NEW YORK – Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young entertained 40,000 enthusiastic fans with songs of peace and social consciousness for two nights last week at Madison Square Garden. It started with Graham Nash’s 1971 song calling for an end to “military madness.”
The quartet’s anti-war beliefs are the focus of many of their songs. “Why not feed the people and turn swords into plowshares,” went one that struck a popular chord with the audience, who ranged in age from teenagers to people well over 60.
The concert was interesting for what songs this Woodstock generation group chose to perform: “For What It’s Worth,” rekindled the anti-war feelings of the Viet Nam war; Neil Young’s “Southern Man” from his 1971 mega-hit album, After the Gold Rush was Young’s call for the South to change its racist ways.
Nash’s song to commemorate Sept. 11 talks of a day of peace and understanding and Young’s “Let’s Roll” refers to the attempt by passengers to stop the terrorists on the hijacked flight that crashed in Pennsylvania. The audience knew that song well and reacted with enthusiasm and a smattering of ultra-patriotism.
When Young sang his popular anti-drug song, “Rockin’ in the Free World,” which has nothing to do with patriotism, many in the audience saw it as a time to chant “USA, USA!” “Rockin’ in the Free World” is clearly meant to be sarcastic, a comment on the hypocrisy of life in the “free world,” not an appeal to pro-war patriotism.
This misunderstanding is similar to what Bruce Springsteen faced when some interpreted his “Born in the USA” as a flag-waving anthem and Ronald Reagan tried to use it as a campaign song.
Springsteen now performs this song only in acoustic form where he can clearly state his intentions. Young may have to follow suit.