Oh my, oh my. Where to begin?
I guess with the news that CSN and this time, Y, were going on tour this summer. The “Freedom of Speech 2006 Tour.” I checked and sure enough, they would be coming to Los Angeles, to Hollywood, my new home town, and playing the 31st of July at the fabulous Hollywood Bowl. At least, I’d heard it was fabulous, and it looked fabulous in the movies and such I’d seen it in, though I’d never actually been there.
Croz had been gracious enough, when we first met him not so long ago, as to offer to comp us some tickets the next time they were playing somewhere near us. That opportunity came last year, at the Greek Theater. We drove down from the Central Coast and spent the night at a motel and enjoyed a terrific show, one of the best I’d ever seen.
I didn’t know if the offer was still open, but what the heck? Nothing ventured, nothing gained. I wrote him, and he said sure, he could get us two tickets. Hallelujah!
And things just kept getting better. Spider Robinson is getting ready for the publication of his new book, a collaboration with Robert A Heinlein, called Variable Star. Yeah, I know, Heinlein is dead—or at least that’s the rumor—but he left a short outline for another juvenile like the ones that blew me away in the ’50s, and Spider was chosen to write it. This was, to Spider, a bit like having Jehovah hand him the Ten Commandments and then say “This is just a rough draft, dude. You take it and wail, okay?” The upshot: Croz is a major Heinlein fan, too, wrote a nice blurb for the book, and Spider was now coming down from Canada, with his amazing wife Jeanne, to do an interview with Crosby to use in the promotion of the book, which promises to be a best-seller. So they were going to be in Hollywood for the concert, and could spend a few days with us afterward before heading out for more publicity. Double hallelujah!
* * *
The day of the concert, and we took off early because the website said parking could be tough. They used the same system that the Greek Theater does, called stack parking, where they pack you in like sardines, bumper to bumper and door to door. Which means that, after the concert, nobody moves until the guy ahead of him does. This could be a problem, but not for us, as we had backstage passes and wouldn’t be leaving until everybody was cleared out. Ah, the glories of knowing a guy in the band!
The Bowl was everything it was cracked up to be. It was built in 1926, and was just some wooden benches in a natural amphitheater, looking dusty and forlorn in the old pictures. Over the years it evolved into Hollywood’s premier venue, seating 18,000 in a vast ellipse. They do everything there, from rock to classical to fireworks on the 4th of July … and the 2nd and the 3rd of July, for that matter, and during a lot of concerts. Monty Python performed there, long ago. The stage is gigantic, a series of arches that deflect the sound out to the audience, out there under the stars and moon. Lighting and sound are state of the art.
Seating is rather unique. Way, way, way back, halfway to Orange County, are simple benches. “A Prairie Home Companion” played the Bowl a few months ago, and I checked into ticket prices, found those seats were selling for $5 … if they had any. (Sorry, sold out.) Those same seats for CSNY FofS ’06 were going for … wait for it … $48, plus service charge and taxes. The worst seats in the house!! And there were only a few left when I checked. Everything else was long gone.
Seating gets better and better the closer you get to the stage, naturally, until you reach a semi-circle right at the stage called the Pool Circle. Don’t know why. They’re just regular seats, though you can’t beat the view. Then there’s Garden seats and Terrace seats. Both of these are divided into boxes with 4 or 6 folding chairs, and removable tables. There are several restaurants in the Bowl, and half a dozen snack bars. The restaurants cater meals right to your seat. When we arrived, an hour early, there were lots of people chowing down on pretty fancy food and wine and beer. This is not to mention the thousands we’d seen outside who had brought picnic lunches and were eating them at numerous wooden tables across Cahuenga Boulevard from the Bowl. A night out here was a celebration. We’d already eaten before we got there; if we’d’a known … oh, well.
Our seats were a 6-box in the Garden area, almost in front of the sound board, with the TV cameras looking over our heads. We spotted Spider and Jeanne a row down and maybe fifty feet to our left, and went over and greeted them and, you know, talked about the sort of stuff you talk about with best friends when you haven’t seen each other in too long, and about this fabulous night. Croz had tried to get us seated together but couldn’t pull it off. In the course of the conversation Jeanne happened to mention that Croz had to pay for our tickets. Each band member had an allotment of a certain number of seats he could either give to friends or, I guess, sell, and he’d done some horse trading earlier in the day … silly me, I thought he got them for free. I got out the ticket stubs and looked for the price … and had to sit down. Friends and fellow music lovers, seats in the Garden Terrace were going for $258. EACH! I am here to tell you, as I later told Croz, that I have bought cars for less than $516. A lot less. This is a debt I’ll never be able to repay, but I’m going to try. Croz says just keep writing, and I will, of course, as if that could be enough.
