Stephen Stills is one of those rare musicians who not only forms the cultural sound and comprehension of a decade or two, he also divines the definition of the spirit of its people. Stills’ career has arced over a half-century of our lives from Buffalo Springfield to Crosby Stills & Nash (and sometimes Young!) to Jimi Hendrix diving into a fine solo career.
“Carry On” is a new, massive compilation of 82 songs that have colored the career of Stephen Stills. You get a real sense of the talent in the soul of these song performances. “For What It’s Worth” and “Woodstock” and “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” and “Love the One You’re With” are just as viciously glossy and cutting today as they were when they were first released to our ears.
Snap your fingers. Tap your toes. The world is a burning glory of a hell on earth.
Stills said this to Rolling Stone when asked about the role of popular music in society:
The role of the troubadour been going on for thousands of years. We were sort of the first newsboys, because all history was oral, before Gutenberg. When you say “pop song,” it trivializes it a bit, but with a song like “Love the One You’re With,” which was actually, having as many layers as it does, about my life then – it’s not the greatest song in the world, it’s kind of a jingle. There are some other great ones that have some cohesiveness, but that one is just about love and things. I don’t set out to write a political song. I am not one of those that feels compelled to write about what’s going on. I mean, what do I do? “Oh, the pope got elected today? His name is Frank. He can’t be Francis the First – that was Sinatra!” The material is there, but I have to pick up an instrument, and then comes a sense of melody and a feeling and a snatch of a phrase and you are off to the races.
There is tremendous human dismay in these Stills songs — indicative of the time and place in which they were written — you cannot listen to any of these Stills sounds and not come away wanting and hopeful, but always diminished in the examination of the end result over the long effort of our lives.
Stills whispers and shouts at us 82 times: Never before in the history of humankind have we promised so much to each other and delivered so little — we have had the world on a string twisted around our little finger for so long that we are now unable to listen to the forest because we are consumed with the burning bushes in our eyes.
Stephen Stills reminds us of our shameful past and offers us no way out. There’s no grace or divinity or resurrection or ascensions left to be had.
We are the end result of our insufficient selves and the only way to get out of the rut of our own condemnation is to create something different from us and set an entirely different dimension of expectation.
Our hope is in the opposite.
Our salvation is solely in the disintegration of our deaths.
We are stardust
We are golden
We are caught in the Devil’s bargain
And we’ve got to get ourselves
Back to the garden