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 stunning cover art of singer Joan Baez. (Special edition of Diário do Democrata)

There's a scene deep in A.J. Eaton's 2019 documentary David Crosby: Remember My Name, in which the 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] don't really like me very much. I don't know exactly how to undo this. "

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 I hate you. That's not true."

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

McGuinn was unfazed 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 he".

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 immediately refuted.

"Nobody wants the Byrds back except a small group of die-hard fans and David Crosby," McGuinn said, adding that even if that 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 multiple bands."

Crosby, who died on January 18, was known almost as much 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 it. The term. It's about."

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But last fall, in another Union-Tribune interview, 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." , Doctor My Eyes by Jackson Browne. and Mexico by James Taylor.


Nash said the yet-to-be-released album, tentatively titled Harmony, takes the duo 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 deteriorated thereafter, in 2015 Crosby, Stills & Nash made their final appearance.

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

“But as brothers, sometimes they fight and that can destroy the relationship. It happened to me and David. 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 has been in this line for a long time can probably understand: you put on the album, look at the biography and wait for favorable circumstances.

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 sofa, he collapsed and fell into a puddle of water, causing a minor closet malfunction. . If he wasn't grumpy before, he was extremely irritated now.

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

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Langer hesitated, 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, his rueful smile indicated that he was not the first writer to suffer such an ignominious fate. The lesson Langer learned from this? Be prepared. And you don't know your heroes, although it doesn't sound like Crosby was much of a hero to Langer.

Or for most of us.

Leo in Winter: David Crosby, 78, looks 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 his solo songwriting. 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, disreputable, and suspected drug victim.

The premise of the movie is simple. Basically, Crosby is directed while Cameron Crowe, the film's producer and sensitive interviewer, questions him. Crosby is caring and above all forgiving. He appears to be Guitar Center's oldest salesman in a knit cap and jean shirt, a grumpy sort of guy who's hesitant to get that $5,000 battleship off the wall so you can eat pasta.

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. ). . , a music lover. Both parents came from money, from 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 America's Beatles, blew up in large 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 weirdos.

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This 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 age 20, Crosby was parading 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 discovered that singing with Nash, then the Hollies, and Stills, then Buffalo Springfield, was powerful medicine. As legend has it, it took CSN 40 seconds to come together (and nearly 50 years to fall apart; the film includes harrowing video of what will likely be their last appearance, a jarring pass to the Christmas carol "Silent Night," the Christmas tree lighting, national Christmas in 2015). So Neil Young applied to join the band; He auditioned for Crosby in his garage. 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 frank and surprisingly whimsical narrator, 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 1980s, when he was better known for abusing drugs than making music.

Since the 1990s, fewer and fewer people seemed interested in his music. To try to keep it under control, 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 and he has to cancel dates. Crosby looks happy on stage, playing to audiences that tolerate his new jazz work while waiting for him to sing old songs like "Guinnevere" or "Almost Cut My Hair."

This 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 is disarming. He takes responsibility for everything that has gone wrong in his life, for being a source of pain for many. We imagine this sounds familiar to McGuinn and Nash, whose legendary tolerance was finally exhausted by his old friend.

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They had to deal with all the David Crosbys.

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


Her latest studio album, 2021's For Free, is perhaps most notable for its stunning cover artwork (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 capstone 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 reads 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 play a role, just that there's nothing to lose. 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, though all possibilities for the Byrds reunion that nobody wants have been ruled out. If you're not looking forward to David Crosby's next album, you haven't missed a thing. Thanks to our technology, we mostly hear ghosts.


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