Thursday, July 12, 2012
Sheepish Musical Pleasures: Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, "Almost Cut My Hair"
There is very little music that sounds more dated today than post-sixties hippie rock in general, and Crobsy, Stills, Nash and (sometimes) Young in particular. Don't get me wrong; I am a huge Neil Young fan, I love the Byrds, dig Buffalo Springfield, and have always enjoyed the classic pop of The Hollies. However, when you take elements of all of these great things and form a kind of Frankenstein's monster of hubristic, narcissistic, affluent Boomer hippiedom, it adds up to a whole lot less than the sum of its parts, akin to avocado, bacon, and broccoli ice cream. Sure, 1970's Deja Vu is a pretty good album, but I'd rather listen to Young's After the Gold Rush, (released in the same year) every time, if given the chance.
There are few groups this side of Rush who sing such daft lyrics with such unabashed conviction. Over forty years on, a song called "Woodstock" with a refrain of "we are stardust/ we are golden/ and we've got to get ourselves/ back to the garden" seems more like a joke than a generational call to arms. (In CSNY's defense, this song was written by Joni Mitchell, not them.) These words seem positively level-headed compared to the David Crosby-penned "Almost Cut My Hair." Growing up I knew a lot more about the man's epic substance abuse problems than his music, and a little of that drug casualty spirit is present in this song, which is an uproariously funny counterculture paranoid fantasy where Crosby declares "I feel like letting my freak flag fly." That's not my favorite line of flower power doggerel, either. Every time he says his paranoia is like "looking in the mirror/ and seeing a police car" I have a hard time not laughing audibly.
Hearing wealthy rock stars lament how hard it is to turn rebellion into money, as The Clash once said, is pretty damn chuckle worthy. That being said, I can't stop going back to this song. Like a prehistoric fly caught in amber, it preserves a particularly detailed relic of an interesting and increasingly incomprehensible past. It's also one of the few times on a CSNY record that Stills and Young cut loose with their guitars with the same abandon that they showed on Buffalo Springfield chestnuts like "Mr. Soul." With a little more dueling electric mayhem and a little less woodsy harmonizing they could've been a much cooler band.