Illusions of Innocence
Time was, the sun stood high and corn grew green,
The juice of youth coursed through our throbbing veins.
Love easy and free as the night was keen.
The grass our bed, our bath the gentle rains.
We took up books of verse and lingered long,
Imagined we were wise as those in odes,
Took guidance from the lyrics of a song,
Cast off the quaint restraint of outworn codes.
All along, ignoring every sign:
The chill that comes and strikes the landscape dead,
The smut that spoils the corn and rots the vine,
The vulture drifting gravely overhead,
And, one subtle clue even less benign,
That not one selfless thought entered our head.
NOTES: Reflecting back on my youth, I am chagrined. There is an old aphorism that states, “If you stand for nothing you’ll fall for anything.” There was a variation that went something like, “If you believe nothing, you’re liable to believe anything.”
By the late 1960s, many of us in my generation had pretty much had our beliefs in God, country and traditional morality watered down to pitifully weak broth.
Mainline churches increasingly didn’t even believe their own teachings. Patriotism was dealt a severe blow by the national identity crisis over the Vietnam War. The glowing reports of the sexual revolution made old fashioned morals seem not only quaint, but stupid. If you were missing out, you were not only square, you were a chump.
It was only natural that we would adopt values from the popular culture of the time. And the most influential popular culture of the day for the young was music.
Thankfully, there were some voices that seemed to have a moral compass. Bob Dylan, for example, started out as a folk-protest-poet, and never stopped looking for truth, going down whatever roads it took him.
But prophets like Dylan were scare and rare.
A good part of the steady diet we heard on the radio was more on the level of “Light My Fire” or “Let’s Spend the Night Together.” Teenage libidos probably didn’t need any extra encouragement if you know what I’m talking about.
Of all the songs from those days, one stands out as especially reprehensible. Of course, I’m referring to Stephen Stills’ paean to infidelity, “Love the One You’re With.”
Set to a catchy tune with some nice acoustic guitar licks, the song’s poison message is wrapped in layers of cotton candy lyrics.
If you’re down and confused
And you don’t remember who you’re talking to
Concentration slips away
Cause your baby is so far away
Well there’s a rose in a fisted glove
And the eagle flies with the dove
And if you can’t be with the one you love honey
Love the one you’re with, love the one you’re with
Love the one you’re with, love the one you’re with.
That there is some great relationship advice. Just great.
Apparently, I’m not the only one who hates the song. Even former front man of punk bands Scratch and Jesus Lizard, David Yow — an expert in vile lyrics if there ever was one — agrees with me.
He says he hates that song so much he’d like to choke Stephen Stills to death.
I wouldn’t go that far. I’m just chagrined that I once thought it was a cool song.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t hate all songs by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. “Our House” is a wonderful little tune about domestic tranquility. It was written by Graham Nash when he and Joni Mitchell were in love, living at her house with “two cats in the yard.”
It’s a pity that tranquility couldn’t last. But with the band singing “love the one you’re with” every night, how could it possibly last?