Saturday, May 17, 2014

No. 19 – Down by the River

Performer: Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
Songwriter: Neil Young
Original Release: Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere (Neil Young with Crazy Horse)
Year: 1969
Definitive Version: CSNY2K, Portland 2-2-00, 2000.

When CSNY reunited to make their first album in 11 years in 1999 and a tour the following year (their first in 26 years), Debbie and I were in … although not to the point where we were willing to pay $250 for seats down front. After Bruce Springsteen got us there for free (good ol’ No. 181), paying for the privilege simply wouldn’t do.

I was excited to finally see the band I’d been a fan of since I was a little kid, but I was doing so with my eyes open. Sure, they’d just put out an album, Looking Forward, but CSNY was a nostalgia act. Neil still was vital, of course, but as much as I loved the rest of the band, 1982 was the last time CSN had a hit.

No matter. I had no expectations that what I would see would be anything great. I was going to celebrate the music I grew up with, the music that laid the foundation to everything I loved afterward. Well …

As I’ve documented a few times, Pearl Jam in 1994 was the greatest concert I ever saw, followed by The Who playing my favorite album, Quadrophenia, start to finish in 1996. My third favorite concert ever was CSNY in February 2000. Whatever apprehension I felt ahead of time was made a mockery by the hurricane force of Neil Young’s passion. In short, he wouldn’t ALLOW the other guys to mail it in.

I remember the 3-1/2-hour setlist almost in its entirety—the one-two punch of Almost Cut My Hair and Cinnamon Girl to wind up the first set, the sweet harmonies of all four on Helplessly Hoping, the stunning stark beauty of very stripped down versions of After the Goldrush and Guinnevere back to back.

Then there was the grand finale. After a joyful rendition of Teach Your Children, CSNY took a short break, not leaving the stage as a video recording of Harry Caray singing Take Me Out to the Ballgame marked what was billed as the Seventh-Inning Stretch. The instant it was over, Stills cranked up Woodstock. That was followed by, in order, Eight Miles High, Ohio, Love the One You’re With, Down by the River, For What It’s Worth and Rockin’ in a Free World. It was as glorious as it was relentless.

But the highlight was this song. As soon as Neil hit the familiar opening chords—to the delighted surprise of those in the audience who knew it (that would be me and a few others)—Debbie turned to me and said, “I’m timing this one.”

She knew as well as I did that we were about to see something epic. It was, to the point where Neil simply outrocked everyone else on stage and blew down the walls of the Schottenstein Center. The final feedback-drenched chord from Neil’s trusty Old Black brought the song to an end after the 16-minute mark. So … yeah, Neil was a little restrained that night.

After the show, Debbie and I met up with Scott, Shani, Dad and Laura beneath the arena, all of us ecstatic by what we’d just seen. Scott had seen them a week before in Indianapolis and said the show this time was the same, except that this time they played Suite: Judy Blue Eyes and Down by the River. So it was the same concert except for an extra 23 minutes of music? Indeed. Wow.

When Scott later loaded up iTunes on my clamshell iBook, he had a bootleg of an entire CSNY show—the one from Portland—included. Down by the River—a mere 13-minute version—became a regular play for the next two years as I sought solace in the aftermath of my split with Debbie.

So, yeah, when I got back from Cincinnati in April 2001, as I mentioned (good ol’ No. 39), I resolved to do what I needed to do—lots of groveling and begging—to persuade Debbie not to throw me out. She was surprised to see me home earlier than she expected—not the first time that—but I wasn’t agitated. I was fired up.

I promised to be better, to be more considerate, to do whatever I needed to make things right. Debbie, not knowing what to expect, was taken aback by my passionate words. She promised to consider it, and when we went to bed that night, I thought I might have changed her mind.

Debbie set me straight the next day. She said, no, her mind was made up. We were through. She wanted to stay in the house; I had to move out, and she would buy out my share. I didn’t understand. As we talked, her in bed, me sitting on the side of it, I felt my heart break and just collapsed, sobbing uncontrollably.

The next morning, I awoke early with the depressing knowledge that I had to start looking for an apartment, knowing my whole life was changing, knowing I’d blown it again. I didn’t know anything, as it turned out.

That night, as I lay in my soon-to-be ex-matrimonial bed, ruing my fate, Debbie made a hesitant confession. She said … see … she kind of … met this other guy ...

OK, THAT I understand.

Debbie insisted that she hadn’t cheated … yet, but she felt strongly enough about this other person that she had to let me go now. I was furious. Yes, I was aware, even then, that the reason she was receptive to meeting someone else was because of my shortcomings. For the past week, Debbie led me to believe that if I changed a few things, she’d have me back again. What I didn’t know was it already was too late.

I lost a lot of respect for Debbie that day, and it wasn’t because she dumped me for another guy, per se. A little backstory: Debbie used to rail on her ex for dumping her, even though he’d been miserable for a long time, ONLY after he found a suitable replacement. Your father was the same way, she said to me.

Men, she said, don’t have the courage to leave on their own, like women do. They don’t leave until they have their next situation lined up. I damn well know women played this game, too, because that’s exactly what Beth did years before. But I let Debbie have her say at the time.

Now, apparently Debbie was just like those “men.” Whatever problems I caused—and admittedly I caused a lot—they weren’t so bad that she threw me out until she just conveniently had someone waiting in the wings.

I let my contempt simmer for some time. It bubbled to the surface while we were out to dinner at a great Middle Eastern place called Café Istanbul. I can’t remember why it came up in conversation, but I told Debbie to her face that she was a hypocrite for doing exactly the thing that she used to accuse “men” of doing.

She didn’t like the truth of my words one bit and said she’d like to throw the glass of wine she was holding in my face. She didn’t have to, although, obviously, that would make for a better story now if she had. I knew I’d scored a direct hit, as intended.

But time heals all wounds, doesn’t it? Debbie said another thing just before I left in May 2001. As hurt as I was, as mad as I was, she said that someday I’d thank her for letting me go. I promised myself then that even if it were true, I’d never give her the satisfaction by admitting it.

For 13 years, I held that vow. No matter what happened, no matter that I was grateful that I no longer worked at The Dispatch, that I got to work in professional baseball, that I got to move to Chicago, finally, I wasn’t going to give in. It was a matter of pride.

Well … how do you move on from something, how do you evolve, when you cling to the past like a crutch? You don’t. The truth is, I AM happier now than I was when we were together, and it was time to own up to that.

So, the other day, I swallowed my pride. I called Debbie and told her she was right, that I was grateful for her doing what was necessary for the both of us back in 2001, as much as it might have hurt at the time. Down by the river … I thanked my baby. And the water washed us clean.

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