I often work late. Sometimes I’m tired and I like to play upbeat music to keep the juices flowing. One of my favorites – that I come back to over and over and never seem to tire of — is this remarkable performance of “Suite Judy Blue Eyes” by Crosby, Stills, & Nash. I love it, really. “Suite Judy Blue Eyes” is one of the most beautiful and lyrical rock songs ever written. CSN’s harmony on the song is a joyful delight; Stills is just phenomenal on the guitar. I love David Crosby, Stephen Stills, and Graham Nash. They are simply amazingly talented musicians who, together and separately, have produced a magnificent body of intelligent, musically interesting, and highly listenable songs for decades.
The very pleasure that I find in their music is the thing that saddens me about their lives. The immorality, drug abuse, even the knee-jerk liberalism. I listen as an adult, not some teenage fan. I’ve followed news about them long enough — the marriage failures, addictions, arrests, even ego-driven dust-ups with each other — to know that as much as I enjoy their artistic output, we’d likely have little in common and much to clash over were we ever to sit down and talk. “Uh, Mr. Crosby, now about this business of donating sperm to lesbians to produce offspring…. ” No, it wouldn’t go well.
So I can separate the men from the music.
Kids have a very hard time with this. They take very personally any criticism of the lives of the musicians and singers they like. Even when the flagrancy of the delinquency is so obvious (a la Miley Cyrus) good, and otherwise reasonable kids, have a hard time making that separation. And I remember being a kid and wanting, longing for, the singers and musicians I liked to be good people. I remember hating to find out anything negative about them, especially that they acted immorally – and they all did, or so it seemed.
Kids have to be led to this understanding. To move beyond being fans to being critical listeners. To ask of the lyrics whether they are true. To ask of the lives of the musicians whether they are worthy of emulation. We find that they only with great reluctance engage in this critical thought. They hate it. They do not want to ask these questions, even if they must learn to do so.
And I think the kids have it right, albeit that my jaded and more sophisticated adult understanding permits me to make a necessary distinction, it is a distinction made necessary by the Fall, like the recognition of a lie. What the young hearts want — and what I want too, when I am recalled to my senses — is for the good to beautifully express truth.
When beautiful music is used to express lies, or is produced by people who manifestly do not lead good lives, we feel in our souls that something is askew in the fabric of the universe. We sense that Goodness, Truth, and Beauty have suffered a rupture and we are quite rightly disturbed.
In heaven, where the saints make music, those who are flawlessly Good use Beauty to expresses Truth. The beauty of music will never insidiously poison us with the expression of lies. We will never have to fear to find out some disappointing secret about a singer that tips every enjoyable moment of his performance with a tinge of shame.
I hope David Crosby, Stephen Stills, and Graham Nash make it there. I want a front row seat.