Almost Cut My Hair (1969)
Crosby Stills Nash & Young
Like any historical moment, it is hard to – no pun intended – cut through it all and get down to the few nuggets of truth that are left after the distortions, after the endless commentaries by pundits and professors.
“Almost Cut My Hair” is a musical expression of those months and years when many of the young in the United States and the rest of the developed world pushed back against the alienation of the “people” from their political process, pushed back against an unthinking allegiance to fatherland, pushed back against the small-minded thinking of their parents’ generation.
I coulda said it was in my way
This is not to say that the rebellions were always fully justified, successful or even coherent. But that is often the nature of social revolutions. They are about striking out against an atmosphere, a sensibility, a way of life, as opposed to a specific set of injustices. While there was loose talk about overthrowing the government, it never progressed very far.
“Almost Cut My Hair” is a long-overdue look at those years that stretched roughly from 1967 to 1974. It is an almost perfect Rock song: angry, tender, scared, rough and ultimately triumphant.
Almost cut my hair
It happened just the other day
It’s getting’ kinda long
I coulda said it wasn’t in my way
But I didn’t and I wonder why
I feel like letting my freak flag fly…
Cause I feel like I owe it to someone
While this is David Crosby’s song because of his troubled, delectable Blues singing, it is also Steve Stills’ for his intergalactic, black-hole-dwelling guitar lead. Even farther down the track belongs to Neil Young who trades off crazed, cracked guitar riffs with Stills (and with the few that Crosby drops in). “Almost Cut My Hair” stylistically is a Neil Young song. On the “extended” version, the full Youngian intensity of “Almost Cut My Hair” unfolds. Involuntarily we think of Neil’s “Down By The River” and “Cowgirl In The Sand” with a brief visit from “Southern Man.”
Crosby howls out some of the most superb singing of his long, anarchic and – sad to say – unfulfilled career. Had he stayed on track and laid off the hard drugs we would be mentioning him as being on the same level as compatriot Neil. A shame.
Must be because I had the flu for Christmas
and I’m not feeling up to par
It increases my paranoia
like looking at my mirror
and seeing a police car
But I’m not giving in an inch to fear
cause I missed myself this year
I feel like I owe it to someone
The disproportionate outrage in reaction to the growing of hair by young men throughout the world had significance far beyond fad or fashion.
Long hair was at once a thumb in the eye of the World War II generation that never really demilitarized their minds. It was also a counter-cultural statement against the short hair forced upon soldiers drafted into the dehumanizing war in Vietnam, a conflict deeply unpopular with the public at large but especially with young people who would, after all, be doing the bleeding and dying.
Lyrically, the power of the song lies in the singer’s thinking about cutting his hair without actually doing it. He doesn’t relent and so he let’s his “freak flag fly.” As the song winds its not-so-merry way home we can figure that Crosby is leaving his hair long to serve as an example; to give the finger to the cops and other authority figures, and – well – because he likes having long hair.
Needless to say, there was also a statement of virility, potency politically and sexually, that flowing, Samson-like locks implied.
The unrelenting drive of the electric co-leads by Stills and Young has been shunted to a corner in the accolades department, which is anomalous given that Stills and Young were approaching megastardom at the time and because the album the song is from originally, Deja Vu, has, over the course of the last four decades, sold 8 million copies worldwide. Nash had been with the popular group The Hollies and Crosby was an anchor for the Byrds during their hit-making period. Such is the perversity of Rock critics from major magazines.
The original studio version is remarkable, but more impressive is the extended track that appears on CS&N’s Box Set. It runs nearly nine minutes and the jabbering, contentious, muscling talk between the Crosby-Stills-and-Young’s guitars is priceless. They are power players, make no bones about it it. The extended version also allows for full appreciation of the bass work by Greg Reeves, a friend of Neil’s who was not yet 16 when he played on the Déjà Vu album. (He would later go on to play on After The Gold Rush for Young.)
At the time “Almost Cut My Hair” was released, there was a romantic urge in youth to leave the oppressiveness of the United States behind and flee to Canada, Mexico, France or Sweden. Those countries seemed amenable to taking in young men resisting the draft, or anyone who wanted to feel free of America’s stifling jingoistic Babbittry. So, when Crosby sings the last verse, it does not exactly come out of the blue.
When I finally get myself together
I’m going to get down
in that sunny southern weather
And find a place inside to laugh
separate the wheat from the chaff
I feel like I owe it to someone
“Almost Cut My Hair” touches many musical forms deftly. It has many roots. Blues, Heavy Metal, Hard Rock, Folk and the power ballad paint strokes on the large canvas.
It is a must-listen, must-own track. It can still make us think today.
- “If 6 Was 9,” a 1967 Jimi Hendrix song, also mentions long hair as a “freak flag.”
- Crosby cut “Almost Cut” days after his girlfriend Christine Hinton died in a car crash. Some say his descent into drug abuse began with the tragedy. The event certainly colored his rough-cut, bluesy vocals on the track.