Feeling legendary

First, my apologies to those of you who have been waiting for my write-up of the concert that David Crosby and Graham Nash gave at the Strand Theatre in York, Pa., on May 8. What can I say? Life happens; other things take priority; yadda, yadda, yadda. Anyway, enough with the excuses and on with the show!

Throughout the show, I had the distinct feeling that I was witnessing, or perhaps being part of, American history. There was something legendary about these two. I’ve been to a lot of concerts, but this feeling was a first. So what was different about this show?

Was it their social commentary? They commented on corporate dishonesty, perceived unfairness in tax structures, religious war. They talked about issues with nuclear power plants and waste disposal. Quite honestly, I usually find social commentary quite annoying in the middle of a concert. The first person that comes to mind is Bono, who can be heavy-handed and long-winded when he talks about societal issues. Unlike Bono, however, these two restricted their commentary to fairly short matter-of-fact prologues or epilogues and let the songs (such as “Don’t Dig Here,” “In Your Name,” and “They Want It All”) do the majority of their speaking. It struck me that these two men probably had been committed to the same or similar causes for decades. It really didn’t matter whether or not I shared their convictions; they obviously cared about them intensely and consistently, and that’s worthy of anyone’s admiration.

Was it their rapport with each other and the audience? They were definitely funny. Near the beginning of the show, Nash announced they would be playing a lot of music that night. After all, their basketball team, the Lakers, had just lost a game and was out of the NBA championship, so what else did they have to do? They also sincerely expressed their preference for small venues, such as the Strand, where Crosby said they can strive for their best work, compared to the “blimp hangers” they play “with the other two guys,” where, as Crosby said, they have to work “in broad strokes.” They laughingly provided echoes of themselves singing and talking in the big arenas.

When introducing “Cowboy Movie,” Crosby said, “This next song: I have to confess, they made me do this: they ganged up on me, even my family.” Nash commented, “We would love to see you f**k up.” Nash explained that Crosby had not performed this particular song on tour in 40 years. Crosby then played and sang the long narrative with all the intensity and inflections needed to effectively “tell the tale,” as Nash complimented him afterwards. The desire to see each other screw up seemed to be mutual. Later in the show, Crosby giggled with pleasure at a mistake Nash apparently made. (I missed it.) “He almost never makes a mistake. This is a deeply frustrating thing for me. I make frequent mistakes: huge ones, publicly huge ones. So when he makes even the teeniest little mistake, I get great joy,” Crosby explained, sounding very much like the Wicked Witch of the East.

These two men obviously care about one another. Perhaps the length of their relationship was a big part of it for me. It was joyful to watch two men who had known each other for more than four decades, who obviously are very different but still share so much beauty and fun. The fact that Crosby’s son, James Raymond, was playing keyboard with them added another layer of love. When Crosby revealed his relationship to Raymond, his comment brought tears to my eyes: “He’s my son … and three or four times as good a musician as I am.” The love was palpable: the theater was full of it.

Or was it simply the artistic talent represented on the stage? To be truthful, I didn’t know a lot of the songs. I’ve never closely followed the music of CSN/Y. I knew (and loved) several of their more popular ballads, but that was the limit of my exposure, I thought. I enjoyed those songs, of course: “Our House” was the one song that brought tears to my eyes. And then there were some familiar songs, like “Marrakesh Express,” that I knew but had not previously associated with the group.

I learned that I was more familiar with Nash’s songs. Perhaps about a third of the way into the show, Crosby said, “By way of explanation, it’s Nash’s job to write anthems that everybody in the whole world wants to sing: ‘Teach Your Children,’ ‘Our House.’ That’s his job. It’s my job to write weird shit. To each is suited his purpose.” This comment preceded a brand new song by Crosby: “Slice of Time.” Weird shit? Perhaps. But wow, that was some beautiful, creative weird shit, full of layers and phrasing perfectly suited to the musing nature of the lyrics.

There were quite a few songs I was hearing for the first time. Being a music lover, I’m not bothered by seeing a show where the songs are unfamiliar; in fact, sometimes I prefer it. In this case, I think the unfamiliarity added to the magic. I was continually amazed by the quality: of the diverse creativity, honesty, and sincerity in the songwriting; of the musicianship displayed by Nash and Crosby. I guess having decades to hone their talents helps, but really, that level of talent still blows my mind.

The other musicians were no slouches either. Nash explained that he and Crosby stole bassist Kevin McCormick (coincidentally born and raised in York, Pa.) from Jackson Browne’s band. On the other hand, the drummer Steve DiStanislao (“Stevie D”) had been stolen from them by David Gilmore for a while but returned. And then there was the guitarist (or “multi-instrumentalist” as Nash called him) Dean Parks, as featured on many Steely Dan songs.

I think my favorite “new” song of the night was “Camera” (1994). I loved both the song and its introduction. Crosby revealed that Nash is a “superb photographer” who has contributed greatly to the advances in the printing of digital photography. (Nash’s printer is on display in the Smithsonian.) Crosby said his own father was a camera man and made movies but preferred taking still photos. Nash pointed out that one of the movies Crosby’s father shot was High Noon, one of the American classics.

With that kind of legacy in the room, no wonder I felt part of America’s cultural history.

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