Listening: Crosby, Stills and Nash

Red asked me to play some music, and I told her this album came from a box that I got for free from a new friend who was trying to get rid of her vinyl. (Of course, 25 years later she not only did not get rid of her vinyl but gained several dozen boxes more.) I sat down to write and listen and, perhaps inevitably, I wrote about what I heard.

“Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” is a remarkably great work. Stephen Stills was inspired by Judy Collins, of course; she does have very blue eyes.

Then Graham Nash takes us on a ride on the “Marrakesh Express,” the first hit single. The harmony on “All aboooard” is reminiscent of a train whistle — how did I not catch that for 50+ years?

Here’s “Guinevere” now, a lovely haunting ballad by David Crosby. Holy cow, this is a great, classic album. But you know that.

I wonder how Stephen, Graham and David met, and what the moment was like when they realized how great their voices sounded together. Crosby, Stills and Nash transcended Buffalo Springfield, the Hollies, and even the Byrds — each a classic band in its own right. “Supergroups” don’t always live up to the word, but this one did.

I’m trying to write here, but I am caught up in listening to the music, hearing it again as if for the first time. Too often we treat music as comfort food, putting it on in the background and saying, “Oh yeah, I love this one,” leaning on the memory instead of experiencing it again. That has its value — music has a soothing effect on the soul in either case — but listening, taking the time to concentrate on hearing the music — is the difference between standing in a sunny field lost in thought and standing in a sunny field seeing the clouds drift by in different shapes that spark the imagination, watching the wind ripple across the grass and sway the wildflowers in their yellows and reds and blues and purples and of course green everywhere, and the song of birds and crickets, and the fresh smells — know what I mean?

In the quietest moments — “Lady of the Islands” — the ticks and crackles are a bit of a distraction. Some vinyl has worn better than others. But sometimes a worn record is a signal: Alert! Magnificent music here, worthy of repeated listening.

“Magnificent music” — is that an oxymoron? After all, music itself is a magnificent invention that taps something inside us, a thing of healing and universal understanding.

It’s a long time coming sometimes to remember to listen, to hear. And when I remember how sound can spark the imagination and inspire the best in us, it’s like revisiting a place of momentous discovery.

Is this the best way to experience music — on an otherwise quiet morning in an easy chair, a dog sleeping at your feet, and time to listen and relax? All I know for sure is that it was today.

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