As Elliot Roberts, their manager, so daintily put it, they were pissing in the wind, these boy wonders of his who could make a million at the snap of four fingers. And yet, year after year, this all-time favorite group from out of the Woodstock era, these symbols of harmony in music, would try to get back together and would fail. “We really did try, every year,” Nash would say. “It just didn’t fucking happen because it wasn’t real.”
From the beginning, in the spring of 1969, Crosby, Stills and Nash had been preparing the public for their breakup. I first met them while they were cutting their first album and they were all saying, and this was the bottom line of my story, that they were not a group. From the Byrds, the Buffalo Springfield and the Hollies, the three men had had enough, they said, of outsized egos. Now they said they would band and disband as they pleased, go solo or form various duos for tours and albums as they pleased. They have been true to their founding principle. And it makes no sense.
After you’ve become the biggest in the biggest of all entertainment businesses, you’re supposed to look the other way and slip right by those old principles, on the way to four-way easy street. And if the public wants a reunion, a manager’s supposed to make sure it damned well gets one. Even if his wonders have to stay in different hotels, travel in separate curtain-drawn limousines and sing from isolation booths.
But Elliot Roberts is a laid-back sort of guy. Anybody who’s got a slice of several million dollars a year, who for four years sees the fortune’s dissipation because, well, because “it wasn’t real” and who doesn’t commit horrendous acts of frustration/violence–that person has got to be stone laid-back. Or he’s happy with the fortune he’s already made. Or he’s a real friend.
Roberts, it would be fair to say, is a bit of each. “I have to give him a great deal of credit,” says Graham Nash, “for his patience, to deal with the fucking mad people that we are.” But Nash remembers the founding principle: “I don’t like that word, reunion,” he says. “To be perfectly honest with you, I never felt that we were totally apart. I always felt that eventually we would grow up and realize what was happening. We’ve always been musically connected.”
Musically, there is no question about CSNY. If you’re into living-room rock, fireplace harmonies and just a taste of good old social consciousness, this is your group. At the concerts this time around, there were those who were there to remember. Instantly, they were thankful again for “Chicago” and “Ohio” as well as for “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” and “Our House.”
Over the years, Crosby, Stills and Nash have shown up at a Young concert. Nash and Crosby have shown up at a Stills show. They’ve probably done a lot of visiting to each other’s living rooms. There clearly is that musical connection. So why couldn’t they get along for long enough to work together? What tore them so far apart that even music couldn’t reunite them for so long? They had, each of them, been unable to escape that mysterious thing called ego. At the St. Paul, Minnesota, Civic Center, the lights are doused, 19,000 voices rise out of the darkness and all you see are the blue fluorescent lights playing onto the Indian rug; it looks like a snowdrift onstage as Crosby, Stills, Nash and bassist Tim Drummond face off to establish the rhythm.
Neil Young, in a Buick service department jacket and patched cords, is behind the organ. The power builds–it’s “Love the One You’re With”–and a floorful of people are suddenly shake-hopping in place. On “Wooden Ships,” springing up from central casting, there’s your clenched fist, front center, just as the chorus begins. In the middle of the acoustic set, Young introduces “For The Turnstiles” by saying: “Here’s a song I wrote a long time ago. There’s a couple of really good songwriters here tonight; I hope they don’t listen too closely.”
Minutes later it’s Stills, and he, too, pays tribute to a songwriter in the crowd: “This one’s for Bob,” he says, “because I know I’ve been that mad before.” Head bowed and hands flailing, he flies into “Word Game”: Would you knock a man down if you don’t like the cut of his clothes Could you put a man away if you don’t want to hear what he knows Well, it’s happening right here…
Through most of this set, Bob Dylan, in cowboy shirt, jeans and shades, has been standing in the midst of a small group on the floor off to the side, behind backstage barriers. He stands, unnoticed by the audience, next to a woman in a drug help jacket. Dylan is in his home state for a visit with family and friends. He’s with Louie Kemp, his buddy from their childhood days in Hibbing, just north of here, and the word has spread quickly that he has taken an apartment in town, is moving back and buying some property just outside Minneapolis. In short, Dylan is coming back home to stay.
As the acoustic set makes its transition back into electric, Dylan wanders off by himself. He is willing to have a few words. Over Young’s rock-star recall, “Don’t Be Denied,” Dylan shouts that he’s in town to attend a funeral. What about the talk that he’s looking for some property here?
