Wednesday wanderings early in July, 2021

Crosby, Stills and Nash sang:

Just a song before I go
To whom it may concern
Traveling twice the speed of sound
It’s easy to get burned”

Simon and Grafunkel added:

“Slow down, you move too fast
You got to make the morning last
Just kicking down the cobble stones
Looking for fun and feelin’ groovy”

In our 24 x 7 world of social media and pseudo and real news sources that tell us what to think, everything seems like a problem of urgency. Isn’t this horrible and we must act? Part of this is very real, as in this big world, something bad is happening somewhere. Since “if it bleeds, it leads” or is there is conflict between sparring legislators, it makes the news.

Good news stories do get reported, but in inverse proportion to their occurrence. The good news stories are far more common and everyday, but are not deemed newsworthy. I recall a silly example on a music show called “Where are they now?” which usually highlights a band that had success, then fell apart. They filmed one on the group Kansas, but it never aired. Why? The band members were all living normal lives, so it was not titillating.

Yet, the other part of these pervasive bad news stories, which can be tragic and dispiriting, is the news that needs to be talked about, but does not get much coverage. Here are a few.

  • We have a global fresh water problem that is only being made worse by climate change.
  • That climate change problem is no longer a future event – it is brandishing its fangs now with more wildfires, droughts and stalled weather patterns, along with more intense hurricanes and tornados.
  • On the good news side, renewable energy is growing at a rapid rate now that cost of production is economical and fossil fuel companies are being held more to account by shareholders and judges..
  • There is a poverty and hunger problem in the US and abroad. Too many Americans go to bed hungry. Too many Americans live beneath or at paycheck to paycheck.
  • The US has a huge debt and deficit burden that was already bad before the pandemic relief and tax cuts – now it is far worse, with interest cost becoming an increasing part of the budget.

These issues don’t get talked about enough. Even on the better news stations, the focus is way too much on which political party benefits from an issue. The issue itself gets less reporting than who benefits. In fact, wedge issues are seized to beat the other party over the head with, even if the problem has been around for years. I have long grown weary of problems not being addressed, because of optics. Do something.

But, back to CS&N and Simon and Garfunkel, let’s also balance all of this with the good stuff that is going on every day. I recognize there are too many folks that are wound way too tight. They seem looking for a fight if some thing or some person makes them do something. Get over it. The world does not revolve around you. If you have to wear a mask to get in some place, then you know what you need to do.

Yet, we should endeavor to leave all of our encounters on a better footing. Somewhere in some book I read, some guy called this rule golden. Something like treat others like you want to be treated. Now, that is something to evangelize.

Neil Young remembers

Tin soldiers and Nixon’s comin’
We’re finally on our own
This summer I hear the drummin’
Four dead in Ohio
Gotta get down to it
Soldiers are gunning us down
Should have been done long ago
What if you knew her and
Found her dead on the ground?
How can you run when you know?
Na na-na-na, na-na na-na
Na na-na-na, na-na na
Na na-na-na, na-na na-na
Na na-na-na, na-na na
Gotta get down to it
Soldiers are cutting us down
Should have been done long ago
What if you knew her and
Found her dead on the ground?
How can you run when you know?
Tin soldiers and Nixon’s comin’
We’re finally on our own
This summer I hear the drummin…
Four dead in Ohio…

Yesterday, was the 50th anniversary of the horrific and needless tragedy at Kent State University. Four young college students were killed and more injured when President Nixon called out the national guard on a college protest. This is as asinine a move that a US president could make. Young adults with rifles caused the situation to get out of hand and kids died.

Along with Watergate, Kent State paints a picture of what happens with a paranoid and corrupt president. It should give us pause with the corrupt and paranoid president we have now who is even more deceitful than Nixon.

“Ohio” is an anthem written and sung well by Young and bandmates Crosby, Stills and Nash.

This should never happen again. Yet, with this president, anything is possible.

A couple of musical memories

As I search my thoughts for writing inspiration, a Carole King song leaped off the TV screen in a show we were watching. We saw the traveling Broadway show “Beautiful” about King’s life.

King is an American treasure and has written or co-written some of our most popular songs. Then, she realized she could sing them as well. “Tapestry” was her first album and for the longest while was the best selling album ever.

It reminded me of another prolific songwriter named James Taylor. He sang King’s song “You’ve got a friend,” at her invitation. She would later record it and include it on “Tapestry.” We saw Taylor two times and it was a treat. Yet, seeing the two of them perform together on PBS was even more special.

Connecting one more dot, Taylor dated another singer-songwriter named Carly Simon. Of course, she has had a wonderful career building off songs like “You’re so vain” and “Anticipation,” which sold more than ketchup.

Three artists with a connection more than music. Three people who have given us their hearts and souls in their music. There are other connections like this to explore.

