CSNY Déjà Vu
No Gentle Going This Time Around

The poison that is war does not free us from the ethics of responsibility. There are times when we must take the poison, just as a person with cancer accepts chemotherapy to live. We cannot succumb to despair. Force is, and I suspect always will be, part of the human condition. There are times when the force wielded by one immoral faction must be countered by a faction that, while never moral, is perhaps less immoral. —Chris Hedges

I saw Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young (CSNY) in 1976 in Springfield, Massachusetts. I loved their music, and was excited to see them—only to be let down by idiot fans who booed them when they changed their set to acoustic, throwing bottles and drowning out some of their great songs like “Ohio,” “Find the Cost of Freedom,” and “Chicago,” all anti-war songs that resonate with many of us to this day. I think that part of their appeal for me was their desire to not allow the status quo to reign, especially when it related to war.

A show of politics in CSNY Deja Vu

I am not against soldiers and their heroics to defend our rights. My grandfather fought in WW I, my father fought in WW II; my brother fought in Vietnam. I was too young, and warless! I have always found war both fascinating and devastating at the same time, torn between the knowledge of an evil world and an over-worked conscience that screams the horror of any war. I believe that Hitler needed to be stopped, but I also believe that any war ought not be glorified, but only pitied. I agree with war correspondent Chris Hedges when he writes in War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning, “War exposes the capacity for evil that lurks not far below the surface within all of us.” War is a result of the collective evil we all possess.

I’m not sure what to do with this mental conflict. I look at the atrocities in Burma (Myanmar), the Sudan, and Zimbabwe, and wonder if it is a Western elitist opinion to believe that no one should do anything of any consequence in the midst of these current day horrors. I also know war and violence are not the panacea that Rambo wanted us to believe. But there is a tension between allowing violence to reign because we are opposed to violence, and that obvious, devastating horror of war.

In the interest of full disclosure, it’s worth pointing out that I have opposed the Iraq war from the beginning, although I am in total support of my good friends and many other brave men and women who have laid their life down in defense of their country. I am deeply sympathetic with Neil Young’s message, and the message of other anti-war artists such as U2, UB40, Bob Dylan, and Bruce Springsteen.

Having said all that, I struggled with this movie because of the intolerance of freedom that I think it ultimately inspires—which is a bit funny, since the documentary by Iraqi war correspondent and former Vietnam vet Michael Ceres follows the band on their 2005 “Freedom of Speech” tour. The tour was primarily the brain child of band leader Neil Young, who wrote the new music (much of it quite inflammatory, like “Impeach the President”—a very cool song nonetheless) and conflated old anti-war tunes like “Ohio” and “Find the Cost of Freedom” to stage a two-plus-hour anti-Bush, anti-Iraq war rally at $200 a head. The film, though, could have been much more powerful had it allowed other credible voices to be heard. It features obligatory conservative remarks, of course, but they are of the straw man variety, and often inane.

If “good” art is, as David Crosby muses, something that “makes you feel something,” then I would say that CSN Déjà Vu is good art. But I think a documentary ought to be more than that; it ought to tell a story and give you room to think. I hope to see documentaries dig into the complications of their subject matter, and give an honest voice to its opposing opinion (as in Chris Bell’s recent Bigger, Stronger, Faster) so that one can walk away informed and connected.

So as much as I am sympathetic to CSNY’s cause, the movie would have been more powerful if it were truly about “Freedom of Speech”—instead of being propaganda, even if it is the propaganda that you like. The film is truly, as Graham Nash said, a “story from my point of view.”

Is this what freedom is? Does it free us to think, or—as this this type of documentary does—does it tell us what to think? This is what truth-finding is about: putting your truth out in the marketplace of ideas so that it can withstand opposition and criticism; and if it is true, it will stand the test. But this documentary wants to be heard, without being tested—though not after the exploitive force-feeding fashion of Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11. No CSNY Déjà Vu was more honest and pure.

The film follows the band to concerts and political rallies, and exhorts you to feel the loss of the Iraqi war—and our responsibility to do something about status quo-living here in the good ol’ USA. Love your country enough to change it, so to speak. The most interesting part of the film (and the only real conservative voice) comes from an Atlanta concert when the band breaks into “Let’s Impeach the President.” The previous appreciative crowd began to turn on CSNY, and the chorus of boos becomes obvious. Much of the fan reaction is disgust, disappointment, and—for some—rage in the likeness of Tourette’s Syndrome.

If you are a CSNY fan and want to see some good new and old mixes—and can put away your political badge—then this film is for you. It is kind of interesting to see sixty-something rockers take to the stage again. Heck, Crosby and Stills have the same haircuts and moustaches they had in the sixties, albeit a bit gray and haggard-looking.

However, if you are a card-carrying Republican, born on the 4th of July, this film is not for you! It will only anger you, make you burn the 4 Way Street album you got in high school, and utter Tourette’s-like epithets at the screen!

Personally, I liked the film. Sure, it could have been done better; but I wonder what films like this and protest movements actually accomplish.  Can they really “change the world, rearrange the world?” Some have produced expansive societal changes; but have they stopped hatred in the human heart? Have we yet been freed from enslavement to bitterness and anger? Have we obliterated war?

Maybe we need to assess the cost of freedom, and realize it doesn’t come through protest, but via a cross on hill far, far away…

Oh, wait. Now I’m preaching!

CSNY Déjà Vu is rated R for “some language and brief war images.” The film could be seen by most viewers, I think; but watch that vulgar reactionary language!!

Courtesy of a local publicist, Mike attended a press screening of CSNY Déjà Vu.