He flashes the half-smile: “I’m always looking.”
I say I enjoyed hearing the album of the tour, which it sounds better than most of the nine shows I covered. ‘
‘Wait ’til you hear my next album!”
“How far along is it?”
“I haven’t started yet!”
Dylan has been at the St. Paul Hilton that afternoon. Crosby broke away from an interview to have a visit with him. I ask Dylan how he’s liked the CSNY show so far and he responds with questions about Frank Sinatra’s problems in Australia and about the weather in San Francisco. A moment later, after he’s absorbed some more music, he turns and shouts: “I like to play small rooms!”
“Your next record should be a comedy record,” I yell.
“All my records are comedy records!”
Later that night–in fact, early the next morning–Dylan pops up again, into a 15th-floor suite of beautiful Midwestern women and weary rock & roll tourists. He talks briefly to Stills, eyes three guitars on the floor, picks up one and herds Stills into an adjacent room for a session of new Bob Dylan songs. The only other member of the audience, through the two-hour show, is bassist Tim Drummond. “Aw, fuck!” Drummond laughs the next afternoon. He is staying behind while the tour moves immediately into Denver to allow Crosby, Stills and Nash to catch the Eric Clapton show. “Dylan’s got an album,” says Drummond. “It’s great and it’s completely different from Planet Waves. It’s gutsy, bluesy, so authentic. I heard eight or nine songs and it’s the first time I’ve sat in a room and liked everything I’ve heard.”
Drummond, it turns out, will provide most of the information I need about Neil Young. Neil, the so-called “reluctant star” of the group, is the lone holdout–staying away by driving away after each show in a GMC camper van toward the next town and by staying busy before shows, meeting, joking and jamming with the others.
Elliot Roberts will say: “Well, he just doesn’t want to talk; he says he’s got nothing to say.” And later: “He never likes the way he comes out in print. He says it sounds like someone else.” Young has his year-and-a-half old son, Zeke, with him on this tour, along with their dog Art (who swaggers around backstage wearing full photo-ID credentials), and he is determined to spend time with his kid and avoid hotels and airports. “He likes to be on the road,” says Crosby. “He loves driving down the old highway.”
Graham Nash: “He doesn’t trust a lot of people.” Nash lifts a Coca-Cola and sings, “I don’t know who to trust any more…”
So it is Tim Drummond who will trace Neil Young through the years, through the changes and up to the reunion. Drummond, 34, played with Conway Twitty 10 years ago, split and settled in Cincinnati, got discovered by James Brown and became “the only paleface in his band.” Tired of the road, he moved to Nashville to do session work.
One day, he was walking down the street when a photographer friend stopped him. “He said Neil Young was at Quadraphonic Studios [Young was in town to be on the Johnny Cash TV show] and was jamming and needed a bass player. So I showed up and the first song we cut was ‘Heart Of Gold.’ Later we went out to Neil’s ranch [in La Honda, California, a suburban distance south of San Francisco] and recorded in this old barn, with bird shit all over and holes in the ceiling and a remote truck parked outside. ‘Alabama’ and ‘Are You Ready’ are from the barn.”
Drummond accepted Young’s invitation to tour with him in a band whose name would come from Drummond’s times with Brown. “We’d be riding in a bus with James and get drunk and we’d call it ‘seeing gators.’ One guy would call out, ‘There goes a flock of ’em, strayin’ behind.”‘
Young and the Stray Gators hit 65 cities in three months, beginning January 5th, 1973, playing all big halls with capacities between 15,000 and 20,000, and the tour hit Young hard. He looked disheveled throughout; he was criticized for doing too short a show (the average was an hour and a quarter) and he had just completed a film, Journey Through the Past, that would fail to secure a distribution deal and would account for his least successful album ever. “There was so much pressure on him,” says Drummond. “It was just him in front of the mike.”
On the last four dates, Crosby and Nash showed up to help. From there talk began again about an attempted CSNY reunion. The four wound up in Lahaina, on the island of Maui in Hawaii, worked up some new songs, and the scene then shifted to Young’s ranch, where it crumbled in the fall.
Drummond: “I came out in July to do this. We recorded about six songs for a new album.”
Included were Nash’s “Prison Song” and “And So It Goes,” which wound up on his own Wild Tales, and Young’s “Human Highway,” which was to serve as the album’s title. “Then,” says Drummond, “we decided to go on the road and get tight. Then we decided against it. Something wasn’t right.”
