In this issue: Crosby, Stills, Nash & Taylor, cantankerous but lovable David Crosby, I get to work Castrati into a post, RFK, Jacksonian Democrats begat Southern Democrats who begat today’s GOP with imaginary companion book: The Zealot’s Guide to Misunderstanding History.
Long Time Gone
Turn, turn any corner
Hear what the people say
There’s somethin’ goin’ on around here
That surely, surely won’t stand the light of day
Speak out, speak out against the madness
Speak your mind if you dare
Don’t, no don’t try to get yourself elected
And if you do, you better cut your hair
It’s been a long time comin’
It’s goin’ to be a long time gone
But you know that the darkest hour
Is always just before the dawn.
–Written by David Crosby, Performed by Crosby, Stills & Nash — Stephen Stills; David Crosby; Graham Nash; Dallas Taylor (drums)
Complete Lyrics | MetroLyrics
1969’s Crosby, Stills & Nash album features the 3 denim-drenched band-mates sitting on a dilapidated couch in front of a simple home, Stills with guitar in hand. The album was the band’s debut and a breakthrough effort in rock and roll history. The first aspect of the breakthrough was the concept of the supergroup. David Crosby, Stephen Stills, and Graham Nash were from successful bands (Blind Faith was formed in England a little after CS&N–arguably a more super supergroup). The second aspect of breakthrough was how it changed the concept of what a rock album could be. For the most part, rock had been focused on blues-based electric guitar or light-hearted, catchy, vocal-harmony-focused bands from across the pond. The album, Crosby, Stills & Nash, was folk-rock but with jazz, Latin, Eastern, American and English traditional folk, and even classical influence–all played with alternate guitar tunings and unique harmonies where each voice had the same dynamics (i.e. loud if loud, soft if soft). The songs feel more about texture than structure expanding the 4/4 beat and verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus structure of rock. It spawned two hits immediately, “Marrakesh Express” (by Nash) and “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” (by Stills).
The singing is mostly in high harmonies that led some critics to mention the term castrati in describing the album. Nash’s voice is described as a high tenor, while Stills and Crosby sang a stretched baritone. The harmony is called parallel fifths where the parts aren’t an octave apart but are 5 half-tones apart. G’s are sung with C’s for example. I had no idea before doing my research here of the musical theory around fifths. Interestingly, this work was started by Pythagoras around 2,500 years ago. Pythagoras is known for being a philosopher, mathematician, and founder of a religion. We sometimes lose track of the idea that we haven’t evolved much as a species in 2,500 years so his big brain would be comparable or superior to the big brains of today–even though he never played an MP3 or checked out twerking.
An anecdote about the iconic album cover. When they took the photo they hadn’t settled on a name yet. They are seated as Nash, Stills, and Crosby. The house was an abandoned home they’d run across in West Hollywood. After deciding on the name, just days later, they thought it would make sense to re-shoot in the correct name order. Oops. The house had been demolished.
Crosby had been in the Byrds, but was let go in late 1967 because of his personal use of the stage for political diatribes and general cantankerousness. Stills had been with the group Buffalo Springfield but it was dissolving due to internal differences, the repeated drug arrests of bassist Bruce Palmer, and probably the fact that although they were wildly popular at L.A. clubs they couldn’t come up with a hit to follow “For What It’s Worth.” Stephen Stills met Crosby at a party at the home of Cass Elliot (of The Mamas and the Papas) in California in March 1968, and the two started jamming. They were soon joined by Graham Nash, who had left his commercially successful group The Hollies due to their unwillingness to stray from formula and evolve musically. For example, the song “Marrakesh Express” was written while in The Hollies but rejected by the group as being not commercial enough.
David Crosby has said that “Long Time Gone” was a response to the assassination of Robert Kennedy. The song has an unmistakable blues feel even though it avoids the blues structure. Crosby evidently felt that Kennedy had been an authentic person as a politician, not straying from ideals, not courting those in power, and not selling out to the interests that kept America divided by race, support for Vietnam, and then as now by wealth inequality. The song has bitterness (“speak out against the madness… You got to speak your mind if you dare.”) and the thoughts are incomplete (if it wasn’t common knowledge, the tie to the Kennedy assassination couldn’t be discerned in the song). It toys with defeat (“It’s been a long time coming. It’s going to be a long time gone”) but ends on hope (“But you know that the darkest hour, is always just before the dawn.”)
