Crosby, Stills & Nash: 40th Anniversary Edition
by Dave Zimmer and Henry Diltz
Da Capo Press
No band embodies more perfectly how the promise of the 1960s counterculture was thwarted in a druggy haze of betrayed ideals and petty squabbles and gotta-get-mine than Crosby, Stills & Nash. The excitement and purity surrounding the group around 1968 was palpable; a supergroup of distinct voices merging together in communal harmony, changing the course of popular music. Did you know that they were considered the American Beatles at one point? Adding Neil Young to the equation only seemed like icing on the cake. (Interestingly, it can be argued that this was a toxic injection that led to much of the intraband squabbling.) Early albums were mind-blowing, but as the decade progressed, the rot set in both creatively and personally. Tours became too big, drugs became too plentiful, money problems, relationship problems, Neil Young kept bailing at the most inopportune junctures, Steven Stills was a paranoid wreck, songs didn’t come as easily as they used to, their hippie dream was dead. CSNY played at both Woodstock AND Altamont, ’nuff said.
Looking at those early pictures, one of which was later used for the cover of the first CSN album, one is struck by how the principals look so young, so happy, so entranced with all of the possibilities of their new music — three scruffy young men with wide smiles and long hair. All they did was sing then. (And maaaaaaaaybe there were some drugs here and there.) It wouldn’t last. Zimmer captures it all, in interviews with every relevant party in the oral history style used on Legs McNeil’s Please Kill Me. It’s better to get the story in the participants’ own words, let them stand by them. So you’ve got CSN all represented, as well as Grace Slick, Joni Mitchell, Eliott Roberts, John Sebastian and other important players in the various musical scenes our protagonists moved in. The section on Crosby, Stills & Nash coming together as their various past musical lives (the Byrds, Buffalo Springfield and the Hollies respectively) crumbled around them is especially poignant. Zimmer’s exploration of the band birthing enormodome arena rock with their 1974 tour, one fraught with excess of all sorts, is intriguing reading as well. And kudos, too, for Zimmer is one of the very few writers who could make sympathetic figures out of the likes of David Crosby and Steven Stills, rescuing them from their own caricatures as drug casualties, control freaks, and addled burnouts to make them seem instead very creative and very complicated personalities. If fact, if there is a flaw to the book, it’s that Zimmer treats every era of CSN as equal. The “wilderness years” of the late ’70s and ’80s get far more space than they actually deserve, and the pace drags, especially compared to those first few breakneck, epochal years. But that’s how the story goes, I guess.
This expanded, 40th (geez) Anniversary edition includes a slightly different cover design, book size, and better paperstock. Content-wise, there are a number of new photos to augment the original edition, as well as a new chapter devoted to their activities over the last two years, including the quite political Freedom of Speech tour that kicked up such a fuss. Nice additions to be sure, but hardly essential. The book as a whole, though, is sure to be of interest to anyone interested in the Laurel Canyon music scene (it’s coming back?), Neil Young, Sixties counterculture, or Shakespearean tragedy. It was this reviewer’s gateway drug to David Crosby’s fucking peerless solo album, If I Could Only Remember My Name, so I will always have a soft spot for this biography.
Da Capo: www.dacapopress.com