“Crosby, Stills & Nash as Kitsch Pop but Viable Beat Poetry, or, Tracing the Sociological Roots of ‘Hippies’”

I have to say: CSN is obviously an extremely ubiquitous group amongst the larger “summer of love” agenda, and indeed their music does bubble forth within this realm without many glaring FLAWS… still, I don’t think I’ve ever come across a current day artist, or even one from the ’90’s, which named them even as a tertiary influence. The Who, yes. The Stooges, yes. [1] These were the misfits, the ones making REBELLIOUS music, to inspire rebels.

Now, you might say, the hippies were a counterculture in their own right, and in a sense, I think, you’d be correct. The hippies in the ’60’s were pitted stridently against the military, but at the same time marked a subversive sector entirely, ideally, devoid of anger, and therefore of power, as well. This is not to say that “hippie music” cannot be effective, but ironically, it is not activist music, with the notable exception of Stephen Stills’ great call to awareness “For What it’s Worth,” penned with the group Buffalo Springfield. Precipitation of social change? Hell, The Grateful Dead had their own problems, bigger fish to fry, like dealing and using cocaine, and when “thinkin’ and drinkin’ are all I have today.”
CSN and Jefferson Airplane, both very epochal brainchildren rooted firmly in the flower-power epicentral California, essentially just told us to “love,” not to fight the powers. Along these lines, “Love the One You’re with” could not too inconceivably be extrapolated out to loving the COUNTRY you’re with, and grabbing a sort of brainless, vanilla melody to go with it, albeit bolstered by some relentlessly cutesy backing vocals. Essentially, it’s a music that suggested a psychological misconduct in those discontented with the status quo, and for this reason was the best friend of a government seeing red with imperial greed.
So for a band of current day to be influenced by them, they would almost need to be utilizing some time machine whereby the actual DAY of the late ’60’s were integral to their existence, rather than gleaning the most dominant artistic bulwarks of that day, which would be more like things like the wah-wah pedal and the whammy bar, frankly. CSN were a BRAND: people knew what homogeneous thing to expect from them — people both with power and without.
Now, we always want what we can’t have, and despite the relative musical toothlessness plaguing CSN even during their heyday, you’ve got to admit, they did come up with some pretty compelling lines, and what’s more, honest. Take a strain from the tender, obstinately sanguine ballad from their self-titled debut, “Helplessly Hoping.” This is a song I would classify as indignant, meaning that it features of combination of social coercion, or judgment of someone’s behavior, as it were, and also, to put it bluntly, a lack of inspiration, or sense of urgency. It’s as if this proverb were divined from on high, and CSN deliver compunctions like “Heartlessly helping himself to her bad dreams” with the strange, detached sureness of LSD-seared hippies.
An even superficial examination of the cultural state contemporaneous yields the probability that increasing your popularity as a creative entity entailed playing rock and roll music, not necessarily just issuing poetry itself. What I’ve noticed, though, is that the industry vacuum of folk rock actually hedges the bets of the artistic message here — Crosby and company are clearly lamenting a romantic quandary, but what happens to the message here when it’s saturated in the same uniform, reductive radio-friendly folksiness as Jefferson Airplane is that all of a sudden you ASSOCIATE the song with that fake “love” brand, selling the feeling like it’s some subordinate commodity, not an emotional canopy that covers and occludes us.
Nobody has ever written “poetry” which would thematically or structurally jibe with the lyrics of “Helplessly Hoping,” at least as far as I’ve observed, and in fact right at the genesis of the ’70’s poetry took a very angry turn the nation over, from Amiri Baraka’s intensified pro-black diatribes to Allen Gisnberg’s long overdue dissenting epic “Hadda Be Playing on the Jukebox.” So “Helplessly Hoping” indeed exemplifies the exact OPPOSITE direction from which the art was presently traveling, but as we’ve seen, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, just as the underground “punk” high jinks of The MC5 and The Stooges would take a temporary backseat to the overblown art rock of ELP and Rush, before undoubtedly eclipsing them in cultural, or hipster, popularity.
In attempting to even casually witness the lyrics to “Helplessly Hoping” on a computer screen, I find myself overcome with an uncategorized emotion. It is as if witnessing the death of the self — that cruel mystery we overturned during some relationship haze, before we bought into a sufficient amount of ensuing myth, from culture, alcohol or good new-fashioned neon lights, so as to get us back on our feet again. Juxtaposed with Ginsberg’s piece, which arrives almost at a time when the government had taken a turn toward conservation and responsibility all over again, “Helplessly Hoping” known no anachronism, and its thematic luridness bubbles with extra fervor in our minds for its very aligning itself with these wheelless missives contemporary of “love.” Every summer, after all, has got its winter.
[1] Iggy Pop even went so far as to describe all of the functional Woodstock fare in an interview as “Just so loathsome. Just not music at all.”

356 thoughts on ““Crosby, Stills & Nash as Kitsch Pop but Viable Beat Poetry, or, Tracing the Sociological Roots of ‘Hippies’”

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