How Can You Catch The Sparrow?

House sparrows are extremely common birds, but being so small and quick, they’re hard to catch.  Sparrows are social birds, but they do produce droppings that can transmit disease, and their nests have been known to cause short circuits and fires. This bird can be caught in a trap, if you place a pan of water in the trap along with some bird feed to lure the sparrow in. Steven Stills envisioned an angel or apparition appearing to him in the night and it asks him how he can capture the spirit of freedom and happiness like the sparrow seems to possess, without them slipping away like they always tend to do.

Judy Collins is a folk-pop singer who rose to fame in the 1960s and 1970s.  She recorded her first album in 1961, she was one of the first to record the Bob Dylan song ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’ and she scored a hit with Joni Mitchell’s ‘Both Sides Now’ and also with Leonard Cohen’s ‘Suzanne’.  She also found success with Ian Tyson’s ‘Someday Soon’, Pete Seeger’s ‘Turn, Turn, Turn’, Randy Newman’s ‘I Think It’s Going To Rain Today’, and Stephen Sondheim’s ‘Send In The Clowns’.  In 1968, Stephen Stills met Judy Collins just after Buffalo Springfield collapsed and at this time Collins was preparing to record a new solo album, to be titled ‘Who Knows Where the Time Goes’.  One night at the Whiskey a Go-Go in Los Angeles, Stills spied Collins in the audience at an Eric Clapton show and made his move.  He was drinking beer because he couldn’t afford whiskey, but he wanted to meet her, because he used to listen to her albums before he went to sleep.  I guess this is kind of like the way Trump listens to Obama speeches, anyway he went up to her and kissed her hand like she was royal and then he made a comment about her eyes.

Stills and Collins soon became a couple and he wrote the song ‘Suite: Judy Blue Eyes’ about his girlfriend Judy Collins who was six years his senior.  The romantic relationship only lasted two years, and then they each went their separate ways.  During that time, Collins made it hard for Stills, which can probably be viewed as a sexual innuendo.  Stills said that this song started out as a long narrative poem about his relationship with Judy Collins.  It poured out of him over many months and filled several notebooks, which gave him a hell of a time getting the music to fit with the lyrics.  He said that he was left with all these pieces of song and then he figured out that he could combine them together and call it a suite, because they were all about the same thing and they led up to the same point.

Stills said, that he found Collin’s voice to be exhilarating and he thought it was sort of like discovering a unicorn.  Their long-distance relationship did not last, as Collins liked living in New York and Stills stayed in LA.  Collins was going through therapy for alcoholism at the time and she had just gotten her son back after three or four years of losing custody of him.  Collins met the actor Stacy Keach and they wound up living together for the next five years.

When the Hollies reached Los Angeles in 1966, Nash met Cass Elliott of the Mamas and the Papas, and he took her to Crosby’s house in Laurel Canyon, where he was lying on a couch and she instantly became impressed Nash when she saw how good he was at cleaning the stems and seeds out of marijuana in a shoe box lid.  Later that night, Crosby took Nash to a party at the house of Peter Tork of the Monkees to meet Stills.  The Monkee habitually threw parties that were legendary, days-on-end affairs with plenty of music, sex and dope.

Nash fell deeply in love with Joni Mitchell, whom Crosby had brought to Los Angeles to produce her debut album.  In July 1968, David Crosby, Stephen Stills and Graham Nash first sang together at an informal jam at a party in Joni Mitchell’s living room in the Laurel Canyon and this wound up resulting in some of the greatest harmonies of the rock era.  All three had become famous in bands noted for their harmonies, with Crosby being in the Byrds, Stills with Buffalo Springfield and Nash with the Hollies.  Crosby was standing alongside Stills and they began playing one of Stills’ songs, ‘You Don’t Have to Cry’ and when they were done, Nash was blown away and he asked them to play it again and again.  On that third time, he had learned the words, the melody and that was when Crosby, Stills & Nash were born.  The trio started calling themselves Crosby, Stills and Nash and their self titled debut album came out in May of 1969.  This album found success with ‘Marrakesh Express’ and ‘Suite: Judy Blue Eyes’.  They soon added Neil Young who was from Buffalo Springfield and their second performance was at Woodstock.

On April 6, 1966, Canadian singer Neil Young, was driving driving down Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles in a battered old hearse with Ontario license plates, when he was spotted in a traffic jam by Stephen Stills, who happened to be going in the opposite direction.  After hailing the hearse, Stills invited Young to meet him at a bar down the street for a drink, which they did, and over beers and who knows what else, that night Stills and Young became friends and Buffalo Springfield was established.

