albums of CPR, all three of whose members—Crosby, Pevar and Raymond—were onstage at the Orpheum last Saturday night.
But this isn’t just a commercial for good music, either. It’s a commercial for the kind of mind, the kind of heart, that thinks that stuff is good music. So in closing, let me point out something.
We have a golden opportunity, right now, and we shouldn’t waste it. Take your attention away from the disaster reports on TV and radio and internet for just a moment…and take a surreptitious look at the people around you.
The racists and classists are just having too much damn fun to keep their masks on straight.
Take notes. It’s like a litmus test for scumbags. A Gagger-Counter. If you see anyone in America who is looking at that sea of universally dark-skinned faces in the Superdome, is listening to accounts of people whose loved ones died waiting for help that never came—and does not look sick and ashamed and shaken—then you know that person is a piece of shit. If you hear anybody making jokes about the refugees—and don’t give me any static about that word: they are refugees from a country they thought they were citizens of, that left them to die—you’ll never again mistake him or her for human. If you hear some jackass yammering about the blame for this tragedy belonging to a governor or a mayor, to a state or a city, you’ll know you’re almost certainly listening to a fink, who stools for Dubya and the rest of the Scudderites.
And conversely, those around you who have kindness in their true hearts will be just as unable to conceal or restrain their compassion and love. Take even better notes. Or do you already know too many kind people?
Finally, just before you return your attention to the tube, pause for a second and consider whether there’s any way you might be able to unplug from your life for a few days or weeks, load up your iPod with Crosby, Stills and Nash (and Young) albums, and slide on down to the Gulf Coast to see what you can do to help. Probably not. I can’t. But at least think about it. And if you can’t, the people who can, and are on their way down there now, could use any spare change you’ve got.
We still can turn this thing around. We can’t undo what happened, but God damn it, we can at least fix it. And then apologize.
If nothing else, close your eyes and send all those poor hurt angry frightened devastated people down there, and the exhausted Samaritans trying to keep them alive, a telepathic message. You don’t have to believe in that stuff, just do it anyway. Tell them what they need to hear right now:
Love is coming.
Love is coming to us all.