NEWS FROM THE WOODS
By Bob Ketchum
Originally Published July 1, 2011
"Déjà vu All Over Again"
I was on my treadmill this morning, watching the 2006 "Déjà Vu" political concert tour of Crosby, Still, Nash & Young. There is a part on the film where the discussion of the press is about the age of the band, their mean average being 62 years of age. Some comments and clips (by magazine and newspaper press) were critical about this "aging" band of rockers. There was even a clip showing Stephen Stills getting caught up in a lighting cable and falling to the floor of the stage, accompanied by some smart ass (and probably young) newspaper writer commenting about how she thought as she watched them jamming on stage that perhaps they might as well be comparing their medications or ailments.
I must admit Stephen Stills and David Crosby had quite a tool shed going there as I watched the movie. And all of them looked pretty haggard and gray. For a second I was a little disappointed, and then it hit me like a ton of bricks. We, the public, want ALL of our music heroes to be young, lean, and glamorous. I laughed out loud at the mere thought and then told myself, "Hey! No WONDER I never made it!" …… and seeing myself in my mind's eye… Overweight, over 60, balding (despite the ponytail), and not exactly looking like the "rock star" type.
But I wasn't always this way. After 5 years in a military school, I was pretty solid and even lean at nineteen when I first got into the music business out of high school. Just yesterday my son mentioned that he had seen a picture of me with mom and dad on our boat in 1964 on my computer screen saver. He said "Wow! Dad! You looked BUFF!" Actually, it wasn't until the mid 70's after a divorce when I began letting myself go. As a rock DJ I was just passing through the tie-died T-shirts and sandals stage and had started experimenting with drugs (mostly pot), so the munchies expanded my waistband. Eventually I got back to controlling my excessive habits, although after those days I have always had a certain weakness for good food. Only in recent years, due to my diabetes, have I had no choice but to exercise daily and cut back on the type and quantity of food I ingest. I am now slowly loosing weight, which I am told is okay because that kind of weight gain does not return easily if you stay with the program.
I was at my peak physically and age-wise in the 70's and 80's. I have always been a "power drummer" and have bashed my Ludwig kit unmercifully throughout my entire career. It is amazing they are still in one piece (well…. Five pieces). I have never considered myself a flashy drummer but I DO thrash around a lot, although it is not merely for visual effect. It's just my style, I suppose. I have always surrounded myself with the best players I could muster and all of my bands were a cut above the norm. I have only played "on the road" with one band, and that was MOVER in the 80's. All the rest of my bands were "weekend warriors". We played HS proms, private parties, and opened concerts for major touring acts. And we could hold our own against the Big Boys, too! We always got good receptions, even when the audience was eager to see the headliner. Whenever we wrote original material it was above average for the times. We had everything going for us but ONE THING…… Location…Location…Location.
Many times people would tell us "You guys should go out to the coast and you'd make it!", but for one reason or another, my bands never did that. Usually it was because of our family situation, job situations (remember, we all had "day jobs"), or more often just the impractibility and uncertainty of quitting everything at home and moving to California with absolutely nothing waiting for us at the other end of the trail. In other words, I have always played it safe.
After years of bands, jobs, and career changes I made a decision to move back to my hometown for a number of reasons. (If you want the whole story you'll just have to get my eBook "Face The Music" with all the gory details). I had finally settled down to a career in audio engineering, but once again played it safe, and instead of moving to California - or for that matter Houston, Texas, where I had been offered a job working in Sugar Hill Studios - I decided to build my own studio here in the Ozark mountains and develop working relationships with regional bands and any other groups I would meet along the way. I was still playing in my own bands here at the time, but not for the previous reasons of "making it big". By the time I had moved back home I had experienced just enough of the music business to feel like I didn't necessarily want to be a part of it. I was concentrating on the creative side of making music. I feel even more comfortable behind a mixing console as I do a drum kit.
I think even then I had read the handwriting on the wall, and felt that the business would say that I was too old for the modern music scene. Demographically speaking they were correct. But being the stubborn pig-headed redneck I am at heart, I had this crazy idea I could make a recording studio "work" in a small Arkansas town. I have spent the rest of my life struggling with that decision. I have recorded hundreds of bands and thousands of original songs. I think it would be safe to say that if I had NOT been here recording all these years, a great deal of good original music would never have been recorded. Although it is a moot point, as none of this music has ever seen the light of day (Location…Location…Location). Maybe someday after I'm gone… but for today….
But what about the message of music? This brings me right back to my CSN&Y concert experience on the treadmill. More than any other band or songwriters, these four guys have remained true to themselves and their craft. Should it matter that they are card carrying members of the AARP? Many people commented in the 2006 video about how their message is old and tired. They are referring of course to the Vietnam War. They say this war or any other war since the 60's is different. Is it? Is it really different? Yes, we are up against a foe that is literally hell-bent on either converting us or destroying us. But is war the only answer? I don't know. Sometimes it seems that way. Let me make it clear that I am certainly behind our men and women in uniform who are putting their lives on the line for their country. If it hadn't been for our fathers and forefathers we would not be enjoying the freedoms we have today.
But isn't it about time for the entire world to wake up and realize that if ALL of us wanted the same thing (world peace), our leaders need to work towards peaceful solutions to these world problems? I am not qualified or informed enough to state flat out "here's what needs to be done". I leave that to the Nobel Prize Winners. I am a simple musician. I write lyrics that reflect my positions on world related issues, but if no one ever gets a chance to hear the songs what difference can I make?
Now……… Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young have been speaking for my generation for over 40 years. THEY have a track record……... A history..… A legacy. And they have proven themselves to be intelligent and sensitive song crafters. They have REAL clout. And yet….. All this little newspaper chick could think about reporting on was their ages!!?? WHAT ABOUT THE MESSAGE????
I don't get it. I suppose I must be too old to understand.
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