CROSBY, STILLS & NASH: The Biography
Just finished up reading the last chapter of CROSBY, STILLS & NASH: The Biography by David Zimmer with photographs by Henry
Diltz and it made for some mighty fine reading and viewing that any CSN fan -- and even Neil Young fans -- could appreciate.
CSN left an indelible mark on the American psyche with their music and the book is the 40th Anniversary Edition of when CSN first sang together in California in 1968. The original edition was published in 1984 and the new edition covers all the ground since then up to CSNY's 2006 Freedom Of Speech tour.
Author Dave Zimmer has worked with photographer Henry Diltz to present a historic overview of the group's long careers both individually and collectively. The latest edition contains over forty previously unpublished photos by Henry Diltz and a new final chapter, "CSN&Y: From Here to Eternity," which delves into CSN&Y's spiritual beliefs and their thoughts about family. Zimmer's writing gives us some interesting insights into the fragile chemistry that still exists within CSN and CSN&Y. Stills also provides more detail about his relationship with Neil Young. There is also new material from both Young and Judy Collins.
Judy Collins provides impressions of Stephen Stills, her thoughts about the songs he wrote about her, and Judy’s enduring friendship with the Stills. I must admit, I had not thought about how Judy fit into "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes" in quite some time which prompted me to dust off the old turntable and give CSN's first album a spin.
Many episodes through the years are covered in great detail. For example, I found the detail of the events surrounding the historic Woodstock concert ("that helicopter day") to be quite detailed and fascinating. At one point, Elliot Roberts, Young's manager, is driving a pickup truck with Jimi Hendrix on the hood. Or as Elliot says: "Jimi Hendrix was a hood ornament! It was insane."
Neil Young at Stephen Stills' Studio City house
1969 CSN&Y rehearsal PHOTO: Henry Diltz
Here are a few excerpts:
Neil Young on CSN&Y:
"The worst kind of nostalgia is when musicians stand up there and are a shadow of their former selves. And all of the people that loved them so much start to think that they are only a shadow of their former selves. And the whole audience goes home with this feeling like their life is over, as if they’re just marking time until they die, like the guys they just saw on stage. I don’t want to do that to people. I mean, people believe in CSN&Y. When they see CSN&Y, even if it is a nostalgia trip, I want them to believe that life is worth living, and that the rest of their life is going to be better than the first part. I want people to feel an energy from the band that makes you feel great.”
David Crosby w/ CSN&Y - Balboa Stadium, December 1969
PHOTO: Henry Diltz
Crosby and Nash on Living with War songs:
Crosby admits, “Neil told me, ‘I wasn’t going to waste my best [chord] changes on George [Bush].” Nash adds, “Neil, God bless his cotton socks, has tremendous passion. When you wake up in the morning and you’re Neil Young and you’ve got ten songs going through your head and they all have to be finished by 3:00 and recorded by 6:00 … that’s the process of getting it out for him. It was such an immediate process, he didn’t have time to think, ‘Well, is this the best melody, or the best words with this melody.’ It was just Neil vomiting his music and getting it out of his system.”
Stills on Living with War and CSNY/Deja Vu:
“Living With War, ‘Freedom of Speech’ … I was very ambivalent about that tour and it comes through in the movie, thanks to Neil’s honesty ... Neil really honored me by how much attention he paid to my little political trips. It was really nice. And it’s nice that he’s got that perspective and will put himself aside and tell the truth. So we still have our thing. He still understands me better than anybody. And I understand him better than anybody. Like my wife, we’re lucky to have found each other, because no one else would have worked. And he’s tried …
Neil’s never stopped trying and neither have I.”
Graham Nash on Neil Young joining CSN in June 1969:
"I was against Neil joining at first. I felt a little threatened, because the three of us had made this thing of CSN, this album, this image, this sound, and I felt afraid that it was going to change."
Reading the details of all the breakups and reunions helps us better understand how it was this turmoil which provided the catalyst for all the great music.
Zimmer explores in great detail the stormy friendship of Stills and Young. It becomes clear that it was their egos which were a source of much of their dueling guitar brilliance. And one comes away appreciating the complexity of the relationship that in the end has made them feel as if they are brothers.
Joni Mitchell on Stills and Young on stage in CSN&Y:
"At their best, Neil and Stephen had a beautiful stag-like duel going on stage; and it was quite pretty to watch. It was like watching two very good long distance runners pair up and pace each other."
Stephen Stills on CSN&Y's first split in July 1970:
"I just wish we could have held it together a little longer. But there were petty ego jealousies going on. Nash and I weren't talking. Neil wanted to be on his own. I had my solo album to finish. But we still could have done that and kept CSN&Y going.
But we threw it all away for very fallacious reasons, I can see now. I mean, we were standing on the verge. And all of the freedom we wanted for our own personal careers would have still been available to us. But we couldn't put the trivial going on between us.
If a voice of reason could have cleared that fog, we could have realized our full potential and CSN&Y would be mentioned in the same breath with the Beatles and the Stones. We also could have become rich enough to be creative. But I was the biggest fool. I thought the managers would come up with some strength. They didn't. So we lost it all, right there, that day, to indulgence. We lost it all."
David Crosby on Neil Young:
"He's like a river man -- sometimes he wanders close to you, sometimes he wanders away from you. And that's how it is ... CSN&Y is seven pounds of stuff in a three pound bag, [so] you have to make room.
It's a lot of give and take. It's a different thing ... Stephen is more comfortable with Neil there, because Neil and Stephen are deep buddies. With Neil there, it strengthens Stephen. He doesn't feel threatened and he's more open and giving."
One comes away from CROSBY, STILLS & NASH: The Biography with the clear impression that while Zimmer is a long time fan of the musicians, he doesn't sugarcoat the band's often messy relationships or tell it in a gossipy, tell-all fashion but instead paints a realistic portrait of the artists in all of their human foibles.
Definitely a must read for all C or S or N and even Y fans.
CROSBY, STILLS & NASH: The Biography is available on Amazon.com. (Your purchase will help support Thrasher's Wheat. Thanks!)