My wife Jan and I recently attended a concert at the Bergen Performing Arts Center, in Englewood, NJ. We frequently go to concerts there, and also Bethel Woods in Bethel, NY, to see individual artists and groups who defined our youth and who are thankfully still touring. As Jan says, “If there’s anybody you want to see, let’s go now, because they’re all leaving us.” (See Glenn Frey, Leonard Cohen and Tom Petty, to name but a few.) That particular night in Englewood, we saw Steven Stills (age 72) and Judy Collins (age 78). They have been touring this year to promote a collaborative CD, “Stills & Collins: Everybody Knows.”
As everybody knows, Stephen Stills and Judy Collins had a relatively brief, but high-octane love affair circa 1968, when Collins was an established star in the folk music world and Stills was making a name for himself as a founding member of Buffalo Springfield, and would soon become one-third of Crosby, Stills and Nash. Their relationship was the catalyst for one of the great songs of the Boomer Generation: “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes.”
The concert was transcendent. Stills voice has weakened over the years, though his guitar playing remains first-rate. Collins, on the other hand, is still a national treasure. Her impossibly pure, quintessentially rich voice is as stunning as I remember it, and she still phrases a song with the best of them. Stills wisely highlighted Collins in the concert and on their joint CD, and she delivers in spades.
Her rendition of the late Sandy Denny gem, “Who Knows Where the Time Goes,” is perhaps the most beautiful recording I have ever heard. The sparse arrangement features a persistent, though unobtrusive piano, Stills’ almost imperceptible guitar, base, a solitary snare drum and muted cymbal, like raindrops falling softly in the distance. Above it all–effortlessly, up and down the scale–soars Collins’ singular voice, an entire orchestra all by itself. Amazing. And wonderful.
The concert and the CD got me thinking, and wondering, as I do (maybe more than I should), and as all Boomers must from time to time, just where that time has gone. When I was a kid in a very large extended Italian/American family, all the aunts and uncles and cousins used to gather every Sunday at my grandmother’s grand, old house in Hackensack, NJ. There, in the basement (where all the old Italians eventually migrated; my Mom called it her “sunken dining room”) we all gathered, nearly thirty-strong, for a peasant’s meal that was fit for a king. It was prepared entirely on a wood-burning stove. I remember thinking then, as many post-war kids probably did, that it was a pretty good life. And it never occurred to me, though it surely should have, that it would all end one day.
In his classic “Time Passages,” Al Stewart writes: “Well I’m not the kind to live in the past; The years run too short and the days too fast. The things you lean on are the things that don’t last. Well it’s just now and then my line gets cast into these time passages… Buy me a ticket on the last train home tonight.”
Better yet, buy yourself a ticket to a concert by one of your own favorite artists from way back when. Thomas Wolfe said, “You Can’t Go Home Again,” but he was wrong. You can. You just can’t stay.