I picked up an interesting though ultimately disappointing bargain book the other day: Stand and Be Counted, by—get this—David Crosby. Yes, hard to believe the man whose first solo album was called If I Could Only Remember My Name actually managed to find the brain cells to write a nonfiction book, but Stand and Be Counted was published in 2000. (How I missed it then can probably be explained by a simple look at the price tag on my copy, down to $5.99 from original MSRP of $25—curiosity got the better of me at the price of a super-size Big Mac meal.) The book was written with Crosby’s friend David Bender, author of The Confession of O.J. Simpson, A Work of Fiction, and subtitled, “Making Music, Making History. The dramatic story of the artists and events that changed America.” The idea was to write a history of musician activism. As are most recent Crosby endeavors—from his artificial insemination escapades to the most recent CSNY album—it’s an idea that might sound good when you’ve had a little doobage, but its execution leaves something to be desired.
The main problem with Stand and Be Counted is, surprisingly, not Crosby’s writing. His voice comes across loud and clear, like a literary “Almost Cut My Hair”; while there are some really awful passages (“Taking a stand shows a depth of character and a generosity of spirit. It shows the quality in human beings that makes me proud to be one.”), hearing Crosby tell the story is one of the book’s pleasures. If he could tell a more complete story, one that included a deeper exploration of the politics of activism or looked at musician activism before the rise of rock music, it might be a great book. A glance at the contents betrays instead, we’re just getting Crosby’s personal story, his autobiography of do-good-ism, from protesting during the Civil Rights movement through his participation in benefit concerts in the 80s and 90s. Fun reading, a lot of it is—the tales of rich and famous classic rockers as concerned citizens are just the ticket to fuel the fame machine—but at the end, I’m left with an overriding, “So fucking what?”
Like most of the baby boom generation, Crosby once had ideals and goals that would have changed the power structure in America. As we know, they largely failed or at best fell short. But unlike most boomers, Crosby hasn’t gone on to admit defeat, get a suit-and-tie job, buy an SUV and a house in the suburbs, and join the Republican Party. He still hangs on to the myth, figuring if he keeps telling the story about how the hippies changed the world, eventually someone will believe him. This book is the most egregious example of this revisionist history that tends to accompany any discussion of “The Sixties” by those boomers like Crosby who won’t recognize the great sell-out of America that’s led us to the current State of the Union.
As wealth and power in the United States continue to concentrate in fewer hands, while our elected representatives lie and cheat, when corporations can run roughshod over everyone and everything, and we all sit and sweat in this even-hotter-than-last-year summer (yeah, it’s just those tree huggers who believe in global warming), I have a hard time giving Crosby the peace sign for all the “activism” he’s been involved with. Activism has a component lost on Crosby and most of his musician friends in Stand and Be Counted and that’s actually achieving political or social ends.