Sunday, May 31, 2020

Today, concerts in and of themselves are money generating ventures. Tickets for concerts in the new millennium run hundreds of dollars, with special "meet and greet" events equaling the average paycheck, a pricing norm generated by Napster. Woodstock tickets, in comparison, were $18 for three days, and it wouldn't be unusual for a band to plan a high school tour in which tickets were three bucks. Concerts were a promotional concept with designs on getting attendees to purchase the LP or cassette. Because of this, every band toured for every LP.

When CSN emerged from out of Laurel Canyon in early 1969, particularly as what many consider the first "supergroup" (The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, The Hollies), the trio knew it must tour. The issue on hand was the complexity of the music, arrangements that, in the pre-Unplugged days, were beyond the capacity of the live band, despite Stills’ virtuosity. It was Stills who spent 100s of Brian Wilson-like hours in the studio to make the debut what it is.

CSN was forced to vet out the gaps in their line-up. They needed a drummer, that went without saying, and chose session drummer Dallas Taylor, but Stills felt they needed another musician "proficient enough, but not as a composer or singer." The concept was to focus on the harmonies in the tour's initial songs and then venture into an electric set that rocked. Atlantic Records guru Ahmet Ertegun suggested Neil Young, Stills' partner in Buffalo Springfield, to fill the bill. It was Young who had, through his dominance brought about the demise of the Buffalo Springfield, particularly in a scheme to embark on a solo career, but Ertegun knew the dynamic that offset Stills and Young in the guitar protegees' electric duets.

By the time they "got to Woodstock," Crosby, Stills and Nash had been joined by Young, with Taylor and Greg Reeves, a teenaged bassist with Motown cred.

The CSN debut, by the time of Woodstock, had already spent time atop the Billboard 100 album chart and would continue in that vein for 107 weeks. Woodstock led to Déjà Vu's complexity. Stills and Ertegun understood that Stephen's hope for a rival who remained ghostlike behind the band wouldn't fly with Young, and luckily, it didn’t. Stills had no powerhouse follow-up to Suite: Judy Blue Eyes and out of that came a far more intensive eclecticism for the new LP. 

Driving this, Stills' focus was "Carry On," which contained a rebooted arrangement for "Questions," edited out of the Buffalo Springfield's final album. Neil would counter with "Helpless," assimilating so perfectly into the CSN sound, and also with "Country Girl" and "Everybody I Love You." Not to be outdone, Crosby provided the title track and rock anthem, "Almost Cut My Hair," and Nash would contribute "Our House," "Teach Your Children," and, I'm sure, the emotional impetus for Joni Mitchell's "Woodstock."

Sometimes the magic isn't magical at all, think the agony of emotion behind Fleetwood Mac's Rumours, but the magic is there nonetheless, despite itself. Déjà Vu is one of those moments in music history when all the planets aligned; a perfect 10 on the AM scale.

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