By Bob Houghtaling
I recently escorted a contingent of locals to PPAC to see Crosby, Stills and Nash perform. The event was part of my never-ending ’60s social justice tour featuring Richie Havens (now deceased), Bob Dylan, Peter Yarrow, Crosby, Stills and Nash as well as the late Tommy Makem. Along the way there have been trips to Occupy Providence, attendance at Les Miserables and numerous discussions. While attempting to teach about civil rights and social justice, I also get to live vicariously through those who come along on my sojourns.
As our group walked back to the parking lot after the concert, a bunch of guys drinking outside of a bar asked us where we had come from. After answering, we overheard one of them say, “That’s why there are so many old people coming around.” While chuckling, I also felt a bit sad. Not so much for being one of those “old people,” but more for the fellas pouring down drinks, on a weekday night, dismissing others engaged in fun with some social justice mixed in. Who was “old”? Was it the utopian old farts or the young people piling down drinks? Maybe both. Maybe neither. Maybe old in this case pertains to attitude.
David Crosby, Stephen Stills and Graham Nash (as well as Neil Young on and off) were all big stars before getting together. Crosby was with the Byrds, Stills played for Buffalo Springfield and Nash was a key part of the Hollies early success. Young was also a member of Buffalo Springfield. When they got together CSN (Y) were called a “Super Group.” They wrote great stuff. They were (are) also quite political.
Vietnam, Civil Rights, women’s issues, the Cold War and a space race were all major topics during the mid ’60s to early ’70s. Many musical artists sang and wrote of those concerns. Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan, Richie Havens, Joan Baez, Harry Belafonte, John Fogerty along with others were a few of those who used their talent to express the zeitgeist of the time. Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young stood very close to the forefront. Songs like Wooden Ships, Ohio, Chicago, Woodstock, Cathedral (and others) spoke to nuclear war, protest and the role religion plays with politics. It was powerful. It was of the moment. Perhaps you had to be there. Perhaps.
Mark Patinkin, writing for the Providence Journal, offered a wonderful piece describing his attendance at the PPAC event. Patinkin explained how viscerally connected he was to CSN during his youth and their heyday. While enjoying the concert he also mused about the old days and how those old folks in the audience related to the music. He too felt that those not of the ’60s might have trouble understanding. Even though this is most likely true – it does not have to be.
There are many issues that need to be sung about today. Immigration, war, civil rights, wealth distribution and race relations are near the top of the list. Sometimes I wonder where are the Dylans and Seegers? To some extent they have been reduced to history. To some extent we view them as stuff of hippy legend.
Earlier I stated that 24 others accompanied me to the CSN concert. A number of those attendees were high school and college students. Some came for the music. Some came for the historical perspective. Maybe a few came to get out of the house. Whatever the reason, in the year 2069 (100 years after Woodstock) these same kids will be in their late 60s and early 70s – much like Crosby, Stills and Nash are now. Imagine what they will be able to tell their grandchildren. They will be able to tell them that they witnessed musicians who sang of a different time. They will be able to say they heard a band that sang of issues and concerns that are in the history books (or history iPads/computers/ Kindles). They will be able to help link their grandchildren to a profound time in American history.
The ’60s witnessed many struggles. It was a period that saw us land on the moon. It was also a time that gave us Martin Luther King Jr., Gloria Steinem and the Peace Corps. It was tumultuous. It was idealistic. It saw the power of music, the press, and people’s marches influence politics. Has this been lost? Do people care? The issues still abound. Are there voices to be heard? Will there be ears willing to listen? I do believe so.
At a time when many have lost faith in our nation’s leaders, believing is often hard to do. At a time when the Ukraine is on fire, Palestine in ruins and this nation’s wealthy control almost all the financial resources, change appears impossible. Sometimes the lyrics of the Muses are needed more than ever. Till then, “Carry on!”
P.S. We are now witness to violence all over the world. Although this might not be new, technology has brought scenes of horror and injustice into our homes. We must not ignore these happenings, no matter how distant or distasteful. To do so means denying that which links us as human beings. To do so means isolating ourselves from the pain many people experience.
On Sunday, Sept. 21, there will be a Recognition Celebration of the International Day of Peace. It will be held at Swift Gym from 1 to 4 p.m. and will includes short speeches, a peace walk and music. Please mark you calendars. More information will be provided as the date draws near.