Four warhorses on living with war
It really must feel like deja vu for Crosby, Stills, Nash & YoungDeath threats, loud catcalls and walkouts didn't stop rock legends Crosby Stills Nash & Young from completing their fiercely anti-Bush reunion tour in 2006.
Two years later, the band has reunited again to unveil its Sundance Film Festival closing-night film, "CSNY: Deja Vu," a documentary that isn't so much a concert movie as a balanced examination of America's fiercely divided opinions about the Iraq War.
"We went to war for one reason, then the reason changed every six months," said the project's main catalyst, Neil Young, an approachable guy despite his habit of locking eyes with you and not blinking when he speaks. "America never had a pre-eminent war in history before this, so we had something to say. But if anyone has anything else to say, the more the merrier."
"Deja Vu" takes a 360-degree look from inside the eye of a storm the band set out to create on their Freedom of Speech tour. It profiles civilians and soldiers both for and against the war between performances of popular '60s protest songs and newer, less universally accepted ones, like "Let's Impeach the President" from Young's 2006 album "Living With War."
And don't get Young started on the war.
"Some people support the troops by saying they're being abused, put in a situation with no armor, where they can't win, where there's not enough of them so they're used over and over again," he said. "They say the American way of life is threatened, and we're at war for our lives. But if that's true, we should've had a draft. These guys didn't believe that enough to put their own careers on the line. It would be political suicide for this administration."
But there are plenty of well-articulated, contrary opinions in the film, and lots of self-criticism. There's footage of fans leaving en masse with middle fingers raised during "President" — though Nash noted that it came three hours into a 31/2-hour show — and gripes about $350 top ticket prices.
The film even includes a review saying that the huddled sixtysomethings look like they're comparing prescriptions onstage. "I didn't get putting that in for a while because I'm not a masochist, but I came around," Stephen Stills said with a laugh. "We're all pretty proud of Neil for including it," David Crosby added. "But don't tell him I said that."
As the band sat in a swank Park City Delta Sky Lounge suite, they had an easy camaraderie that showed their mutual affection — and a love of giving one another a hard time. When Crosby put his bare feet up on the table, Stills quickly waved his hand in front of his nose.
But while all members support the full disclosure and pro-war sentiments stated onscreen — "We don't want to stand on a mountain and tell everyone how to do things because we don't know more than everyone else," Crosby said — they chose not to include the death threats and bomb-sniffing dogs they faced at each stop on the tour.
"I've never gone into a hotel where everyone else went into the room before to look behind the curtains. But we did it," Young said. "We're not going to live like this forever. You don't want to fan that (by putting it on film) or say, 'Look at poor us, we have death threats.' "
The band members are famously contentious. "We watch out for each other like brothers, and we fight like brothers," said Young, who has drifted in and out of the band for decades.
"We're a damn Jerry Springer show!" said Stills, drawing much laughter.
"Yeah, it's the Jerry Springer Tour!" Crosby added.
But virtually none of that is onscreen, and on further reflection, the band said this tour might have elicited the least interpersonal tension of their career.
"We were basically scared shitless, so we were hanging together closely," Young said. "It wasn't comfortable out there, just because of the subject matter. Positive or negative, we crossed a line."
Young said he doesn't really care what audience the $500,000-plus DV feature reaches — "We're not making it to score commercially," he said — yet the band feels strongly about securing a theatrical release to help stir debate several months before the presidential election.
Sony Pictures Classics, Lionsgate, Focus Features, Paramount Vantage, Picturehouse and Sidney Kimmel Entertainment have expressed interest in the film, with sales repped by Cinetic Media and Fortissimo Films.
"Deja Vu" is directed by Bernard Shakey, a shadowy figure who has never been seen in the same place at the same time as Young. His work includes the quirky 1982 comedy-drama "Neil Young: Human Highway" and dates back to the trippy 1974 CSNY film "Journey Through the Past," which has never been released on home video. "It'll come out again, and now it'll live up to its name," said Young, Shakey's unofficial spokesman. "There are some Bernard Shakey retrospectives coming up with the film, and then it will have general distribution."
The film could lead to a concert album, another promotional tour or even an original album, said Nash, depending on its reception. They're hitting the road soon in different combinations: Crosby Stills & Nash in July, Crosby and Nash in the fall. Graham Nash is completing his box set and helping Stills on his other box set. CSNY is prepping an album of demos of their songs dating back to the '60s.
Young insists that his "Archives" project, delayed more than a half-dozen times, will finally be released this year on Blu-ray Disc and DVD (but not CD) "now that technology has caught up to how we want to present it."
But right now their focus is getting "Deja Vu" seen to stir debate.
"I truly believe there are good people on both sides. You can't look at John McCain and say he's not a good man," Young said of one of Crosby's friends. "He's not dirty, he has experience, and he believes he's doing the right thing. How is that different from Barack Obama?
"This movie is not about our opinion, just people willing to stand up and express what they believe" he said. Or, as Stills puts it, "The Constitution doesn't say you have to support the liberal blowhards, just freedom of speech."