Graham Nash and Joni Mitchell lived together, which inspired Nash to write “Our House.” Mitchell wrote the pivotal song about “Woodstock” also sung by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. Stephen Stills dated Judy Collins, who he wrote about in “Suite Judy Blue Eyes,” another CSNY song. And, to round it all out, Collins had a hit with Mitchell’s “Both sides now.”

Connections. Inspiration. Collaboration. Memorable music.

Confusion has its cost

My wife and I were listening to a favorite CD on a day trip by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young called “So far.” It is the first album recorded after Neil Young joined the band. One of the songs is called “Helplessly Hoping.”

The song title is an excellent metaphor for what many feel about the tenure of the US president. A key line of the song echoes a concern that I have – “Confusion has its cost.”

Going into this administration, I expected a heavy dose of untruthfulness, bullying and name calling from the president. I expected concerns over policy decisions he might make, pulling out of the Paris Climate Change Accord, being an example. Sadly, I have not been surprised on these fronts.

What has surprised me is the level of chaos and incompetence present in the White House. And, I am not alone in this assessment. Conservative pundit David Brooks uses the term “equal parts chaos and incompetence.” Together, they cause confusion.

There is confusion around inconsistent messaging, unstable decision-making, overshadowing or derailing emissaries, being swayed by biased or misinformed sources, and a disdain for study or receptivity to input counter the president’s set notions.

This confusion has a cost. Other leaders have lamented they do not know who speaks for America. Republican leaders feel the same, but can only grumble under their breath. Perhaps, the best metaphor for the Trump presidency is his communication people hiding in the bushes to discuss what to say about Jim Comey being fired. Not only did the regal-minded Trump not tell Comey he was fired, he failed to tell his communication staff.

Ron Christie, a former Bush communication official noted that well run White Houses have monthly, weekly and daily talking points. I think one reason the daily press briefings went away, is the lack of such.

Confusion has its cost. Our reputation, our word, our commitment, our governance require clarity. Another measuring rod is White House turnover, which is much higher than previous administrations.

Tin soldiers – a history lesson worth remembering

A day that lives in infamy can be summoned to memory with the words “Kent State.” If you are not familiar with this term, please Google it as it reveals what could happen today, by showing what did happen in May, 1970.

In short, President Nixon called out the national guard to keep a protest of college students at Kent State University in Ohio from turning into a riot. The dilemma is these “tin soldiers,” as they were termed in Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’s powerful song “Ohio,” were armed. So, when one of the protesters was alleged to have thrown a rock, a guardsman opened fire and was joined in fire by the other guardsmen. Four college students were killed and nine were injured.

Nixon is remembered mostly for resigning before he was impeached for Watergate (in essence running a burglary operation from the White House), yet his calling out the national guard on college students is a horrendous decision. To understand the magnitude, picture your child being faced down by the national guard.

I mention this today as during an interview with Margaret Atwood, who wrote the dystopian novel “The Handmaid’s Tale,” she said totalitarianism first occurs when a leader has troops fire on protesters.

What scares many is the possibility of our current President calling the national guard on a group of protesters is not a stretch. It is also not a stretch for one of the armed militias that feel empowered by this President doing the same.

It is interesting that two dystopian books are going through a concerned revival. One is “The Handmaid’s Tale” and the other is “1984.” We need to be strident in protecting our rights to assemble and protest. We need to be civil in these respects, but it is well within our rights to question our leaders. And, we should not be shot at.

Songwriters and Performers

Periodically, I have written posts about the songwriters and performers who combined words and music so magically. The posts that have received the most notoriety on my blog are not necessarily the biggest names, although they are indeed popular.

The post on Bob Seger has been my most visited musical post. When I think of the line from the movie “Eddie and the Cruisers,” about the key to a great song is words and music, I think of a short list of names including Seger’s. “Rock and Roll never forgets” sang Seger. He is right .

The second most read, but with a bullet, is a tribute to Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. Four terrific songwriters and musicians in one group. This post may pass Seger’s soon, but in fairness to Seger it is four against one. Plus, the music of CSNY has a more cultural message. Their self-titled first album with the four of them with “So Far” tacked on the end of the title is one of the finest end to end albums ever, in my view.

The next in kind is the post about Gordon Lightfoot. He is indeed a troubadour, but his songwriting has been covered by many including Peter, Paul and Mary and Elvis Presley. He is still touring, so try to catch his laid back sing-a-long. He speaks about his songs and life, which are also poignant reflections.

The fourth most frequented post is by an artist who left us much too soon, Jim Croce. His music spoke clearly about loneliness, heartache, love, melancholy and relationships. Had he not died so young, he would be as popular as any song writer.

