CRITICAL MASS: On the Death of David Crosby and Hearing Ghosts (2023)

CRITICAL MASS: On the Death of David Crosby and Hearing Ghosts (1)David Crosby's latest 2021 studio album For Free is perhaps most notable for its striking cover art of singer Joan Baez. (Democrat Gazette Special Issue)

There's a scene deep in A.J. Eaton's 2019 documentary David Crosby: Remember My Name, in which the then-78-year-old reflects on his former bandmates.

"I still have friends, but all the guys I've ever made music with don't even talk to me," says Crosby. “For one of them to hate my stomach could be an accident. But [Roger] McGuinn, [Graham] Nash, Neil [Young] and Stephen [Stills] really didn't like me that much. I don't know exactly how to undo it. "

When McGuinn saw the film, he was struck by the mood. He tweeted to Crosby: "Hey... you say I won't talk to you and hate you. That's just not true."

This prompted a response from Crosby: "Thanks, Roger...would you like to go on some Byrds dates? I'll just sing talking...?"

McGuinn was not moved by the offer. He issued a statement through his representative: "Neither Roger nor Chris [Hillman] have the idea of ​​a Byrds reunion. Roger was tired of David crying over being hated. DC isn't hated, but that doesn't mean nobody wants to work with the".

It's been like that for a while. I spoke to McGuinn at the South by Southwest Music Festival in Austin in 2000. At the time there were rumors of a possible Byrd reunion, which McGuinn promptly denied.

"Nobody wants the Byrds to get back together except for a small group of die-hard fans and David Crosby," McGuinn said, adding that even if it had happened, Crosby wouldn't stop working with Nash, Stills and Young on occasion. because, McGuinn said, "David has a business plan where he's in a lot of bands."

Crosby, who died on January 18, was almost as well known for his spectacular breakups with his collaborators as for his preternaturally smooth tenor voice. Graham Nash sounded a bit like Brendan Gleeson's character on The Banshees of Inisherin when he told the San Diego Union-Tribune in 2018: "I just don't like Crosby. I can't make music with him. It's over. It's about."

But last fall, in another interview with the Union-Tribune, Nash noted that he was preparing a compilation album featuring his and Crosby's harmonious voices on tracks like Stephen Stills' 1970 solo hit "Love the One You're With ", Jackson Browne Doctor My Eyes and the Mexico of James Taylor.


Nash said the yet-to-be-released album, tentatively titled Harmony, takes the pair back to 1993, where they accompanied Carole King on a live version of You've Got a Friend, recorded at the Universal Amphitheater in Los Angeles. The partnership likely soured after that, in 2015 Crosby, Stills & Nash gave their final appearance.

"The truth is, I miss David," Nash said. "I think he's a really great musician, absolutely unique, and we've made a lot of really great music together in our lives...

“But as brothers, sometimes you fight and that can destroy the relationship. That happened to David and me. But look at the music we made together."

Most of us have never talked to Crosby, we only have the music he made. Last week, the Jewish digital publication The Forward published a funny story about Adam Langer, who, as a young freelancer, had the opportunity to interview Crosby in 1989 on the occasion of the release of his album Oh Yes I Can.

"I just graduated from college and was doing a lot of freelance work," Langer writes. "I wasn't what you'd call a music journalist and I wasn't a big Crosby fan..."

Langer was familiar with Crosby's work with CSN and CSNY; and a publicist sent him a copy of the new album and a copy of Crosby's memoir Long Time Gone the day before the scheduled interview. Anyone who's been in this row for a long time can probably figure it out: You put the album in and scan the bio and hope things turn out well.

But when Langer arrived at Crosby's Chicago hotel room, there was a leak in the room's ceiling and as Crosby sat on a couch, he collapsed and landed in a puddle of water, causing a wardrobe malfunction. . If he hadn't been grumpy before, he was extremely fussy now.

Langer's questions were answered with monosyllabic answers. When Crosby's wife, Jan Dance, came in to see how things were going, Crosby told her that she was trying to "help the most spectacularly unsuspecting journalist" she had ever met.

Langer resisted, pointing out that he had only received the materials the day before, and was summarily thrown out of his hotel by Crosby. As Jan escorted Langer out, her rueful smile indicated that he was not the first writer to suffer such an ignominious fate. The lesson Langer took from this? To be prepared. And don't know your heroes, although it doesn't sound like Crosby was much of a hero for Langer.

Or for most of us.

Leo in Winter: David Crosby, 78, looked back on his life, career and significant regrets in the 2019 documentary David Crosby: Remember My Name. (Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics)

Like Langer, I liked Crosby, but I wasn't exactly enthralled by the composition of his solo career. I found his bandmates more interesting in general, and it wasn't until I saw David Crosby: Remember My Name that I got a sense of his personality. Before that, to me, he was a beautiful voice, a bad reputation, and an alleged drug victim.

