Posts Tagged ‘David Crosby’

What Are The Words?

Friday, December 6th, 2019

Late last evening, I finished Steven Johnson’s book How We Got To Now: The Innovations That Made The Modern World. (The book was based on a 2014 television series that was, as I understand it, broadcast on both PBS and the BBC).

In the book, Johnson examines the history of six foundations of the modern world: glass, refrigeration, sound technology, sanitation, the measurement of time, and light. Along the way, many of Johnson’s insights and the historical nuggets he mined made me pause in thought, especially the idea that many inventions come along only when there is not only the technological skill to make them but a need for them.

The most interesting of those pairings – ability and need – was the invention of corrective lenses and the widespread demand for eyeglasses, which followed by very few years Gutenberg’s invention of moveable type and the proliferation of reading material in Europe. With popular reading material available, more people were reading, and they were discovering that their vision needed correcting. The demand for eyeglasses increased greatly enough to make the manufacturing of lenses a major industry. (And soon enough, there were other uses for those lenses as well, like telescopes and microscopes.)

There are connections like that – sometimes several – in all six of the main sections of the book, juxtapositions that made me stop reading and just think for a few moments. And there was one other moment that gave me pause.

In the chapter on light, Johnson links Georges Claude, the French scientist who discovered the luminescent qualities of isolated neon gas, to the book Learning From Las Vegas, a 1972 work on postmodern art and architecture by Yale professors (and married partners) Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown. Johnson explores several steps in the link, and acknowledges that none of those steps would have happened without electricity.

Johnson then writes, “but just about everything needed electricity in the 1960s: The moon landing, the Velvet Underground, the ‘I Have A Dream’ speech . . .”

And I put down the book and thought, if I were to use three examples to stand for the technology, the pop culture and the wider zeitgeist of America in the 1960s, could I do better than that? How long, I wondered, did he and perhaps his collaborators on the television series work at getting the right combination of three items?

In the essay on President John Kennedy’s assassination that I recently reposted here, I spent many more words than that to describe the times we now call the Sixties. Then, I called the years before Dallas “a time of Father Knows Best and the New York Yankees,” a description that still pleases me.

After pondering Johnson’s succinct characterization of the 1960s and recalling my description of the era that came before, I began to wonder how one would characterize the other decades, the other eras of American life in three brief examples. I played around with a few, but I’ll let them be today, as they need work. But if readers want to throw out some brief characterizations of any American decade/era, they’re welcome to do so.

And since we’re talking about words, here’s David Crosby’s “Song With No Words (Tree With No Leaves).” It’s from his 1971 album If I Could Only Remember My Name.

Nine Out Of Ten

Tuesday, May 1st, 2012

Here’s the Billboard Top Ten album chart from May 6, 1972, forty years ago this week:

First Take by Roberta Flack
Harvest by Neil Young
America by America
Eat A Peach by the Allman Brothers Band
Fragile by Yes
Paul Simon by Paul Simon
Smokin’ by Humble Pie
Nilsson Schmilsson by Nilsson
Tapestry by Carole King
Graham Nash/David Crosby by Graham Nash & David Crosby

All but one of those albums now sit in my LP stacks (and a couple are replicated on CD). The only one of those albums that I’ve never owned is the Humble Pie effort. During the mid-1990s era of vinyl expansion, I evidently relied on the 1979/1983 edition of the Rolling Stone Record Guide, which pretty much said that the essential Humble Pie albums were the group’s first two – As Safe As Yesterday Is and Town and Country, both from 1969 – and a live collection. I got the first two, passed on the live collection and gave no thought to Smokin’.

I thus managed to evidently never hear “Hot ’N’ Nasty,” the one single from the album that reached the Billboard Hot 100 (peaking at No. 52). This morning, that doesn’t bother me, as from the vantage point of forty years, “Hot ’N’ Nasty” seems to be nothing close to nasty and not particularly hot at all. It’s a decent piece of early Seventies boogie, and hearing it leaves me no more tempted to find the album, which peaked at No. 6, than I was an hour ago.

At least two of the other albums on that Top Ten list from forty years ago, however, would be on any list I put together of essential pop/rock albums, and three others, if they happened not to make that list, would come close. I wrote extensively about one of those essential albums, Tapestry, a year ago, so we’ll let that one go by today. The other essential album on that list, to my ears, is Eat A Peach, which includes the last material recorded by Duane Allman before his death in October 1971 as well as material recorded after that by his surviving band-mates. The album – which peaked at No. 4 – is probably best remembered for the live thirty-three minute “Mountain Jam” that was based on a theme from Donovan’s “There Is A Mountain” and took up two of the four sides of the double-LP package.

(A couple of ABB-related things: This past weekend, I read an excerpt from Gregg Allman’s new memoir, My Cross To Bear, in the current edition of Rolling Stone. The excerpt was revealing – perhaps too revealing at moments – and reflective, and it made me want to read the entire book. And as I researched this piece this morning, I finally learned at Wikipedia why the album was called Eat A Peach: “[T]he album name came from something Duane said in an interview shortly before he was killed. When asked what he was doing to help the revolution, Duane replied, ‘There ain’t no revolution, it’s evolution, but every time I’m in Georgia I eat a peach for peace.’”)

The three other albums from that very good Top Ten list that would at least come close to any list I might make of essential albums are those by Neil Young, Paul Simon and the duo of Graham Nash and David Crosby. That last is likely a surprise entrant, but when I sort through the solo and duet records made by the various combinations of Crosby, Stills Nash & Young, Graham Nash/David Crosby sits near the top of the list just behind Stephen Stills and just ahead of Young’s Harvest and Comes A Time.

So what it is about Graham Nash/David Crosby that I admire? First of all, the musicianship, with Crosby and Nash joined by a cluster of players that included the recently departed Chris Etheridge on bass, Jerry Garcia on guitar and a host of recognizable studio players. Some of my regard for the album, which went to No. 4, is no doubt related to the times; the record, more than many others, reminds me of what life felt like in 1972. And then there are the songs, ranging from Crosby’s searching and inspiring “Where Will I Be/Page 43” to one of Nash’s best: “Southbound Train.”