Performer: Stephen Stills
Songwriters: David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Paul Kantner
Original Release: Crosby, Stills & Nash (Crosby, Stills & Nash)
Definitive Version: Stephen Stills Live, 1975.
The only song that CSNY didn’t play during their epic 2000 show at Schottenstein Center (good ol’ No. 19) that I really wanted to hear was this one. I mean, sure, I would have loved Long Time Gone and Déjà vu, too, but Wooden Ships has been one of my all-time favorite songs since I was a kid.
I didn’t hear Wooden Ships live until I saw CSNY with Laurie in 2006. It was the third song out of the box, and it was the only song that approached the intensity of that 2000 show. In fact, it’s probably a coin flip as to my favorite version of this song, between one I have from that 2006 tour, where Stephen and Neil just let it fly at the end, and the one from Stephen Stills Live. I guess I picked the Stills solo version due to longevity.
In the CSN box set, each song, of course, has a liner note of commentary or story. For this song, Stills wrote that he stole this song’s first line from a church sign that read “A smile means the same in every language.” I thought that was pretty cool.
The second line, written by Crosby, is one of my favorite lines of any song: “I can see by your coat, my friend, you’re from the other side. There’s just one thing I got to know, can you tell me please, who won?” One of the first things I became aware of about the world when I was young was the potential that it could end at any moment, so when I learned that Wooden Ships was about nuclear war, that fascinated me. The Crosby line succinctly nails the madness of it: If you have to ask your enemy who won the war, NO ONE did.
I bought Stephen Stills Live specifically for this song, because it was a CSN song. It wasn’t the first album I bought for myself—as I mentioned a long time ago, that was the Jaws soundtrack—but it had to have been among the first dozen, most likely after Dad introduced me to Four Way Street and, thus, my love of live recordings.
When it comes to finances, I’m pretty conservative. I’m sure a lot of that philosophy was handed down through Dad via my grandfather, who grew up during The Depression. (I can’t bring myself to call it Great.)
I was given an allowance, the amount up to 50 cents based on how well I acted that week. I had a chart on my closet door in our house on Norway Drive where each day, Mom or Dad would apply stick-on stars if I did something I was supposed to do, like no sass or pick up my toys. I then could spend my money on whatever I wanted. Like I said, I spent most of it on Hot Wheels, then sports cards. The rest I wasted.
When I was 9, Mom and Dad opened a savings account in my name. In 1974, I graduated from an allowance to earning money from cutting the grass—$10 per time. The first thing I targeted with my savings account was a 10-speed bike. When I reached $100 in my savings account—and that seemed to take forever—Dad and I went to a bike shop that opened in nearby Kenny Centre.
I wanted a Schwinn—who didn’t?—but this shop didn’t carry Schwinn. So I bought a brown Horizon, and, truth be told, I probably got a better bike than I would have had I stuck to my guns and demanded a Schwinn. That bike lasted me to high school before it rusted out from use everyday (and, frankly, not the best care).
My bike purchase drained my savings account, but as I rebuilt it, I turned my attention to a record player for my bedroom. This took more money, but I wanted a really good one—one that had an eight-track tape player AND a radio, as well as a turntable. I hit my goal sometime in 1976 and dropped $150 on a Soundesign all-in-one stereo system.
It was a thing of beauty when I put it on my stereo cabinet next to my bed. I’d love to tell you that Wooden Ships from Stephen Stills Live was the first thing I played on it, but more likely it was something stupid, like The Theme from S.W.A.T. (I was very into pop 45s in the mid ’70s.)
However, I associate Steven Stills Live with my record player perhaps more than any other album. That album had the Atlantic Records reddish-orange and green label divided by a white stripe. During the final blazing solo before the “And it’s a fair wind …” line, the stripe turns almost perfectly to the beat. It was mesmerizing. (Again, I didn’t NEED drugs to get my mind to go to strange places.) I hear the Stills version now, and I still can see that record spin.
After I bought my record player, I didn’t really have a savings account worth much until 1990. Any income went out almost as quickly, on video games, dates, groceries at college, and, oh yeah, baseball cards, too.
At one point, Dad saw one of my Visa bills—I can’t remember why but I recall it was about 1989—and he lectured me pretty good about debt and running up a big bill. He could have saved his breath: I already knew. In fact, the reason I had a large bill was because I had to replace the transmission in the Tragic Mazda. It certainly wasn’t as though I was living a life of luxury.
But when I dug myself out of my hole in 1990, I started saving again. Now my savings were meant for anything I couldn’t buy and pay off when my Via bill came due each month. (I might have carried a balance on my credit card once, during my Cleveland days, if at all, but I almost never do.)
First my savings were aimed at buying a car, later a house. Then it became for life itself—three years out of work in the early Aughties and now retirement (with a second car in between).
You know this already, but, man, saving for retirement is daunting. You remember those commercials that consisted of people walking around carrying “their number” with them? Did you notice that all were well above a million dollars? Those commercials simply weren’t based in reality. I saw a study not long ago that found that only 1 percent of people had retirement savings of as much as $250,000, not including the value of their home.
Not meaning to brag, but I’m a 1 percenter. Thanks to the stock market’s rise, I became a quarter-millionaire last year, and depending on where the market is when you read this, my wealth—an IRA, 401(k) and emergency savings fund—is at $300,000. I have no kids, no debt and a good income. However, unless I get a big jump in pay (doubtful) or a huge inheritance (which I won’t), there’s no chance I’ll bump “my number” to a seventh digit.
So … even though I’m doing pretty well, will I still have enough for retirement? I have the promise of a small pension from The Dispatch, from which I expect to never see a dime, plus Social Security, which I expect will be gutted by the Republicans at some point for the sake of more tax cuts for the wealthy. In other words, I expect that whatever retirement I have will be up to me.
Obviously, I wish I still had equity in a home that I could fall back on, but life is a series of tradeoffs. I traded home-ownership for living with Laurie, who doesn’t want to own. I’m OK with that deal for now.
Just as obviously, if I cut out all dinner bills that were above $100 for the past two decades, I’d have a lot more socked away. But what’s the sense of saving EVERYTHING on the chance that I’ll live to be 80? I want to have at least a little fun now.
I’ve concluded that what I have isn’t enough to hang ’em up just yet, but it’s close. I know I can live on the cheap. I lived for three years during which I made a total of $12,000 thanks to savings and the kindness of nonstrangers. I think, flight-of-fancy commercials aside, 10 more years ought to be enough—unless the Republicans gut Medicare, too—before I can set a course and go.