The last few lines of this song are in Spanish and they feign discontent about the refugees who fled Cuba that were not allowed to go back there.  I think the following translation is probably accurate.

How beautiful it would be to bring me to Cuba
The queen of the Caribbean
I only want to visit you there
And how sad that I can’t go
Oh go, oh go!

“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” and this proverb about not getting any time off from work, results in making a person become both bored and boring.  This might be what Stills was saying in the first line of this song, as he was just starting out in a new band at this time and although CSN were known to party a lot, there must have been some work involved in writing new songs.  His loneliness hurts but he wants Judy Collins to be his girl, but he realizes that she is who she is.  They have been through some stuff together, but he felt like she was tearing herself away from him, so she could be free.  He still loves her and he will never reveal the secrets that she told him.

He sees the days pass by while he has this feeling that his heart is dying and he thinks that flying away could be the answer, since they are apart, what does he have to lose.  I love the following lyrics, however I am not able to explain them other than them being beautiful thoughts.  “Chestnut brown canary, Ruby throated sparrow, Sing a song, don’t be long, Thrill me to the marrow, Voices of the angels, Ring around the moonlight, Asking me said she so free, How can you catch the sparrow?, Lacy lilting lady, Losing love lamenting, Change my life, make it right, Be my lady”.

It’s getting to the point where I’m no fun anymore
I am sorry
Sometimes it hurts so badly I must cry out loud
I am lonely
I am yours, you are mine, you are what you are
You make it hard
Remember what we’ve said and done and felt about each other
Oh, babe have mercy
Don’t let the past remind us of what we are not now
I am not dreaming
I am yours, you are mine, you are what you are
You make it hard

Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh
Tearing yourself away from me now you are free
And I am crying
This does not mean I don’t love you I do that’s forever
Yes and for always
I am yours, you are mine, you are what you are
You make it hard
Something inside is telling me that I’ve got your secret
Are you still listening?
Fear is the lock and laughter the key to your heart
And I love you
I am yours, you are mine, you are what you are
You make it hard
And you make it hard
And you make it hard
And you make it hard

Friday evening
Sunday in the afternoon
What have you got to lose?
Tuesday morning
Please be gone I’m tired of you
What have you got to lose?
Can I tell it like it is? (Help me I’m sufferin’)
Listen to me baby
It’s my heart that’s a sufferin’ it’s a dyin’ (Help me I’m dyin’)
And that’s what I have to lose (To lose)
I’ve got an answer
I’m going to fly away
What have I got to lose?
Will you come see me
Thursdays and Saturdays?
What have you got to lose?

Chestnut brown canary
Ruby throated sparrow
Sing a song, don’t be long
Thrill me to the marrow

Voices of the angels
Ring around the moonlight
Asking me said she so free
How can you catch the sparrow?

Lacy lilting lady
Losing love lamenting
Change my life, make it right
Be my lady

Que linda me la traiga Cuba
La reina de la Mar Caribe
Cielo sol no tiene sangreahi
Y que triste que no puedo vaya oh va, oh va

Written for FOWC with Fandango – Royal, for Sheryl’s A New Daily Post Word Prompt – Alongside, for Ragtag Community – Bird, for Scotts Daily Prompt – Feign and for Word of the Day Challenge Prompt – Exhilarating.

20 thoughts on “How Can You Catch The Sparrow?

  1. Wow. This is so interesting. I can well believe you spent 5 hours on it. I loved the interweaving of the different groups and relationships. The music remembered so well, but I never knew any of this background. Thanks so much….Judy

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    1. The best way to find a House Sparrow is to visit an urban area and watch for a conspicuous, tame sparrow hopping on the ground (it might help to bring a sandwich or some birdseed). You can easily attract them with food and they may feed out of your hand. In the countryside, look out for bright, clean versions of the city House Sparrow around barns, stables, and storehouses.


      1. Interestingly in Hindi the word for bird is “chidiya” and is used for sparrows as well. Unfortunately my city has been run over by pigeons. The habitat of sparrows has shrunk dramatically.
        Thankfully, the countryside and less populated towns and cities still have sparrows in abundance.
        Thank you so much for sharing this.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. This was a great read. Thank you for all the intimate background info. CSN will always be one of my favorites, esp this epic song! Just heard it this morning which is what prompted me to search for it.

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