A Sperm's Tale

How CSNY reproduced again.

David Crosby wasn't on-camera during the pre-Grammy Awards program aired February 23 on both VH1 and CBS; along with mates Stephen Stills, Graham Nash and Neil Young, he was headlining at Denver's Pepsi Center that evening. But he was an unmistakable presence on the show thanks to the shticking of comic Ellen DeGeneres, whose job it was to chitchat with the various luminaries trooping down the red carpet toward L.A.'s Staples Center, home of this year's Grammys/Carlos Santana tribute/flesh parade (see The Message in this week's issue).

At one point, DeGeneres, poking fun at her current celebrity-lesbian status, approached Sting -- who, in one of the most blatant travesties since the Oscar victory of Marisa Tomei a few years back, won two statuettes at the Grammy ceremony -- holding what appeared to be a specimen cup. Melissa Etheridge had gotten lucky with Crosby, she said, referencing his recently revealed gift of semen to Etheridge and her lover, Julie Cypher, which resulted in the birth of two children; perhaps, DeGeneres added, Sting might consider making a donation to her.

This gag called to mind a number of questions, not the least of which was this: What is it about the seed of old pretentious farts that seems so attractive to famous female-female couples eager to have kids? Granted, it's understandable that throughout her interview with Kid Rock, who preceded Sting into the spotlight, DeGeneres (whose significant other is actress Anne Heche) kept the cup in her pocket. But Sting? Come on! Isn't one of him enough? As for Crosby, what kind of person would sentence his or her child to a lifetime of looking like him? And then there's the little matter of Crosby's years of drug and alcohol abuse, which resulted in a liver transplant not so long ago. Odds are good that by now the guy's chromosomes are more shell-shocked than John McCain. Incoming!

Old men, take a look at your lives: Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.
Old men, take a look at your lives: Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.

Still, Crosby's generosity with his jism has paid dividends beyond the Etheridge family. For one thing, it got him onto the cover of a recent Rolling Stone at a time when nothing short of shooting the president (with, well, whatever) seemed likely to do that particular trick; for another, it resulted in a cascade of publicity for the CSNY reunion tour, a cash crusade ostensibly intended to promote Looking Forward, an album whose notices made most reviews of Wild Wild West, last year's cinematic mega-flop, seem like raves by comparison. Perhaps the Pepsi Center would have nearly sold out sans such renewed press interest, but the extra attention sure as hell didn't hurt.

There weren't many jalopies in the center's parking lot on show night -- late-model sport utility vehicles and luxury cars were the rule -- and the throng inside fit the anticipated description: loads o' boomers, with many of the men characterized by portliness, vigorously maintained facial hair and the quizzical combination of severe male pattern baldness and a ponytail. Yet that's typical of large-scale concerts these days. Elevated admission fees (some pre-scalped CSNY tickets went for more than $200) and strikingly expensive merchandise rates (programs cost a mere $18) don't keep teen-pop performers out of such venues since, in most cases, Mommy and Daddy are picking up the tab. But because the majority of bands championed by less affluent fans (and disapproved of by parents) constitute too big a financial risk for promoters to take on, veteran outfits dominate arena bookings these days. The upcoming shows being hyped on video screens as CSNY boosters headed to their seats were KISS, Bruce Springsteen and Tina Turner, all of whom have been treading stages for more than a quarter-century.

Of course, experience like this can be a great thing -- but unless it's tempered with contemporaneity and an active intelligence, it can easily devolve into little more than nostalgia-mongering. And for three of the CSNY principals (joined on occasion by the fourth), that's precisely what happened at the Pepsi Center.

Seeing the quartet on stage side by side was a jarring experience. With his swept-back, shoulder-length blond locks, Fu Manchu mustache and Hawaiian shirt, Stills was a dead ringer for the Dude, portrayed by Jeff Bridges in The Big Lebowski -- but whereas Bridges played the role for laughs, Stills was seemingly unaware that his look was amusing in a stereotypically retro way. Nash, meanwhile, closely resembled a graying ferret, especially when doing his soulful-crooner bit. (As for his fist-pumping during assorted rocking-out segments, it was sorta like watching Al Gore try to "get down.") And Crosby, with his defiantly droopy mustache and rotund figure, could have been the long-lost twin of Wilford Brimley during the days when he was all over the tube plugging cereal that helped keep the bowels flowing. Standing next to Young, who was clad in the same flannel chic he's been wearing since time immemorial, he seemed ready for Alice in Wonderland; the two of them were the Walrus and the Carpenter come to life.

The set that followed (a marathon that lasted more than three hours) was a mix of selections from Looking Forward, individual showcases and CSNY chestnuts. But while this approach was undeniably logical, its flaws quickly became clear, particularly in the case of items from the inaccurately monikered Forward, all of which were as mired in the past as they were dripping with mediocrity. After many of these numbers, Crosby would announce, "New song," but this information was unnecessary; the audience's lack of interest in them made their vintage obvious.

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