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Columns > Mike Gruenberg - In My Life

Published: 2007/05/23
by Mike Gruenberg

Stephen Stills

In My Life
Did you ever walk into a room full of strangers, look around and instinctively know that you fit in with that crowd of people? Last week, we went to see Stephen Stills at a wonderful venue called Birchmere located in Virginia. When we walked in, I turned to my wife and remarked that although I didnt know anyone in the room, I felt as though I did. This was due to the fact that it seemed to me that everyone was approximately my age, wore similar clothes and if I delved into their political leanings, I would probably have found that a significant majority of that crowd mirrored my political inclinations as well. Although I didnt jump up on a table and ask if anyone in the room had been to Woodstock, I suspect that a fair amount of people would have answered affirmatively to that question. My generation may be getting grey, but we still like great music and are willing to go out on a weekday night to see it.
Paul Simons great tune, Old FriendsBook Ends aptly describes how I felt that night. My visual every time I hear that song is of long-time friends facing each other while holding up stacks of memories in the form of books between them. Its comforting to be in contact with a friend who makes you comfortable and even more comforting to be in a room filled with like minded people as yourself. I felt very comfortable that night in Virginia having dinner and enjoying music with my contemporaries.
Aside from having real and tangible friends in our lives, we have entertainment friends that while we have never met them, know the many details of their lives as they perform for us over the years. We know them when they first come to the public eye and follow them through their careers as they too experience the highs and lows of their public and transparent lifetimes. For some, we marvel at their ability to survive and grow. Steve Martin comes to mind as someone we first saw as a stand-up comedian in a white suit with an arrow through his head who blossomed into a great actor and writer. Much like Michael Caine, who gave us the irreverent Alfie character in his early film career, he too is now looked upon as a distinguished elder in the movie business. For some performers, we are saddened that their careers are cut short by abuse of a variety of substances too numerous to mention and yet for those who are able to survive and grow, we take pleasure in following their exploits.
I remember first seeing Stephen Stills when he was a member of Buffalo Springfield. They had appeared on a Dick Clark American Bandstand episode and the next day I went out and bought their hit single, For What Its Worth which was written by Stephen. Crosby, Stills & Nash followed with their fist live performance in front of an incredibly large audience at Woodstock. CSN was followed by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. That was followed by a successful solo career while on the way working as a duo with Neil Young and a variety of the greatest artists of our time whose names are too numerous to mention.

Over the last few years, I have had the pleasure to see CSN at Jones Beach Theater on Long Island, CSNY at Madison Square Garden and now see Stephen in a very close and audience-friendly setting at Birchmere. Seeing him in any venue for me is like seeing an old friend. You pretty know what will happen. His first few songs are usually his older material which sets the tone for the evening and makes you feel comfortable although you know that his voice will be a bit hoarse. But you inevitably know that as the evening progresses, his voice will get stronger. You also know that he will exhibit all his musical skills as he plays a variety of guitars and keyboards. You can expect some political commentary and before you know it the show is over and you have sat through a delightful two hours being entertained by an incredibly talented legend of a man who deservedly is a two-time inductee into the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame.
Yes, all of us from the baby boomer generation are fighting the ravages of time. Most of the male friends of my age have receding hairlines or are failing at working on ways to creatively make a few hairs on their collective heads look like many. We weigh more than we should and need to exercise more often. Our entertainment heroes who have shunned the plastic surgeons knife actually look like us and that makes me quite happy.
Seeing Stephen Stills in concert is like seeing your old friend. You listen to the old tunes and visually reminisce about where you were when you first heard him sing Marakesh Express with David, Graham and Neil. You remember his blonde hair under that cowboy hat he wore when he sang with the Buffalo Springfield and how bad you felt when the group broke up. You marvel as to the way CSN performed at Woodstock, their first live performance. You know that at this point in his career the voice isnt quite the same as it used to be, but when he hits the high notes, you applaud and on some level are glad he hit them so well after all these years. And in the end, you walk out of the concert hall smiling.
Stephen is currently touring in support of his latest album called Man Alive! On some of the tunes, he has enlisted the musical and vocal support of such rock luminaries as Graham Nash and Neil Young. The album is produced by Stephen and Joe Vitale, who was his drummer for the show at Birchmere and whose career as a session man includes some of the greatest tunes ever recorded. Finally, any fan of Stephen Stills knows that over the years we have been treated to a few songs on his albums and his concerts that have a musical Spanish influence. This obvious reverence for Latin flavored music by Stephen is a result of his spending some of his youth living in Latin America. The last cut in Man Alive! is called Spanish Suite and among the musicians on that tune are jazz great, Herbie Hancock on piano along with Stephen, Joe Lala, Pete Escavedo and Willie Bobo on percussion. This 11+ minute cut at the end of the album is an apt beginning to yet another chapter of a musical legacy from a man who has given us so many years of classic music and who obviously has many more years left to give.
Discography
Solo _Super Sessions _ (with Al Kooper and Mike Bloomfield), 1968 Stephen Stills, 1970 Stephen Stills 2, 1971 Manassas, 1972 Down The Road, 1973 Stills Live, 1975 Stills, 1975 Still Stills: The Best of Stephen Stills, 1976 Illegal Stills, 1976 Thoroughfare Gap, 1978 Right By You, 1984 Stills Alone, 1991 Turning Back The Pages, 2003 _Man Alive! _, 2005
As a member of the Au Go Go Singers Au Go Go Singers, 1964
As a member of the Buffalo Springfield Buffalo Springfield, 1967 Buffalo Springfield Again, 1967 Last Time Around, 1968 Best of the Buffalo Springfield, 1969 Box Set, 2001 *As a member of Crosby, Stills, and Nash (and Young) * Crosby, Stills, and Nash, 1969 Deja Vu, 1970 Four Way Street, 1971 So Far, 1974 CSN, 1977 Replay, 1980 Daylight Again, 1982 Allies, 1983 American Dream, 1988 Live It Up, 1990 _CSN (box set) _, 1991 After The Storm, 1994 Carry On, 1998 Looking Forward, 1999 Greatest Hits, 2005 *As a member of the Stills-Young Band * Long May You Run, 1975

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