And there’s so much time to make up
Everywhere you turn
Time we have wasted on the way
So much water moving
Underneath the bridge
Let the water come and carry us away
“Wasted on the Way,” Crosby, Stills & Nash, 1982
David Crosby’s death last month shook me to the core. I’d seen the 2019 documentary about his life (“David Crosby: Remember My Name”) and knew he wasn’t in good health, so it was no surprised when he died, but I was stunned by the unexpected grief it unleashed in me. A world without Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young? No. Noooooooo.
The year: 1973. The place: Puget Consumers Co-op, Ravenna Blvd., Seattle. The soundtrack: CSN&Y’s “Déjà vu.” I was 20 years old, and that album was more than theme-song-music in my life, it was a harmonic vibration for a new identity in the world. I wasn’t Cathy from Bellevue High School anymore. I was Cathy buying organic food in bulk. I was Cathy wearing tie-dyed shirts with peace signs and Birkenstocks. I was Cathy living in an old house with other students working on a backyard organic garden and making plans to move to the country. I can still smell the hemp dresses and stone-ground wheat in that Co-op; it was more than a fad or novel lifestyle – it was a revelation, a bolt of lightning that transformed everything. I finally belonged. I was part of something bigger than myself.
Our generational task at that time was joyfully clear: Reject meaningless conventions. Protest unjust wars. Expand consciousness. Get back to the land. Spread peace. Love everybody. We were writing new rules for new times, teaching our parents well. And, as Bob Dylan said, we were going to stay forever young.
Sure, it faded a bit when we had to get jobs, when children came along and we took out mortgages, mowed the grass and joined the PTA. But when in doubt, all I had to do is press “play” and hear “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” and I was instantly transported right back to those bedrock values, to an identity that even today lives and breathes and sings those harmonies. Without them, who am I? For me, David Crosby’s death posed that question for the first time, and I’m still trying to answer it.
The truth is, most of us in the “Flower Power” generation are encountering death in plenty of places these days. Yes, beloved musicians who inspired and defined us are dying. But also: Our parents are dying. Our childhood friends are dying. We’re sitting with loved ones who have cancer. We’re hiring caretakers and getting up to speed on Hospice. Death is catching up to us, and as our own deaths approach, we wonder – how do we do this, what does it all mean? How do we cope with being mortal, as a generation whose life energy felt blazingly immortal?
Some of us grew up going to churches, synagogues, etc. but our generational task of rejecting the status quo included rejecting religion too, for the most part. As a child, I was taken every Sunday to a Methodist church where the sight of Jesus hanging from a cross terrified me. “I died for your sins” was the most confounding phrase I’d ever heard. Young Life was fun for a while in high school, but it was comprised of mostly popular kids and I didn’t fit in. I wasn’t alone; by college, I didn’t know anyone who practiced a religious tradition.
However. Something akin to spirituality was embedded in those days of organic gardening and protest marches – what we did in the spirit of unity and justice and peace moved our hearts and souls. Our generational experience of “changing the world” was compelling and is still compelling. Can those of us who blossomed during the 1970’s still find meaning in it as we grow old? Can we evolve – even at this late stage – a sense of spirituality that serves us at the end of our lives? What tools do we have, what generational gifts have we been given, to do this work?
In the 2020 documentary “Laurel Canyon,” Graham Nash describes the very first time he sang with Stephen Stills and David Crosby: “We tried to make our voices into one voice.” This is the essence of our generational experience and perhaps why that early CS&N sound so perfectly captured the times. Maybe their musical chemistry wasn’t an accident. Maybe that sound was some kind of spiritual alchemy that happened at exactly the right moment. Are such things possible, and if so, what does it mean for those of us who still hearken to and resonate with that sound? Are we still part of something bigger than ourselves?
Since David Crosby’s death, I’ve been waking up to these questions, and sometimes, as my 70th birthday approaches, they seem like the only questions that matter. Is it too late to find answers? I don’t think so. After all, no time is truly wasted.
[…to be continued]
Photo by Christopher Michel used under CC 2.0