Album: Déjà Vu (1970)
  • This song was written and sung by Stephen Stills. It tells the sad story of a man who is born into a poor family and finds himself alone in his old age, wishing for death to come. In the CSN boxed set, Stills explained: "It's about an 84-year-old poverty stricken man who started and finished with nothing."
  • Running 2:10, the only instrumentation on this track is Stills' acoustic guitar. He recorded the song in one take and planned to use it on his upcoming debut solo album, but when his bandmates heard it, they implored him to use it on the CSN&Y Déjà Vu album. He recorded the track in one take and planned to have David Crosby and Graham Nash sing harmony parts, but they refused. "They told me they wouldn't touch it," said Stills. "So it always stood alone."
  • The man in this song is 84 years old, but Stills sings that he was born "Four and twenty years ago." Logically, this would mean that he's 24 years old, but there is a bit of poetic license here, as "Sixty-four and twenty years ago" doesn't fit the meter. "Four and Twenty" is a phrase popularized in the children's song "Sing a Song of Sixpence," where four-and-twenty blackbirds are baked in a pie (one of the more disturbing kids' songs).

    "4:20" is also associated with marijuana, but that doesn't apply here. Another close cousin is "four score and seven years ago," the first line of Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address.
  • In David Browne's 2019 book Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Nash explains that Stills did indeed record an additional take of the song because he wanted to get rid of the light gulp that occurs between the words "I" and "embrace." Nash and Crosby insisted he keep the original "gulp" version.

    "It was so human, and on such a human song," Nash says in the book. "We convinced Stephen to use the first take."

Comments: 4

  • Scottsol from Evanston, IllinoisThe song was written in 1969 and Stills sang it on the Dick Cavett show right after Woodstock when he was, in fact, four and twenty years old. This song, like Suite:Judy Blue Eyes, was inspired by his love for singer Judy Collins. Stills may claim this is about an old man, the lyrics say otherwise.

    While the first stanza mentions his father, the song then shifts to and stays about Stills and Collins.

    “A different kind of poverty now upsets me so”

    “Why am I so alone?
    Where is my woman, can I bring her home?
    Have I driven her away?
    Is she gone?”
  • Pedro from BrazilWhen was the song exactly made? Stills was 25 when it was released, on 1970. If the song was made a little bit earlier, when he was 24, it would be too crazy thinking the song is about Stills himself?
  • Rich from PhillyI’m reading the book that just came out about Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young and it says that Stills gulped in a moment of emotion between “I” and “embrace the many colored beast” while doing the first take and redid the track to correct it and his bandmates convinced him to keep the original in there as it was raw and real. I always noticed the pause there but never realized why it happened
  • Rebecca from MassachusettsI believe that the 2nd line of 1st verse should read: The son of a woman and a man who lived in strife. [with no g after son] (fixed, thank you - editor)
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