Recently I rediscovered Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. I’ll come to the how below: first let’s talk of the rediscovery. I used to own a CSNY tape (“So Far”) and a CSN tape (“CSN”) when I was in high school — I think those may have been the only two CSN(Y) albums released in India. It seemed nice, with pleasing harmonies like Simon and Garfunkel and mainly acoustic instruments; I never paid the lyrics much attention, but songs like “Teach your children” and “Wooden ships” sounded pleasant and innocuous, almost like children’s songs.
Today, I’m blown away at what I missed: the ominous undertones of those songs in particular, and the countercultural 1960s symbolism everywhere. And I hadn’t known the background behind Neil Young’s “Ohio“, or listened carefully to the lyrics.
Listening to their live album, “Four way street”, recently was a revelation. Particularly disc 2. The third track is a hard-rocking thirteen-minute “Southern Man“, with at least 10 of those 13 minutes consisting of Neil Young and Stephen Stills exchanging searing guitar licks — this was CSNY? It sounded like nothing I’d heard before. Certainly Lynyrd Skynyrd’s response to that song, “Sweet home Alabama“, sounds tame in comparison. And if that’s not enough, the following track is a short but equally searing “Ohio”, with its chorus “Four dead in Ohio” drilling into your skull, and the one after that is another marathon jam between Stills and Young, “Carry on”.
Oh yes, the acoustic tracks are great too.
Now to my rediscovery of CSNY… it all has to do with youtube. That’s where I discovered Stephen Colbert (after his White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner performance in 2006). Then I discovered Stephen Colbert’s interview with Neil Young. (That was on youtube too, but seems to be gone now; you can search on Comedy Central’s site.) Then I listened to, and bought, Neil’s latest album, “Living with war” (he sang one line of “Let’s impeach the president” on Colbert’s programme before Colbert cut him off, and more to the point, he made the whole album available online). Then I heard more Neil Young on youtube; I was particularly interested by the Rust performances around 1977-78. Then, of course, I decided it was time to revisit CSNY. Among other performances, I heard a “Southern Man”, which seems to be gone now, thanks to copyright owners Viacom — the same people who yanked the Comedy Central clips.
Anyway — thanks mainly to youtube, I have now bought a CSNY double CD, a Neil Young CD, and a Neil Young DVD. And that’s just a sample of the stuff I’ve bought after discovering it online. There’s much that I’d love to buy, but it’s just not available. (Example: Yamashita’s classical guitar recordings. The guy is a genius but has had a rough reception in the west, with the result that his more interesting recordings are just not available at all.)
Listen up, record and media companies: media-sharing sites like youtube are your friends. Colbert owes his insane popularity today to youtube, and he knows it. Dozens of musicians, starting from the Grateful Dead, owe their popularity and financial success to allowing free sharing of live recordings. Madeleine Peyroux makes all her recordings available (streaming) on her website — which has earned her at least one sale, to me: I wouldn’t have chanced it without hearing it first.
Science fiction author Cory Doctorow allows his books to be downloaded for free, and believes that it has boosted sales:
“Most people who download the book don’t end up buying it, but they wouldn’t have bought it in any event, so I haven’t lost any sales, I’ve just won an audience. A tiny minority of downloaders treat the free e-book as a substitute for the printed book–those are the lost sales. But a much larger minority treat the e-book as an enticement to buy the printed book. They’re gained sales. As long as gained sales outnumber lost sales, I’m ahead of the game.”
So stop viewing every damn video on youtube as a lost sale. It isn’t. A significant number of the views will translate to gained sales.
(I’m not linking to youtube above: I have in the past but most of those links have disappeared, so I figure I can let interested readers search for themselves.)