The premise of the movie is simple. They basically drive Crosby around while Cameron Crowe, the film's producer and sensitive interviewer, questions him. Crosby is considerate and above all forgiving. It doesn't look like an act. He appears to be Guitar Center's oldest salesman in a fedora and jean shirt, a grumpy sort of guy who's not sure he can pull that $5,000 dreadnought off the wall for you to play.

He has a fatherly aura when he talks about himself as he unravels his life story, which follows the contours of many rock 'n' roll survival stories.

His father, Floyd Crosby, a Wall Street banker turned Oscar-winning cinematographer who made High Noon, was remote. He has never told his children that he loves them. (The film does not address the suicide of Crosby's older brother, Ethan, in 1997 or 1998. The exact date is unknown because Ethan, who taught David to play the guitar, was a recluse living in a remote mountain cabin. ). His mother was kinder. , a music lover. Both parents came from money, from the old New York society.

David's middle name is "Van Cortlandt".

He was briefly in Les Baxter's Balladeers, which is exactly what it sounds like: a Kingston Trio-style folk group. Jim Dickson produced some solo sessions for him in 1963; If anyone has a copy of these demos I'd love to hear them.

His first hugely successful band, The Byrds, a perpetually underrated Los Angeles band that could have been the American Beatles, blew up in no small part due to his ego and excesses. (On stage, Crosby would say that the "other guys" in the band wrote the hits while he wrote "the strangers".

That is not entirely correct. He co-wrote Eight Miles High. He wrote "Everybody's Been Burned," which should have been a hit. And he wrote "Triad", one of the rare ones.

At 20, Crosby strutted around in a Russian fur hat, spouting conspiracy theories about the JFK assassination. She admits that she abused young women. One of them, the one she may have loved, was tragically killed in a car accident at the age of 21.


In a Laurel Canyon kitchen, she found that singing with Nash, then the Hollies, and Stills, then Buffalo Springfield, was strong medicine. According to legend, it took CSN 40 seconds to come together (and nearly 50 years to fall apart; the film includes painful video of what will likely be their last appearance, a dissonant pass to the Christmas carol "Silent Night," the lighting of the Christmas tree national in 2015). Neil Young then applied to join the band; He auditioned for Crosby in his driveway. Crosby let him in.

They were the biggest for a while after Woodstock in the early '70s. That died too.

The documentary portrays Crosby as a surprisingly whimsical narrator, blunt, with no self-pity (McGuinn's opinion notwithstanding). He really seems to be wondering how he's still alive. Prison probably saved his life in the '80s, when he was better known for abusing drugs than making music.

Since the 1990s, fewer and fewer people seemed to be interested in his music. To try to keep it all together, he is forced to tour and play his old songs in tertiary markets.

The cameras follow him and his group of young musicians. They show that he has a wonderful voice, except when that voice fails him and he has to cancel appointments. Crosby seems happy on stage, playing to audiences that tolerate his jazzier new work while waiting for him to sing old songs like "Guinnevere" or "Almost Cut My Hair."

That is probably the best career that musicians can aspire to, have someone remember their name and the songs they used to sing.

Nothing in this shaky movie can disprove the notion that Crosby was a selfish, bad guy for most of his life. But he shines, and that's lovely. He takes responsibility for everything that went wrong in his life, for being a source of pain for many. We imagine this sounds familiar to McGuinn and Nash, whose legendary patience was finally worn out by his old friend.

They had to deal with all the David Crosbys.

But some people really expected more from Crosby: His late career was quite rich as he found time to collaborate, record, and (consistently) tour with younger musicians like John Mayer and Jason Isbell, while his tastes became increasingly jazzy.


Her latest studio album, 2021's For Free, is perhaps most notable for its striking cover art (by singer Joan Baez). Still, it's an enjoyable adult-pop album that feels like a newly discovered lost 1979 recording (contributions from Steely Dan's Donald Fagen and Michael McDonald underscore the mood).

It feels like a closing project, produced by James Raymond, Crosby's son who was given up for adoption as a baby in 1962 and reunited with him as an adult in 1996 in the jazz rock band CPR.

Raymond later became his father's music director. This was a reunion that lasted. And Crosby stayed married to Jan for 35 years. That was nothing.

Released four years ago, David Crosby: Remember My Name feels like an elegy. Crosby understands that the end is near and that he will leave behind hopeless relationships and financial chaos. He tries to fix it but there isn't enough time.

When we grieve for people with whom we only have a parasocial relationship, we don't grieve for their loss. We mourn our own death. That's not to say Crosby doesn't have a role, just that there's nothing to miss. We'll still hear him sing "Guinnevere" and "Wooden Ships." We'll still hear him harmonizing with Nash and Stills and sometimes Young.

We will still be able to bookmark The Byrds recordings, although all possibilities for the Byrds reunion that nobody wants have been ruled out. If you haven't been anxiously awaiting David Crosby's next album, you haven't missed a thing. Thanks to our technology, we mostly hear ghosts.


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