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Express yourself: CSNY: Déjà Vu

Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young exercises the First Amendment



The aging hippie rockers of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young have matured in more ways than one. Their tour documentary CSNY: Déjà Vu, shot during the group's aptly named 2006 Freedom of Speech Tour, deftly blends the band's anti-war sentiment with a fond appreciation of the troops' sacrifices. The delicate balance undercuts the notion of protest as unpatriotic, and instead underscores the value of dissent.

Neil Young directed the doc under the pseudonym Bernard Shakey, and worked with veteran broadcast journalist Mike Cerre, who serves as the film's narrator. Déjà Vu reveals a band that might be slightly past its performing prime, but is as defiant as ever in its desire to speak out politically. The members see in Bush's Iraq strategy a return to the same bungled interventionist logic that made the Vietnam War such a disaster.

The film exposes a nation once again conflicted not just about war, but about popular music's role in politics. The tour promoted Young's CD, Living with War, and was met with a mix of support and criticism even among the group's longtime baby boomer fans. A performance in Atlanta's Philips Arena received the most scrutiny. In separate interviews, conservative radio commentator Neil Boortz and "The Regular Guys" morning-show hosts Larry Wachs and Erich von Haessler dismiss the tour's impact. When the band launches into protest songs such as "Let's Impeach the President," reactions range from cheers to jeers, and several fans, yelling at the camera, storm out.

The Freedom of Speech Tour cuts both ways for the filmmakers. Déjà Vu complements concert footage with interviews with Iraq war veterans on their return from service. Cerre, a veteran journalist of Vietnam and Iraq and a CSNY fan, offers the rare perspective of a man who appreciates both the art of protest and the rigors of war.

Unfortunately, the movie's a little light on the band's interpersonal dynamics, and instead settles for an early observation by David Crosby of Young as a "benevolent" dictator. We see too many group hugs, and not enough creative collaboration.

Still, Déjà Vu fulfills its mission as a chronicle of Rock and Roll Hall of Famers who refuse to give up the mic or their values.

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