Did you know? Robert “Bobby” Kennedy’s death has elements of cover up and parallels to the JFK shooting. Was Sirhan Sirhan the only shooter? Evidence seems to contradict this. There’s a conspiracy theory bonanza at this site.
“Long Time Gone” opens the Woodstock film as the concert setup is happening. That band had only recently formed. Later, at the start of their set, Stephen Stills remarks: “This is the second time we’ve ever played in front of people, man. We’re scared shitless.” Another interesting note, I haven’t heard the why of it, but the last few seconds dissolve into a short section of cacophony as if the musicians were rehearsing and just abandoned the song. The song just falls apart, and the question is whether that’s symbolic or not.
Sometimes when I follow what’s happening in this country I’m scared shitless as well AND I wonder if things are falling apart.
I listen to radio program on Saturdays called Back on the Beat hosted by Dick Kay. Kay is an ex-newsman and staunch Democrat. A caller put forth the idea that Democrats were racists because the Democrats were the party of the antebellum South. Like many right-wingers (and, I guess, some left-wingers) it shows the zealot’s interest in seizing on information that supports their point of view instead of understanding things in proper historical and nuanced perspective.
The slave-owning South was indeed ruled by Southern Democrats. Unlike the earlier Jeffersonian Democrats, the Jacksonian Democrats believed in a federal government of limited powers (but with a strong President and weak Congress). Jackson said that he would guard against “all encroachments upon the legitimate sphere of State sovereignty.” Andrew Jackson was president from 1829 to 1837. The party he led believed in leaving the issue of slavery off the political table.
Lincoln was a Republican. So the Civil War cemented the South’s identity with the Democratic party until just around 1964 when Democrat Lyndon Johnson supported and signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. After signing the bill he famously said “We have lost the South for a generation.” And sure enough the mid-1960s saw the movement of the South from being largely Democratic to being largely Republican as they are today (2 generations and no end in sight). This was probably the concurrence of three elements. First, the sun belt was opening up for cranky, retiring Northerners who were older and more fiscally conservative. Second, the Bible belt was finding its voice as the self-designated national bulwark against the perceived immorality of liberals (a role they still want to play). And finally, the vestiges of the Old South, where people of color would be subservient enough to make even the poorest white feel superior, was resisting the movement into the new age of racial equality (and again, this is a role some still want to play).
So historically the Democrats of the South were “different” then today’s Democrats. Although they had some progressive ideas they believed in laissez-faire economics (hands off like some GOP and Libertarians), they supported states rights over federal power (now a Southern Republican ideal), and they supported the idea of manifest destiny (that the U.S. was destined to take over the continent due to their inherent superiority). That last point is found today in the right-wing concept of American Exceptionalism. This ideal is widely passed out in baloney fests by GOP pols who take any suggestions that the U.S. needs improvement as unpatriotic. (I still chuckle over the GOP “debates” of 2011/2012 where the candidates competed to see who was wrapped the tightest in the American Flag and would eliminate the highest number of federal agencies when they could remember the agency’s names.) While we often think that the South’s politics are strictly based on race and Confederacy revival sentiment, they’ve been steeped in 185 years of Jacksonian Democracy.
Returning to the caller to Back on the Beat, he didn’t understand that the Southern Democrats did not have the same ideals as the Northern Democrats (the way the Blue Dogs vote as if they were Republicans today). The Southern Democrats even did their best to block the Civil Rights Act of 1964 when 18 southern Democratic Senators and one Republican Senator led by Richard Russell (D-GA) launched a filibuster to prevent its passage. Russell said at the time: “We will resist to the bitter end any measure or any movement which would have a tendency to bring about social equality and intermingling and amalgamation of the races in our (Southern) states.” They obviously are not the same kind of Democrats that elected Barack Obama in November, 2008 and 2012.
I ran across this investment-focused interview with David Crosby–someone who screwed up and lost around $25 million (and possibly a liver) to lifestyle issues. It made me smile and stimulated warmth for the man. View it here.