So David Crosby released his latest solo record this week: Croz. Eleven songs accompanied by a PDF photo booklet. I can remember a time when I wouldn’t have cared in the slightest, a time when I might have scoffed or shrugged or immediately deleted that I-tunes notice about the newest work from that icon of days past. Days in remembrance of a 60’s style of harmony, folk, and occasional statement of rebellion.
Crosby got his start with The Byrds, that ahead-of-their-time 60’s band who covered Pete Seeger, Dylan, but also scored their own anthem, “Eight Miles High.” They wore mod glasses and slightly modified Beatles’ cuts. I saw them often back then on ABC’s “Where the Action Is,” and no doubt on primetime variety series like “Dean Martin” or “Ed Sullivan.” I can’t say I loved The Byrds as I did The Beatles, The Stones, and Paul Revere and the Raiders. No, I ranked The Byrds with The Turtles, Chad and Jeremy, Peter and Gordon. That lot. They were Pop and definitely weren’t my parents’ taste. But I never bought a Byrds’ single, even though I bought plenty back then including John Fred and His Playboy Band’s “Judy in Disguise (with Glasses).”
In fact, I was so unaware of The Byrds, that I didn’t know when they morphed a bit into country, when one of the “Clark(e)s” left, or what happened to make their leader, Jim McGuinn, change his name to Roger. So of course I didn’t know that David Crosby left the band, that he helped form a “supergroup.” I didn’t know the other members of that group anyway: Stephen Stills and Graham Nash. I had heard of their former bands—Buffalo Springfield and The Hollies respectively—but they were in that Byrds category of bands I knew of but didn’t quite get or care much to get. I remember seeing the Springfield late on a Saturday night on an ABC variety series called “Hollywood Palace.” My Nanny let me stay up late with her watching Perry Mason while my parents were out dancing to Big Bands. So when the Palace came on and they announced the rock and roll act, Buffalo Springfield, I begged and got permission to see some wild-sideburned guys playing “For What It’s Worth” and “Mr. Soul.” Sadly, it didn’t change my life, even though Stephen Stills and guitar-mate, Neil Young, would soar into my rock-god pantheon just a few years later.
The supergroup that I mentioned, of course, was Crosby, Stills, and Nash, whose first hit, “Marrakesh Express,” did become part of my collection. Their second hit, “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,” was an instant classic. And the next year, Neil Young joined and more hits followed: “Woodstock,” “Teach Your Children,” “Our House,” and “Ohio.”
What is interesting or strange, and today, quite sad, is that none of these songs was written or sung by David Crosby. CSNY harmonized as well as anyone in Pop/Rock, so at some point you can’t help but pick out and appreciate Crosby’s voice. A deeper tenor, and I’m sure someone knows more than I what it actually is called. Now on the albums you could hear David take lead: “Wooden Ships,” “Guinevere,” “Déjà Vu,” and “Almost Cut My Hair.” His songs weren’t so catchy, though, and when you’re fifteen, the song has to be catchy or so loud that it has screech-eardrum-shattering implications. David’s rawness and his moody ballads were too somber. Not dittys, not protest bombs.
Maybe I just didn’t know enough about life then. I certainly didn’t understand the many nuances of what makes a complex tune or how to read so deeply into symbols and metaphor. By the time Neil Young joined the band, his work mesmerized me, so I can’t put myself down too much. CSNY’s first record together, Déjà vu, included Young’s own suite: “Country Girl,” a lushly romantic dirge about Young’s favorite themes: waitresses and cowgirls. I listened over and over. I flipped Déjà vu over and over, but when Crosby’s tunes came up, particularly “Almost Cut My Hair,” I pulled the needle off and reset it to the next song. Crosby had the longest hair of the four; I aspired to having hair his length and eventually managed it. But I couldn’t figure this song, thought it was dumb and didn’t like his voice.
I didn’t give him a chance.
Neither did any of my friends who liked the hits the band was making.
We laughed at David and wondered what the hell he was even doing in the band. When the group released its double-live record, Four Way Street, there again, amidst Neil’s “On the Way Home” and “Don’t Let It Bring You Down,” and Stills’ “Love the One You’re With,” was David’s “Triad” and “Lea Shore.” Back to back. But I listened to them. The former concerned a guy who wanted to be in love and live with two girls. As one. HHHHM. The latter seemed to be a sailor’s yarn, his yearning to come home or set sail again, or tell the tales of his journeys. I didn’t like these songs as well as the rest of the record, especially Neil’s much-shortened acoustic version of “Cowgirl in the Sand,” but I didn’t hate them either.
The members of CSNY all released their various solo albums. I bought all of Young’s and Stills’. I almost bought Nash’s Songs for Beginners, but didn’t have enough cash or interest really. And then Crosby released his first solo record: If I Could Only Remember My Name. It seemed so funny, so David. My friend Fred bought the record, and I noticed that each member of CSNY played on it. The only song that struck me then was the one that Neil sang on: “Laughing.” I liked it okay, but I didn’t buy the record or even listen to it again.
Until about a year ago.
What makes us look so hard into certain areas of our past? Why, when we’re walking down a street in our neighborhood, do we all of a sudden, completely out of nowhere, decide to go back and listen to a song we heard once, over forty years ago? If I could only remember. Why do we fall in love with what we could have had so long ago? Why do we throw so much away? “Do you know? Don’t you wonder….”
I recommend listening to “Laughing” and to Crosby’s other work. I recommend his latest, Croz, if you are of a certain age where you can appreciate a mellower sound, an honest look at a life that was never appreciated very much, especially by the singer himself. He might have thought he was only laughing through the drugs and tours and lost love (in a famous Pop/Celebrity twist, Crosby fell in love and had a lengthy relationship with Joni Mitchell, who left him for Graham Nash).
He never cut his hair, by the way, though I did. Wouldn’t you just know it?