Ignore the confusing opening title on this latest great Pride label release: it isn't Fifty by Forty, which makes no sense at all, but instead what the liner claims: Fifty by Four (50 years of music from 4 great musicians). And let me further set a critical atmosphere by contravening the reverse-cover liner notes taken from the rock doc's voiceover narrative, a claim averring that "[a]longside occasional collaborator Neil Young, Crosby, Stills, and Nash refuse to be labelled a 'band', describing themselves as a loose collective of musical friends free from the inhibiting confines of the music business". Bwa-ha-ha-haaaaa!!! Gimme a friggin' break, willya? CSNY, collectively and all four of 'em individually (Crosby a possible exception), whored themselves out every chance they got…and even this claim to the contrary—which the band itself made—was and still is just an exercise in market branding. Who's kidding who?
But I love the Chrome Dreams, and its subsidiaries', line of documentaries, and they'd be less interesting should they march to a Puritanical set of encyclopedia entries. That'd be flat-out boring. I can go to the sterile Wikipedia for that. So let 'em run with such provocative taglines as well and give bastards like me room to write something, material other than the ceaseless laudatory pap so many of my 'compeers' scribe.
This DVD release is a very generous 2-1/2 hours, so I suggest you pop open a beer, spark up a doob, and sit back to wallow in schooling like you'd never get in college. For instance, publicly no mention is made as to why Young was so quickly out of the band, but Fifty by Four goes back the competition between him and the other alpha male in Buffalo Springfield: Steven Stills. The rivalry germinated there carried forth into the CSNY supergroup and made the whole proposition shaky from the git-go. What started as a mutual appreciation society soon became a war of four egos, yet artistic brilliance oft emerges from such tension.
More, it was Young's departure from Buffalo Springfield which necessitated that band recruiting David Crosby to sideline from the Byrds and sit in, taking Neil's place for the upcoming seminal Monterey gig, thus prefiguring CSNY. In this film, Chrome Dreams does NOT do what others have done when it comes to that famed concert: edit out Crosby's straighforward debunking of the lone gunmen theory re: the JFK assassination. More, the documentary's narrative lets its critics air their straightforward and often harsh but fair criticisms of Crosby's brash personna (they also compliment him mightily as well). This occurs all through the documentary and is why the new form this genre is taking is so important. In the past, myriad video overviews have taken pains to issue a lot of milquetoast with the enticing visuals. Here, you get the whole story, warts and all, and there are plenty of warts. Plenty.
Watching documentaries like Fifty re-humanizes the much too often completely hyper-veneered rock and roll world, takes it back down to cases beyond the ravening business aspects, showing what was really happening beyond the newsprint gloss before and after, as one of the commentarists mentions, "the music got cut-throat". Present generations will also get a much better idea of what the core of the 70s was all about as opposed to MTV crapola. Crosby was a central figure in the Hollywoood/L.A. scene, the guy who started the flight to Laurel Canyon, found Joni Mitchell and other major figures, and so on. He dwelled at the center of an ocean change in the way of things—along with others, sure, but this film better emphasizes his personal role. Everything is meticulously laid out, but I'm not a spoiler and will leave the rest for you to discover. I've just broached the first segment.
Oh, and addressing the hedonism and anarchy Crosby embodied, I remember when CSNY played The Forum (Inglewood, Calif.). I hadn't been able to get a ticket, the show had sold out quickly, but decided nonetheless to journey to the parking lot because ya never knew who might show up. The Forum back then was never heavy about that, never discouraged the small tribe gatherings that would form outside the concert venue. As it turned out, Hugh Romney and General Wastemoreland were there, the latter in full regalia, so it made for a colorful group hang. Suddenly, though, someone began circulating the notion that a bunch of us should break into the concert. I was game and so a couple dozen of us tested the multiple doors until finding one that had been improperly secured. Quickly yanking it back and forth, it gave and 24 hippies poured in, sprinting for the inner sanctum past the concessionary outer ring, quickly melting into the crowd as guards rushed to halt us. We only caught about a half hour's worth of the show, the notion to invade had come late (we all were, um, kinda high quite a bit in those days), but I later heard the band was informed of the break in and that Crosby just grinned and said "Cool! More power to 'em!".
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2014, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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