CBS Sunday Morning swung and missed badly in their May 23 Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young story.
Celebrating the quartet’s 1970 “Deja Vu” album, CBS went all obvious. They recalled romances and breakups and discord within the band and its celebrated second gig at Woodstock.
Touting what Rhino Records calls a super deluxe version of “Deja Vu” (four CDs and a vinyl LP, with many out-takes and demos), the story featured interviews with all members but Young. Nash cites an included demo version of “Our House,” singing with then-girlfriend Joni Mitchell who inspired that cozy tune.
In this superficial telling, however, CBS completely ignored how two C,S,N&Y songs of that era encapsulated the band’s unlikely blended history of happy harmony singing and angry activism.
On May 4, 1970 – fifty one years and a few weeks ago – Ohio National Guard troops shot dead four unarmed, un-menacing students at an anti-Vietnam War protest on the campus of Kent State University. They also wounded nine other student protesters.
As Graham Nash told me in an interview some years ago, C,S,N&Y were riding high that week with “Teach Your Children.” A gentle cautionary tale that Nash has said was inspired by a celebrated Diane Arbus photo of a young boy in shorts, grimacing as he held a toy grenade, the song featured a sweet Jerry Garcia (Grateful Dead) pedal steel solo on an easy country-rock groove. It peaked at No. 16 on Billboard’s Hot 100.
In a hot rush, almost immediately after the Kent State shootings, Neil Young wrote “Ohio,” a protest anthem that angrily mourned “four dead in Ohio.” They hurried to record it but had to fight their record label to release it as a single, backed with Stephen Stills’ thematically related, somber “Find the Cost of Freedom.”
Nash told me their record company wanted to delay “Ohio” since it would likely push “Teach Your Children” down the singles chart. But C,S,N&Y stood their ground.
In a sense, the record company was right: “Ohio” surged to No. 14 on the Hot 100 as “Teach” slid down.
But Nash also said they were proud of their defiance.
Insisting on relevance, they ultimately won the long-view argument by releasing a protest song of enormous, timely impact. However, as predicted, releasing “Ohio” also marginalized “Teach Your Children” – which otherwise would have paid Nash greater songwriter royalties without Young’s “Ohio” making a bigger noise and sales.
Too bad CBS went all “People” mag – and I don’t mean that in a good way – and ignored this key facet in the endlessly complex tale of C,S,N&Y.
Their last chapter is far from written, but the “Teach Your Children”/“Ohio” story may be their proudest.