* * *
Graham Nash just walked out onto the stage in the failing evening light, no fanfare, no announcement. I didn’t even see him until people started to roar their approval. Then the others appeared. The music began.
Somebody said that writing about music is like dancing about architecture. (Frank Zappa? Maybe. He did say that “rock journalism” is people who can’t write interviewing people who can’t talk for people who can’t read.) (No, wait, I just googled it. It was Steve Martin who said that.)
Spider has proved that wrong on his site, where he’s danced a pretty good building about this concert, but he is a lot better at that sort of stuff than I am, so I’ll keep my comments brief.
Basically, they rocked. They tore the house down and built it back up again. I had thought the Greek Theater concert was about as good as it gets, but putting Neil Young in there added a different energy. A lot of the songs were his, in fact he dominated the show, and CSN seemed happy to let him, and a lot of the songs were angry. This concert was about a lot more than freedom of speech, it was about the rage we’re all feeling (except in the Red States, apparently, where a solid 50% still believe it’s about the War on Terror and that Saddam had WMDs), about the criminal war of aggression being waged by those degenerate chickenhawks in the White House and the eunuchs in Congress and the assault on all our sacred institutions, and I do include the fucking Democrats in this accusation. Not one in a hundred of those clueless weenies has any balls, including Hilary Clinton. Fuck them all. Damn them all to a fiery hell.
I don’t want to give the impression that the entire night was angry protest. No, there were plenty of their more poetic stuff, from “Carry On” and “Wooden Ships” to “Helplessly Hoping” and “Guinevere.” Here’s the program, courtesy of Spider:
Flags of Freedom
Long Time Gone
After the Garden
Living With War
Shock and Awe
Almost Cut My Hair
Roger and Out
Old Man Trouble
Teach Your Children
Find the Cost
Hendrix: Star Spangled Banner
Let’s Impeach the President
For What It’s Worth
What Are Their Names
Rockin’ in the Free World
But some of that stuff takes on a new meaning all these years after the Vietnam War is over, and a new war is eating our moral fiber. Take a listen to “Ohio” and “Teach Your Children” on your old copies of Déjà Vu and Four Way Street, see what they sound like now.
Watching, listening, I was amazed at how it all came together. I am a junkie for four-part harmony, and there’s no group better in the business. You’d have to go to another genre, jazz, to find their equal, in The Manhattan Transfer. They are all four great songwriters. But I have to say that, though I may be prejudiced by friendship, I think David Crosby is the reason for it all. He is the sun the other planets revolve around, the rock that anchors them all. Just look at him! He stands there, and the most incredible music comes out of his mouth. I mean, stands there! Nash capers like an elf and his voice floats over the top of it all. Stills jumps around like a Mexican bean, tearing off incredible guitar riffs, his voice … well, sometimes great, sometimes a little less than that. Young has the physical intensity of a road grader; you don’t want to get in his way, and he wails on the guitar and his voice is somewhere there in the mix, I’m not quite sure where, and I like him a lot better as part of the group than I do on his own and I’m crazy about him solo … and David just stands there. David just stands there, picking and singing. When he’s not picking, he actually puts his hands in his pockets. It’s as if everybody else has to sort of wring it out of their pipes and their fingers (or, in the case of a lot of rockers, I suspect, act like it), and all David has to do is open his mouth and it’s there, that clear intensity that so few rockers have, a voice that could have made it in any era, any genre. A voice that’s a gift from the gods.
The highlights of the night were two:
There was “Let’s Impeach the President,” and they ran the lyrics on the giant TV behind them. Everybody sang along except, so we were told later by Virginia Madsen, some assholes in the box next to her who were Bush supporters. They shouted and stomped out. Good riddance. I’m amazed they got out alive … but it was a peaceful crowd. What I can’t figure is, what the fuck were they doing at a CSNY concert? Didn’t they know Neil Young had written that song? Didn’t they expect that CSNY would play it, and that it would be a huge hit? What did they expect? “Let’s Support the President and Kill a Lot of Iraqis”? Idiots. Assholes. Pigfuckers.
