When I picked up this movie named after the band’s sophomore release, I was expecting a nostalgic look at the highlights of the career of Crosby, Stills, Nash And Young. I thought it would be like filled, with great performances and interviews from the early days to the new millennium, some dusty old Woodstock images, peace signs and the boys talking about the old days. Deja Vu is so much more. The title is not a reference to the early works, it is a reference to how the world was looking in 2007, old lessons not learned, new leaders like the old leaders, CSNY feeling the need to speak out about the world.
I’ve always preferred CSNY to the solo works of Neil Young, not a knock on his career, I just put the quartet in the same category as The Byrds, an album band that can make you feel like you are living in whatever time the record was recorded. That’s what also makes this more powerful, they are not old men shouting down to the people from their ivory towers, no, the film is as much about the present generation and the world that has been served up for them as it is about one of America’s best bands.
Deja Vu focusses on the 2007 Freedom Of Speech tour of the United States, very much a Neil Young idea, but one that would have been less impactful without the four of them joining forces once again. The new songs look at the war that Bush threw our young men and women into, the blindness of those in charge to protect and serve those oversees and ultimately the loss of many fine members of the new generation. Yeah, this is not Abba Gold, it’s a tour that very few of ‘our’ bands would have the guts to do. The only things that I can think to compare it to are Manic Street Preachers playing in Cuba and The Dixie Chicks throwing shade on Bush from the London stage. This example is also bought up in the film and man, hearing a crowd member furious about the ‘politics’ of the show and smugly proclaiming “Hey! I already banned the Dixie Chicks in my house” was astounding. This is another strength, it is not just Young and the band’s POV, we meet soldiers, mothers and families from both sides, those who believe that the band should just play the hits and those that believe that this tour is honouring and remembering their fallen children. It’s very hard to watch at times, a mother watching her child’s coffin rolling off of an Air Force plane, a soldier trying to come to terms with his service by throwing himself into music, playing to disinterested crowds in tiny clubs – but all these tales are tinged with hope, young is seen jamming along with the soldier’s song and allowing veterans to watch the rehearsals and the show from back stage, always going down to say hi to them, it’s wonderful.
It’s not all Young though, Stephen Stills is shown travelling to meet candidates and speaking on their behalf, using his fame to promote change without overshadowing what he is speaking on. Graham Nash still sounds wonderful and my favourite David Crosby (his solo work is excellent too) performs some killer harmonies and just seeing him up there on the stage with his brethren still fighting the good fight is lovely.
Overall, Deja Vu is a great look at a band still kicking against the pricks rather than growing old gracefully and throwing out just the hits, although it is ironic that those ultra conservatives pleading with them to do just that are dealing with a band who wrote about the killings at Kent State, they never had a She Loves You period.
When making this record, Young made videos for each track, using political footage and making his own version of CNN on his website, LWW, and all of this videos are included in the extras as well as a tribute to the troops and an exclusive Young interview.
This is a magnificent documentary, that will leave you close to tears at points and rightfully angry at others. As Crosby so succinctly puts it, art should make you feel something, whether you agree with what it is saying or not and, oh boy, this film definitely does that.