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Neal Young practices his grass horn.

Forever Young

Does Neil Young need Crosby, Stills or Nash?

By Gina Arnold

I USED TO HAVE a roommate who had a crush on Stephen Stills. Stephen Stills?! At the time, the idea was even more shocking than it is now, because CS&N were at their lowest ebb, and in other ways this girl had good taste in music. "I know," she'd say sheepishly. "It's so uncool, but he reminds me of a big furry teddy bear!"

I couldn't help but think of her when I saw some of those big billboards advertising CSN&Y's appearance at the Compaq Center in early April. For some reason, Stills was at the front of the photo of the four of them, his hair wavering in the breeze, a big cheesy grin on his face. To his left, in deep shadow, was C. To his right, looking very similar but more grizzled was Y. You could barely see N, which made me think that he, of the four, might have the most dignity.

CS&N aren't a bad group exactly, but speaking purely from an aesthetic standpoint, their mugs shouldn't be featured on giant billboards, and their music is practically more dated than that of Glenn Miller. All those high harmonies and songs about Marrakesh and hippiedom just don't age well, and positioning themselves as "rockers" was really and truly misguided. My friend Maureen might have been pleased by the shot, but I think the rest of the world was probably not as gruntled.

Not that it mattered. The show sold out despite ticket prices up to $200 or more. Both CS&N and Neil Young have new albums out, but that doesn't have anything to do with their status as touring gods. Indeed, by now, the waxing and waning of popularity of CS&N (and CSN&Y) is a phenomenon by which I think you can say something about the American psyche. I think they're more popular during conservative administrations and times of war. Maybe their brand of corny '60s psychedelic folk rock would repopularize itself once a decade or so whether or not they had ever been vaguely associated with an antiwar movement.

CSN&Y were, of course, the original supergroup--members of the Byrds, the Hollies and Buffalo Springfield joining up with another errant member of the Buffalo Springfield. What would be the modern-day equivalent? Maybe members of Incubus, Lifehouse, Five for Fighting and a guy from Weezer thrown in for credibility. There have been a few other examples of such groups--Temple of the Dog, which featured members of Pearl Jam and Soundgarden, for example, and Power Station come to mind--but none nearly as successful.

Despite sounding like an accounting firm, CSN&Y are one of this year's most popular touring entities--yet more proof that money changes everything. The fact of the matter is Young couldn't be doing very well commercially; otherwise, I doubt he'd lend himself to the CSN&Y experience.

Young has always seemed extremely iconoclastic, but CS&N represent groupthink at its most inane and very, very corny. Obviously, Young gives them any edge they can lay claim to, but--other than money--it's hard to see what he gets out of the deal. His new album, Are You Passionate?, has an equal number of ballads and hard rock numbers, like "Let's Roll," which is clearly based on United flight 93, the San Francisco-bound plane that crashed in a Pennsylvania field on Sept. 11. Like "Ohio" ("What if you knew her and saw her dead on the ground / How can you run when you know?"), the song personalizes a vast political situation, which is no mean feat and not the tactic that CS&N would take. "Teach Your Children," for example, takes the opposite tack, generalizing about people in a highly sentimental fashion.

Young's record isn't groundbreaking or even fabulous. If you like his work, you'll like it; if you don't, you won't. But it's head and shoulders above the watery-sweet work of his three sometime colleagues. In the end, Young's album just serves to make one wonder why only one man in four keeps his work current and interesting well into middle age.

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From the April 18-24, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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