Sit Yourself Down

It’s raining.

That Albert Hammond song is almost accurate. It hardly ever rains in L.A. And when it does, it’s a surprise. You get used to precipitation on the east coast, in Southern California it’s a rarity. It changes your mood. It makes you reflective.

Funny, you wait your whole life to grow up, and when you’re finally an adult you enjoy the freedom, but there’s a certain something lacking. Maybe it’s structure. Or, possibly, as you get closer to the end, you feel it, life starts to become meaningless. Does it matter who wins this or that, who gets chauffeured in a limousine? As Bob Dylan once sang, "For them that think death’s honesty won’t fall upon them naturally, life must sometimes get lonely."

But getting older gives you perspective. You wince at some of the things you said, you’d like to go back in time and take them back. You realize some of those movies you loved were crap. And records that didn’t especially move you then have the air of classics today. Like Stephen Stills’ debut.

I was sitting at the kitchen table, reading the newspaper and listening to XM while I overate. I’ve been trying to diagnose this behavior. I’m starting to realize it occurs when I feel closed out, when I feel oppressed by people. I used to be able to tell my story, but something happened during the last decade that zapped this ability. I can listen, but unless I feel especially comfortable, unless I feel someone is paying attention, unless the listener responds, I just can’t talk. Oh, I can ask for more from my compatriot, the speaker, I’m an excellent listener myself, but I find no entry point to start telling my tale. My story just seems too insignificant. And since it’s my one and only story, I don’t want to tell it and have it evaporate into thin air. It’s like bleeding. Lose too much blood and you don’t survive.

Today was one of those days. It was about them, not me. An inner anger builds up, that I’m not even aware of. Until I snap at someone wanting my attention when I’m finally alone, until I overeat.

And after postponing my daily back stretches, I finally picked up an iPod to help me get through this endurance test. I needed to hear what I already knew, my songs, I pulled up a playlist of my fifty all time most played iTunes tracks. That’s when I heard Stephen Stills’ "Do For The Others".

I know every lick of this album, but this track didn’t register when I listened to it during the winter of ’71 at Middlebury. I just couldn’t get over how "Love The One You’re With" was not as good as "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes". And even though the now dead Jimi Hendrix played on one of the cuts, "Stephen Stills" was good, but not good enough. It’s only thirty-odd years later that I’ve found out I’m wrong. I love "After The Gold Rush", I can listen to "Don’t Let It Bring You Down" every day, but that rough-hewn album, Neil Young’s first solo after the CSNY debacle, just doesn’t touch me the same way as Stephen Stills’ solo debut.

I was not even going to write about it. I planned on doing a piece on Laura Nyro’s "Save The Country", I found a treasure trove of her remastered albums in the kitchen, but when I inserted "New York Tendaberry" into my Mac, I winced, I didn’t want to hear this, I needed to hear Stephen Stills. I was reminded of long ago, when I believed there was a record for every mood and I had one for each.

I didn’t have "Stephen Stills" assembled in my iTunes library. So I decided to build it. And in the process, fired up "Sit Yourself Down", the opener of side two of the vinyl record.

When I get restless, what can I do

That’s EXACTLY how I felt. Stephen was singing about needing love, I’ve got that, but I still feel restless in life. Where’s my place? What should I be doing? Can I say no to the people who want my time? What’s fulfilling to me?

And there’s an intimacy that brings me right back to Hepburn Hall, listening to the record in the dark after returning from a day at the Middlebury College Snow Bowl, before gathering my strength to take an endless hot shower and make it to dinner before they stopped serving. I thought of the cold, the darkness, the winter. Which is ending soon. I can feel it in the air, the atmosphere’s different in L.A. The endless cycle, ever faster despite being exactly the same length of time. In first grade, summer vacation was endless, now, if the heat seems oppressive, I tell myself fall is right around the corner. But winter’s going to evaporate too. Have I gotten in all the skiing I need to?

Still, "Sit Yourself Down" eventually explodes, becomes almost exuberant. I needed a track to match my pain, I went back to "Do For The Others".

Actually, I consider "Do For The Others" part of a trilogy, the middle chapter. The first is "4+20" from "Deja Vu", the last is "See The Changes" from the 1977 CSN reunion album. They’re all acoustic, all quiet, all intimate. The apotheosis might be "4+20", because of its raw pain.

Four and twenty years ago, I come into this life
The son of a woman and a man who lived in strife
He was tired of being poor
And he wasn’t into selling door to door
And he worked like the devil to be more

This is the baby boomer story. Our parents struggled to give us so much. They didn’t get divorced, they stayed together, they were bound by honor and duty. They thought we didn’t see their pain, but we did. But no one talked about it. We needed to be more. They gave us the platform, but they were conflicted, shouldn’t we get 9 to 5 jobs just like them, become professionals?

"See The Changes" was written years later, after Stephen had seen even more.

Ten years singing right out loud
I never looked was anybody listening
Then I fell out of a cloud
I hit the ground and noticed something missing

Now I have someone,
She has seen me changing
And it gets harder as you get older
Farther away as you get closer

And I don’t know the answer
Does it even matter?
I’m wonderin’ how

How the classic rockers gained their wisdom at such a young age, I’ll never know. Sure, they had the experience of playing live and being on the road, but still, how much had they seen?

Fame does not solve your problems. You do need someone to share it with. But staying together is so tough. It’s easier to move on. The closer you get, the more daunting the challenge appears.

Still, as great as "4+20" and "See The Changes" sound, there’s a certain connection, a certain bond in "Do For The Others" the others lack. You listen to the others, the lyrics are like a movie unspooling. Whereas "Do For The Others" sounds like a walk with the singer. You’re bonded, you’re intertwined, you may be listening, but the story is being told especially to you.

Round, round, up and down
All along the lonely town
See him sinkin’ low
Doesn’t see the joy there is to know

When you’re alienated, when you’re depressed, you’re locked in not only your own mood, but your own space. It’s like you’re living in black and white in a world of color. There’s no meshing. I won’t say I’m depressed. But sometimes I wonder where my place is in this world. I’m starting to realize I’m not a businessman, I just can’t create a reality distortion field and sell. Yet, we live in a money-based society. And life is about relationships. But what makes up a reasonable relationship? The person who only calls you, only goes to lunch because of your position?

When I’ve got more questions than answers, I turn to music. That’s why I’ve got a problem with Clive Davis’ productions, so much of the Top Forty music. It slides right off of me. It’s made for winners, in a world that’s much more complicated than that. Even those who appear victorious are confused, like Stephen Stills in "See The Changes". But you can’t talk about this anymore, if you do, you’re a loser, you’re left out. You’ve got to shine up your personality, be a good time guy. But that’s so phony. At least the music was honest. That was the core of the explosion, the honesty. Our favorites were not slaves to corporations, they were seers, who we followed everywhere.

This is a read-only blog. E-mail comments directly to Bob.