Then we heard the ghost of Jimi Hendrix playing “The Star Spangled Banner” from Woodstock, and the TV screen ran the pictures of every US soldier, mostly young, mostly poor, sacrificed to George Bush’s erectile dysfunction and daddy complex in this kid-killing quagmire he calls a war. The pictures were small, but it still took a long time coming, and they’ll all be a long time gone. Down in a corner a counter turned over fast until it finally reached 2500-something, and a crawl line repeated the endless lies of the mass murderers in the White House, every one of them exposed for the bald-faced goddam pile of steaming horseshit it is.
They wound it all up with “Rockin’ in the Free World,” and by the end they got so loud that I wondered if I’d wandered into an Iron Butterfly concert by mistake.
Joking. It all worked wonderfully.
* * *
For a while there, the first few numbers, we thought we might have a 6-box to ourselves. Maybe somebody had a crash on the freeway or something. When the four others arrived we sort of wished they had. It was a couple maybe 10, 15 years younger than us, and their two boys, late teens or early twenties. The first thing she did when she sat down was to get out her PDA and check her email. I swear! Then their kids started making phone calls. Luckily the music was far too loud for that to bother us. The kids spent the next three hours being elaborately bored, clearly wishing they could be somewhere else. Now, that’s fine with me, I don’t care if they don’t appreciate fine rock and roll, and after all, this isn’t their generation. But what I don’t understand is … why did Mom and Dad drag these little horrors to CSNY? Did they have season tickets to the Bowl? Me, I’d have sold those extra ducats to some of the desperate people waiting around outside, made maybe $500, $600 dollars in the deal. I guess some people are so rich they just don’t care.
Four woman in a box in front of us were eating salads and chug-a-lugging wine when we arrived, an hour before curtain time, and were still eating and drinking when the music started. Three of them seemed to be fine with this. But the fourth was passed out and under the table by intermission. At the end, her friends were trying to get her on her feet but she kept slipping bonelessly to the ground. The designated driver, no doubt. It was funny as hell.
I stepped out for a smoke before the show began, and suddenly someone was calling my name. Suppressing my natural urge to flee (process server? FBI? Homeland Security?), I turned and met Jonathan Mersel and his wife and son. He has been a regular visitor to this site, and has written me several times. Now understand, I don’t get recognized in public more than twice a decade, and every little bit of egoboo helps, those times when you’re sitting here at the keyboard wondering “Is anybody actually reading this shit?” When I learned that they were there because they had read that I was going to the concert it made an already wonderful night even better. Wow!
Lee pointed out a woman wandering around before the concert and said, “She has style.” No kidding. Not only that, she was gorgeous. She was blonde, wearing a leather top and low-cut jeans that left enough middle showing that you just knew she worked out. Lee is fond of saying that anyone can be in style: just walk into Nordstrom’s and say “Dress me.” But to have style is a whole different thing, and she had it. We speculated as to her age. Lee said mid-thirties, I opted for early forties. Later, backstage, we met her and learned her name was Kelly, and she was Steven Stills’ business manager. She met the band when she was working in the White House during the Carter administration. You do the math; I’m far too tactful to add it all up.
During a rest room break at intermission I drifted over to the stage door—actually, I was sort of moved there by the tidal pressure of a thousand people squeezing through a narrow area—and happened to glimpse a tall guy coming out of the stage door. Wait a sec … I’m tall, almost 6’6″. This guy was tall. Six feet eleven inches, to be exact. I know this because it was Bill Walton. He grabbed somebody and went back inside. I was looking forward to meeting him backstage, as it is a not-entirely-comfortable rarity for me to be with someone taller than I am, but it was not to be. He’d already left.
* * *
So, on to backstage … which nearly didn’t happen. Spider and Jeanne had laminated passes hanging around their necks. We had only lowly stick-on passes that entitled us to get no farther than an outdoor verandah where the band might or might not make an appearance later. No worries, Spider assured us, we can all get backstage.
The goon at the gate hadn’t heard it, though. He turned us back. Spider had spent most of the day hanging out with Crosby and his crew and had gotten to know some of them, so he got on the phone. After a series of phone phuck-ups, he finally got the guy he was looking for, and he came out and escorted all of us into the dressing rooms.
