- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 14, 2005

Rock ‘n’ roll and politics usually make uncomfortable bedfellows.

For every Bob Dylan or John Fogerty who can successfully combine the two, there are a dozen sorry polemists who graft crude manifestos (almost always to the left) onto three-chords to create a low order of musical propaganda.

Saturday evening, a jam-packed, sweat-soaked crowd at Wolf Trap got to hear some of the best and worst political rock musings during a performance of Crosby, Stills & Nash. They heard the genre at its most hackneyed when Stephen Stills cut loose on “Feed the People,” from his new solo album. Billy Jack, save us, but one has to think back to the Guess Who’s trite political treatise, “Share the Land,” to find an equally air-headed ode.

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“Don’t Dig Here,” a new Crosby & Nash song, likewise grossly oversimplifies the complex issue of nuclear waste disposal. Also falling into the camp of weak, musical pandering to the left was Graham Nash’s dated, singsongy solo hit, “Chicago,” about the turmoil at the 1968 Democratic political convention, and ex-Byrd David Crosby’s silly melodrama, “Almost Cut My Hair,” in which he uses the refusal to cut his “freak flag” as a symbol of resisting “the Man.”

By contrast, Mr. Stills later showed how a few well-chosen words and an acoustic guitar can make a sociopolitical statement that resonates deeply. Introducing “Daylight Again,” he noted that “the events of 145 years ago” and the “hallowed ground just a few miles from here” inspired the song. Arlington National Cemetery was the likely reference point, but it could have been the battlefield at Manassas (namesake for Mr. Stills’ first post-CS&N; band) — or any of the area’s dozens of other blood-soaked Civil War sites, where so many men died for what they believed in.

“I think I see a valley, covered in bones in blue; All the brave soldiers that cannot get older, been asking after you,” CS&N; sang in that gorgeous, three-part harmony that still elicits chills. It’s still a haunting song, and when melded with “Find the Cost of Freedom,” it cut to the bone. The medley works as both an anti-war hymn and as a tribute to those who make the ultimate sacrifice.

“For What It’s Worth,” another politically tinged, Stills-penned hit from his days with Buffalo Springfield, led off a two-song encore. It still holds interest by contrasting a paranoia-inducing government with confused protesters carrying picket signs that “mostly say hooray for our side.” Mr. Nash’s ethereally beautiful “Cathedral,” was another highlight that worked well on a musical and philosophical level. In it, the Hollies’ former high-harmony man tells of a “trip” through Winchester Cathedral (apparently high on more than religion), and he has a go at organized religion for what he sees as its role in causing misery and war.

The show opened with CS&N; all on electric guitars for a storming version of “Woodstock,” the supposed anthem for the peace and love generation (which, actually, was virtually over by time the song was recorded in 1970).

“We are stardust, we are golden,” they sang. But the “caught in the devil’s bargain” lyric a few bars later is the more telltale line. In their heyday, CS&N; were eternally bickering, cocaine-snorting, egomaniacs who spent as much time fighting as they did making music. Which is why the band’s legacy depends so heavily on just two albums: 1969’s self-titled debut and 1970’s “Deja Vu” (with Neil Young temporarily on board). Mr. Stills seemed increasingly hoarse as the concert progressed, (Mr. Nash even sang his solo lines in “Wooden Ships”), which is why, perhaps, the band’s biggest hit, “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” wasn’t played.

The final encore, Mr. Nash’s “Teach Your Children,” was dedicated by Mr. Crosby to teachers everywhere, saying they “deserve to be paid about four times as much as they are.” (And maybe the money to achieve that worthy goal can come from a special tax on grossly overpaid entertainers and athletes.)

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