Crosby, Still, Nash and mom


My mother has been here for the last five days. It was great to have her here. I took her to her first rock concert, a Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young reunion tour which kicked off in Philly. I had initially bought the tickets for me and Sooz as a mother’s day gift, but a day after receiving them, Sooz gave them back to me, saying she really didn’t want to go. I was hurt but I got over it. I guess I forgot I was married to an agoraphobic recluse. Instead I gave her a day off, during which time she could do anything she wanted by herself. I timed that day to overlap with my Mom’s visit.

I was amazed to discover that it was my Mom’s first rock concert,. My Mom is a sixties “elder”, who was on the cutting edge of the avant gard dance scene from ’65 on. She looked at the CD case of So Far I gave to her. “I know these people played music when I was younger but I just don’t recognize the names of these songs” she said. Mom has “senior moments” like these, which are actually sixties blackouts. There are entire years in there Mom just doesn’t remember very much about. And she wasn’t dropping a lot of acid either. They just didn’t stick, I guess. Then I played some of the CD. “Oh yes . . . “ she said when Our House came on. Slowly, each song seemed to lift her up a bit straighter, until finally she was holding the CD case in her hand and squinting at it.

The ride to the concert was a traffic nightmare. I realized glumly that Sooz had made the right call. She would have been beside herself coming to this concert. Instead of feeling relieved that things were playing out the way they should, I wanted to run someone over. Mom sat next to me sensing my simmer and fished for things to say. We talked about a lot of things. But as is usual with her, I didn’t feel unburdened from talking to her. I just felt more and more irritated.

The day before the concert I had a session with Deb. During that session I uncovered my shadow for her. Like any good therapist she didn’t bat an eye. “What’s underneath?” she asked.

“Anger.” I replied.

“And what does that anger do for you, Ben?”

“It’s an engine” I said. “I don’t know what I’d do without it.”

“You’re a very powerful person” she said. “But I get the sense you keep so much of it in. It’s like you’re energy is this big, “ she held her arms wide, “but it can only come out an opening this big” and she made a small hole with her fingers. “I wonder what would happen if you just let it go.”

Give up and let it go. Give up and let your life flow, sings Francis Dunnery.

So in the car, in the hellish traffic, my Mom next to me behaving like a sweet Buddhist nun, my shadow was punishing me for telling on it as I had. Because my shadow dwells in a very private place, and it draws me to isolation. You’re only as sick as your secrets, as they say in the Rooms. But you learn who to share them with and who not to.

Finally we got to the lawn at the Tweeter Center. CSNY had started playing. They began with the new music, mostly from Neal Young’s latest album, a blistering attack on the Bush administration. As the night came on and the band played and they sang the songs I knew and loved, my shadow slipped away. Watching these guys in their sixties rocking out, getting us to sing along to lyrics like “Let’s impeach the President!”, sitting next to my sixty eight year old artist Mom, I wondered: where is the twentysomething Neal Young?

I fear our young people have lost the ability to revere their own big feelings. It takes big feelings to sing protest music. You set yourself up for a lot of ridicule (like the ridicule CSNY took at the hands of the idiot critic who reviewed the concert a couple of days later). It takes big feelings to work for social justice, to believe in a cause so much you’ll go door to door, or march on Washington, or write a song about it and then sing it in front of people. It takes big feelings to make it happen, as opposed to big ideas. Ideas can sit back and become passive. Feelings propel you to motion. The unity we seek is the detonation which occurs when ideas lead to big feelings and then the feelings spread. That’s called a movement. But in a culture in which big feelings are fundamentally unsafe, or are sources of embarrassment, movements are dead in the water.

Our youth are being trained to mock. So many young people prefer to sit in the back of the class and roll their eyes at someone else’s contribution. In our great virtual classroom, we are in danger of having everyone in the back of the class, and no one in the front raising their hands with something to say. Why would they, with such an enormous chorus of voices ready to shoot them down? Do you see, friends, how this plays into my concerns with criticism, which has become a forum for nasty sniping or pointless praise? How it is related to higher academia, in which ideas are favored and feelings are suspect? How it is connected to our political discourse, in which pundits and bloggers exist for no other reason than to find a way to bring someone else down? What brought down Howard Dean in 2004? I submit it was the reaction these media vultures had to his big feelings, which led to an unadorned howl on a cold night in Iowa, a great release of disappointment and cry to rally the troops. In years past, such a cry might have led the English at Agincourt, or rallied the striking miners in West Virginia, or sent students to seize a building. It might have been the stuff of legends. But today, soaked as we are in cynicism, it was a bulls-eye on his chest.

By the way, the song Let’s Impeach the President ends with the refrain “Thank God.”

My Mom was very taken with the whole thing, even though her trick knee began to ache and we left early to avoid the traffic on the way out. I think we were both a little high from the pot smoke swirling around us. “Actually, I think it was hash” said Mom, sounding like she might have been correcting me about a spice used in an old family recipe. We talked about teaching and feelings and protests on the way home. She was chirping. It was like she had just discovered this new thing, this rock and roll concert thing. The next day, she Googled CSNY and discovered a DVD documentary about them. Her interest was peaked. By the time we got to the video store though, she had forgotten the name of it. “It was a lyric from one of their songs . . . “ Uh-oh. The twentysometing behind the counter did a search for us which lasted a few minutes before I discovered he was looking for a documentary about Bing Crosby. “No, no. Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young” I said. He made me spell it. He had never heard of them. We never found the documentary.