Below is a link to these posts. They may also link you to other musical posts, so please feel free to reminisce and share your favorites.

https://musingsofanoldfart.wordpress.com/2013/01/09/a-beautiful-loser-bob-seger/

https://musingsofanoldfart.wordpress.com/2013/08/25/teach-your-children-a-tribute-to-csny/

https://musingsofanoldfart.wordpress.com/2013/01/31/rainy-day-people-tribute-to-gordon-lightfoot/

https://musingsofanoldfart.wordpress.com/2012/09/29/jim-croce-a-voice-quieted-too-soon/

Teach Your Children – A Tribute to CSNY

You, who are on the road, must have a code, that you can live by.
And so, become yourself, because the past, is just a good-bye. 

Teach, your children well, their father’s hell, did slowly go by.
And feed, them on your dreams, the one they picked, the one you’re known 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.

The lyrics of “Teach Your Children” are highly representative of the songs of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. I was torn with leading off with a number of their songs, yet I chose this one as the song starts with teaching our children to seek their dreams and letting them go with your guidance and love. The song is even more profound today, as it concludes with a stanza on “teaching your parents well.” With technology so rapidly expanding and changing our world, the song is emblematic that we can learn from each other.

David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Graham Nash and later Neil Young formed a group of songwriters and singers who wrote and sang eloquently. Their harmonies made great songs even better. I have an entire post devoted to Young, so I will not highlight some of his many contributions, but let you take a peek at your leisure with this link: https://musingsofanoldfart.wordpress.com/2013/03/30/heart-of-gold-a-tribute-to-neil-young/. Young added guitar-might to the stage presence of the initial trio and had played earlier with Stills in Buffalo Springfield. Crosby was a key part of The Byrds and Nash was with The Hollies. So, CSN and then CSNY became a blend of some prolific musicians and songwriters.

LIke earlier posts, I will leave off some of mine and others’ favorite songs. My intention is to highlight a few songs that resonate with me and leave others for your perusal. If you have not dived into CSNY, I would encourage you to do so. Many of their lyrics will be apropos today, like those in the above song.  One that is hauntingly compelling and so simple is a lament over those who pay the ultimate price fighting wars in the name of freedom. From Nash’s “Find the Cost of Freedom” here is only a small taste:

Find the cost of freedom
Buried in the ground
Mother Earth will swallow you
Lay your body down

I started to quote more lyrics, but I thought these words state the obvious very succinctly and could be used easily to describe those honorable, young men and women who died in Afghanistan and Iraq for uncertain ends. To me, the next song can be used for multiple separations from those you love, but I interpreted it along the above lines of someone going off to fight a war. I will let you judge from the sample lyrics from “Just a Song Before I Go:”

She helped me with my suitcase,
She stands before my eyes
Driving me to the airport,
And to the friendly skies.

Going through security
I held her for so long.
She finally looked at me in love,
And she was gone.

They have so many great songs: “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” which is a tongue-in-cheek tribute to Judy Collins, “Our House” which even our kids know word for word, “Deja-vu”, “Helplessly Hoping,” Helpless,” “Southern Cross,” “Marrakesh Express” and “Guinevere” are just a few. I also won’t highlight “Ohio” which I did in the earlier post about Young. It needed its own space as it spoke volumes against President Nixon who called out the national guard on US college students at Kent State and a couple of kids got shot. This was a stain on Nixon before his Watergate Waterloo.

Another favorite is “Wooden Ships” as it is a great tune with great lyrics written by Crosby and Stills:

Wooden ships on the water, very free and easy,
Easy, you know the way it’s supposed to be,
Silver people on the shoreline, let us be,
 Talkin’ ’bout very free and easy…
Horror grips us as we watch you die,
All we can do is echo your anguished cries,
Stare as all human feelings die,
We are leaving – you don’t need us.

To me, these words say go live your life and pursue your dreams. Don’t stand by and watch life pass you by. Don’t save it for later, so take time to explore and you will learn something about yourself. Otherwise, you may be on the shore waiting to die. This same theme is picked up by Nash’s song “Wasted on the Way:”

And there’s so much time to make up
Everywhere you turn
Time we have wasted on the way

Oh when you were young
Did you question all the answers
Did you envy all the dancers
Who had all the nerve

Look round you NOW
You must go for what you wanted
Look at all my friends who did and got what they deserved.

There is so much more to write about Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. I would love to see newer artists start covering their play list more. Their songs need to be heard by more people. Let me close, with their most iconic song “Woodstock:”

Well, then can I roam beside you? I have come to lose the smog.
And I feel myself a cog in something turning.
And maybe it’s the time of year, yes, said maybe it’s the time of man.
And I don’t know who I am, but life is for learning.
We are stardust, we are golden, we are billion year old carbon,
And we got to get ourselves back to the garden.

“I don’t know who I am, but life is for learning.” These are profound words. I have tried to teach my children this. Never stop learning. I often say you can judge people’s intelligence by their awareness of how much they don’t know. And, getting back to the theme, even old farts like me, learn something new everyday. So, teach your parents well. Thanks guys for the journey which has not stopped.