I don’t usually intrude into other people’s public conversations because I think it’s rude and almost guaranteed to brand you a “weirdo,” but occasionally I do if the conversation is not too personal or attempting to be private, and there is a context where it wouldn’t be seen as intrusive and I would actually have something pertinent to add, despite being a stranger. Sometimes talking with strangers can make a long wait seem less so.
So there I was, freshly arrived at the venue to attend a Crosby, Stills & Nash concert this past Monday night, and standing in line to buy my t-shirt. It’s tradition; I buy a concert t-shirt at almost every show I go to, though having a closet half-filled with black concert tees, I tend to only buy now when there’s a non-black option. Fortunately, this was CSN, and they had many colors, including a couple tie-dyed options (natch). The couple behind me, a pleasant pair of…well, I was going to say middle-aged folks, but I’M middle-aged these days, according to the actuaries, so we will just say that perhaps these folks have been CSN fans since the band’s debut album…is discussing the song “Southern Cross.”
“What IS the Southern Cross, anyway?” he says.
“I think it’s a ranch,” she says.
“A ranch?” he asks, incredulous.
She wasn’t certain, and they bandied about a couple other equally incorrect possible interpretations. At this point, I couldn’t stand it anymore, and since we were all fans and had that connection at least, I turned around, smiled, and said, “Actually, it’s a constellation. Like we look for the Big Dipper? People in the Southern Hemisphere look for the Southern Cross. I think Stephen Stills sails…”
This couple was delighted (whew!) to have the mystery solved at last, and my explanation made one of the t-shirts for sale make a lot more sense to them—it had an image of the Southern Cross on it. We talked a little bit more about the band, and how amazing it was that they were still touring. I said it beats a day job. I was pleased to be of service, as well as enjoying the sparkle of my music geek crown. In a situation where a 36-year-old whippersnapper is discussing CSN with a pair of 50-somethings, one would expect the latter more likely to have that information than myself. All I can say is, “FACE!”
My seat was in the 4th row, behind a mostly empty 3 rows of folding chairs, and I was seated next to Lulu and Norm, also of the age group that would’ve remembered when David Crosby had all of his hair. Lulu and I chatted before the show, sharing concert stories and pictures of our pets that we had on our phones. They had been to 7 CSN shows over the years, while I confessed it was my first with the whole band together; I saw Stephen Stills at a solo show last year. During the show, they played “Cathedral,” which Lulu didn’t recognize, but I did. It’s in my collection, and they play it occasionally on KFOG. At that point, my geek crown fairly gleamed. I probably have an unseemly amount of pride in my musical knowledge, but, frankly, there are worse vices.
I was excited to be there, excited that Crosby, Stills and Nash were kind enough to come to my little pueblo in the desert. (More or less; it’s actually 24 miles from my house to the venue on the opposite side of town. Tucson is a sprawling city.) I saw Stills, and he was great, but this was the whole kit and caboodle. I didn’t see how I could miss it—CSN is one of the great bands in the history of music. As I told Lulu, if you don’t like CSN, I don’t want to know ya. And I’m not kidding.
I only know the young band through pictures, but the men who took the stage wore their years like badges, medals of combat from their tour of duty in life. Stephen Stills, 63, had prostate cancer surgery in December. Though he still had a belly, he’d lost weight since I last saw him, and it didn’t seem like it was from hanging out at a spa. He looked haggard and like he was gutting out a day at work when really he wanted to be at home in bed. That’s an impulse given into much more easily when you work in a cubicle than it is when people have paid top dollar to see you and your two compatriots. I was actually kind of worried for him. His voice, always beautifully gravelly, seemed quieter, weaker, and more roughly worn than I remember it being when he played solo, but his guitar playing was as phenomenal as ever, as he rocked 2 copies each of a Strat and a Gretsch.
David Crosby, 66, almost cut his hair once, but though it’s thinner on top and white, it’s as defiantly long as ever, and it suits him, as does the roundness of his body that the years bestow upon so many of us. His voice has also been bruised a bit by time and use; years of major drug addiction probably didn’t help, but he sounded good.
A trim Graham Nash, also 66, had all his hair, but it was all white, and his face is deeply lined. He still has a bit of a British accent, despite having been an American citizen for 30 years. His voice was the least changed by the years. He was the obvious band leader of the evening, which surprised me; somehow, I expected it to be Crosby, as he’s grabbed most of the headlines over the years, or Stills, based on his chattiness when I saw him solo, but he barely spoke Monday night. I did a little reading in search of information about their guitars (particularly the ones I couldn’t identify on sight), and evidently, Nash has always been the glue that has held the group together, a sometimes difficult task given the volatility of Crosby and Stills, not to mention Young.
They have been playing music longer than I’ve been alive, and it shows in their musicianship. They also have the camaraderie of guys who’ve been “married” for decades, guys who know how to argue and then kiss and make up. They blew me away, as a fan, as a musician, as a hippie who was accidentally born a generation too late. It was a fantastic show. Maybe it wasn’t quite the tight vocal performance they committed to tape 30 years ago, but despite everything, these men still are Rock Stars of the first order. They survived the ’60s when many of their fellow musicians did not. And now they’re pushing 70, but still out on the road, making music–good music–for raucous, appreciative crowds who can sing along. What a life they’ve lived! If I can still play a guitar when I’m their age, I’ll count myself very fortunate.
Confidentially, I find Crosby, Stills, and Nash, severally and individually, hot.
It’s not news that I have an aesthetic appreciation of mature men, but if they’re musicians, I’m pretty much done for. Some women (and men) like men in uniform, but that’s never really appealed to me. Put a guitar in a man’s hands, though, and you have my attention and extreme admiration, not to mention an instant crush.
Which is, no doubt, why men have picked up musical instruments since time immemorial. Was it really the Beatles who made every teenage boy pick up a guitar, or the throngs of screaming girls they attracted? Whatever the reason, I’m always glad they did.