Performer: Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
Songwriter: David Crosby
Original Release: Crosby, Stills & Nash (Crosby, Stills & Nash)
Definitive Version: CSNY2K, Portland 2-2-00, 2000. Actually, probably any version from this tour would suffice.
If I could have written any song on this here list, I would choose this one without hesitation. It’s absolutely perfect, not a single false note or lyric in it.
So why is it not No. 1? I mean, how do you top perfection? Well, every song above Guinnevere eclipses 15 minutes. In fact, Guinnevere is the only song in the top 19 that falls below five minutes in length. The way I see it, 22 minutes of perfection out of 25 total, beats 4 minutes of 100 percent perfection. Any further complaints, and I’d like to remind you of the rules stated on this here blog nearly three years ago: my house, my rules.
Guinnevere is another of those songs that the more I hear it, the more I like it. The point of real illumination was the CSN box set. When I heard that version of Guinnevere, which is more or less a Crosby solo demo, I was surprised that it was an unplugged version of Guinnevere. Of course, the studio version on Crosby, Stills & Nash isn’t exactly overproduced, but I loved the stripped-down version right away.
Then came the CSNY2K version, which is nothing short of stunning. I’d compare it to an ice crystal. It would break apart if you gripped it too tightly, yet somehow Crosby, Nash and Crosby’s 12-string hold it together.
On the CSN box set liner notes, Crosby wrote that people ask him all the time who was Guinnevere—who was the inspiration behind the song. Crosby’s answer was no one; it was an amalgamation of people he’d known up to that point. I’m not saying I disbelieve him, because, well … he wrote the song, so he should know, but I have to think one person stood out more than any other, and perhaps he just didn’t want to say.
Debbie wasn’t a big fan of this song, although she knew I was. She didn’t like it, because she knew it meant more to me than it did her and—more important—that she wasn’t my Guinnevere.
Debbie always thought Beth was Guinnevere. Yes, Beth hath green eyes (sort of) and golden hair (more or less), but I never caught her drawing pentagrams on the wall when she thought that no one was watching at all. Regardless, Debbie was dead wrong.
To me, Guinnevere is the unobtainable ideal, the embodiment of the perfect love. Well, anyone who has been in love with another person knows that the only perfect love is one that’s unrequited, because a person’s faults lay undiscovered.
My love of Beth was mostly definitely requited, but, even when I was most in love with her, even before we met, it never approached the ideal. The truth is Beth never was Guinnevere.
Jan Nolte was Guinnevere.
To this day, I remember the first time I saw her. It wasn’t in the warm wind down by the bay. Instead, it was in our eighth-grade Life Science class at Hastings. I even want to say it was in Room 108. The teacher, Mr. Hord, whom I loved, had Jan come to the front of the class to demonstrate some pattern of planetary movement in the solar system.
I’d never noticed Jan before for some reason, despite her being a cheerleader. That day she wore green cordouroy pants and a red, green and blue stripe cow-neck top, which clung to the impressive curves of her budding womanhood. Her reddish-blonde hair was cut in the Dorothy Hamill style that was de rigueur in Upper Arlington, and her blue eyes pierced my heart.
I remained smitten throughout junior high and high school. I had several classes with Jan throughout the years, and she knew who I was, but, of course, I never could bring myself to talk to her. I mean, how do you talk to Guinnevere? I was too busy gasping and clutching my heart when she passed by. I had no songs with which to woo her, even the one written by David Crosby that I wished I wrote. So I said nothing, except the occasional shy greeting.
My inability to break the silence led to something I wish I could roll back and redo but, of course, can’t. Sherman, set the way-back machine to October 1981.
I had parked that day in the student lot at UA and headed home quickly after school to be at Food World for the start of my 4-10 shift. I just started there and had no interest in punching my time card late. I had to be on time.
As I drove along Brandon Road, I saw Jan walking by herself on the sidewalk. She saw me and waved. I waved back and … KEPT DRIVING!
There was no need for later self-reproachment; I understood even as it happened the extent of my boneheadedness. In the back of my mind, I knew Jan was walking to Kingsdale, just a block away, for her job, and I had to hustle to get to work, but obviously I should have stopped to ask whether she wanted a ride.
If she said no, no harm done. If she said yes, even if it was just one more block to Kingsdale, a door would’ve opened. Where that door would’ve led, I’ll never know.
Of course, one possibility is that I would have discovered Jan’s faults and, thus, that she wasn’t really Guinnevere after all.