There was nothing fancy back there at all. Each of the four had a small room with a couch and a fridge and a john. Graham Nash was with a group in his room, Steven Stills with another group in his. David’s was the most crowded. As I eased my way in, Billy Crystal was just easing his way out. No chance to meet him. David’s wife Jan and son Django were there, and we were introduced to Cindy Sheehan. Well, Lee shouted “Oh my god!” and practically fell to her knees. I thought that was rather odd, as she’s not one to act fannish around celebrities … and frankly, I couldn’t place the name at first. One of the progressive columnists or bloggers Lee reads, maybe?
Then the penny dropped. Cindy Sheehan!!! Founder of that big beautiful burr on Bush’s butt, Camp Casey, the memorial to her son whose life was wasted by that psalm-singing worm. The woman who demanded answers about the war, and was reviled as a traitor by the likes of that steaming puddle of half-digested rat vomit, Ann Coulter. One of the first and bravest and most powerful voices to be raised against the insanity, and one who infuriated the neo-con mouthpieces by getting a lot of press coverage for her vigil. The honest truth: I couldn’t have been more impressed if I’d been in the presence of Gandhi, or Martin Luther King, Jr. The lady has more stones than I have, or ever will. And she was so … nice! I immediately felt I’d known her for a long time.
What do you say to a woman who has lost her son in a pointless and immoral war? I don’t know. I was tongue-tied, and whatever I did manage to say was probably incoherent, but she was so gracious about it all …
She’s headed back to the darkest depths of Texas, the asshole of the Lone Star State (which, come to think of it, is mostly asshole), Crawford, and invited us to visit her there. She’s buying land not far from the ranch where the devil himself regularly kicks his shit, hot damn! They’ve tried to kick her off the sidewalks, off public land and streets, off land made available to the only progressive in Crawford … but let’s see them kick her off land she owns! Camp Casey is going to be permanent, baby, Bush will have her as a neighbor from now on.
Also back there was Virginia Madsen, who we’d just seen in Firewall, and her best friend Rusty Schwimmer, who was very good in The Perfect Storm and lots of other things. Believe it or not, both these actresses have been friends since they were 13 years old. I don’t know for sure the connection between David and Virginia Madsen, but I suspect it has something to do with her work in Sideways (for which she was nominated for an Oscar—and for my money should have won instead of Cate Blanchett), which was filmed in a small wine-growing area of the Central Coast around Santa Ynez, which is right where the Crosbys live. She was incredibly gracious. I observed her talking to a young woman who asked what she did. When Madsen told her she was an actress, the silly little twit gushed, “Me, too!” and yet she had no idea who she was talking to. Don’t quit your day job, honey.
And last but far from least, we met Carl Gottlieb, co-author with David Crosby of his autobiography, Long Time Gone. It’s written in a distinctly different way. Croz would write down his thoughts, and Carl would talk to the people who knew him at the time that was being discussed. So there are parts written by dozens of the most famous people in music, with long passages by Carl. We found out that Since Then: How I Survived Everything and Lived to Tell About It, the second volume was complete, at the publishers, and about to appear in print. Lee asked if there was going to be an index. Carl groaned. Of course he’d wanted an index in a non-fiction book, he said, but the goddam publishers were too cheap to spring for it. Well, Lee said it just had to have one, and she’d do it, for free. They’re writing back and forth about that right now. There’s a lot of time pressure and it remains to be seen if it will happen, but we’ve got our fingers crossed.
All too soon the evening was winding down. You don’t just come off the stage and hop right into bed, or at least I know I couldn’t, assuming you ever got me out there in the first place in front of 18,000 adoring fans. (Not bloody likely.) Lots of rockers party long into the night, but all that was happening here was a decompression from that high, not an extension of it. A few beers were drunk, but it was mostly Pepsi. These are family men, mature, over the follies of youth. You’d never know to look at them that they could rock that hard and that well. We said our good-byes and departed into the warm Cahuenga Canyon night and made our way back to the car. Which was sitting there, all alone, in the middle of the long stack parking lot. I guess people got around it somehow.
* * *
Spider and Jeanne stayed over for a few days and we showed them around this crazy town. That’s all personal, except to say that they loved the Temple Garden of the Self-Realization Fellowship, one of the niftier places in Smell A, as David calls it.
Now it’s back to work … and we’re off to Oregon for a few weeks, so I don’t know how often this site will be updated for a while, and emails probably won’t be answered as promptly as usual. But keep coming here, and keep writing to us. We love hearing from y’all.
August 8, 2006