Nash: “The four of us didn’t feel it was solid enough to go out there and represent it as our level of competence.”
And Crosby: “There was a lot of disagreement about how to go about it. Plus others had commitments they felt were too good to pass up. The record’s still there, but we’re so much more together now than we were then. We are now to the state where two or three times we went into Neil’s studio in the evening after rehearsals, just to fuck around acoustically, and got masters right away–first or second take.” Between the ditching of the Human Hway ’73 tour project and the rehearsals two months ago at Young’s, Crosby, Stills and Nash all did separate tours while Young put together, then dumped, an album called Tonight’s The Night. “It was a flash,” says Drummond. “He wanted to use Crazy Horse, he did, and he had an album. It was done live in his studio and it sounded like an old funky club, three in the morning.”
Elliot Roberts: “It was a drunken rock & roll party album.”
Crosby: “He wasn’t satisfied with it.” Came the spring of ’74, manager Roberts sprang again. Young, by now a father, was finished with another album. On The Beach, and had a few dozen new songs left over; he agreed to the reunion and offered his ranch, nestled in the redwoods, as rehearsal quarters, six days a week through the month of June. “Neil played host in the most incredible fashion,” says Crosby. “He built this full-size, 40-foot stage in the middle of a grove of redwoods and right across from his studios so we could record. He put half of us up and fed us all, had two chicks working. And the place, because it’s so private and beautiful, was a natural to make us feel great and work hard.”
Graham Nash: “At first I felt apprehensive, but as soon as I heard Stephen play, I knew it was all cool. Stephen’s cooled out a lot. Just his sense of control, of space, of leaving room for Neil to play. He’s become more aware of the ‘us’ rather than the ‘I’. And Neil, because of his achievement on a personal level and because he’s feeling comfortable with himself, is able to extend that hospitality to others. Before, he wasn’t as open to doing that. He has gotten, from my own viewpoint, to gain a great deal of patience and consideration for other people.”
And from his anchor position at bass and from working with Young since Harvest in Nashville, Drummond observes: “Neil’s a changed man. He’s really one of the boys now, a funky-ass musician. He’s more open than he used to be. He’s really into music–playing music–rather than being out front. I don’t think he feels the pressure any more. Just play, and fuck all that other shit.”
Exclusive Interview with Neil Young, conducted July 22nd, Civic Center Coliseum, St. Paul, Minnesota: “Neil, do you think you can find half an hour after the show to talk a bit?
“Well, I’m taking off right after the show, and it’s a 22-hour drive to Denver. You know, I’m not real good at giving interviews. But I’ll tell you, I’m having a lot of fun and it’s getting better every day.”
We were talking about the space/Between us all/And the people who hide themselves Behind a wall of illusion…
Three years ago, one year after the “last” CSNY show in the summer of 1970, Stephen Stills had that song on his mind. “George Harrison wrote the summation,” he said. But Stills had quoted only the first line, while in fact he was one of the people who hid behind illusion walls. He was sitting in the 14-room cottage in Surrey that he’d just bought from Ringo Starr for a quarter-million; he had adopted a stiff, squire-ish way of speech; he now owned two horses and insisted that the cover photo for his interview depict him atop either Major Change or Crazy Horse, without knowing that the magazine had not considered him for a cover in the first place. Stills copped from a novel to describe his inspiration for his songs. (“Well,” he had said in his lazy, slightly pained way, “there are three things men can do with women: Love them, suffer for them or turn them into literature.” Lawrence Durrell, writing Justine in 1957, had one of his characters say it first.)
And on a mission to establish his own identity as a solo star, Stills would stumble through a tour he now calls “the drunken Memphis Horns tour,” each show highlighted by a pounding, raging rendition of his Buffalo Springfield classic, “For What It’s Worth,” Stills attacking a piano and the audience with a political drift-rap he now admits was a “rant.”
He drank and ranted, he says, because of fear. “There were pressures on me to prove myself.” From where? “The business.” What about the pressures of the old days and the ego fights? “I know it’s good copy,” he says, “but I really don’t think it’s anybody’s business. Because a lot of it had to do with all those things–musicianship, the ego that it takes to step out onstage and say, ‘Look at me, mama,’ which is Lenny Bruce’s line which just hits it right on the head. You have to be one to know one. And I might say something about somebody in our little, in our… family… that they might be offended to see in print, so… I think we all went through a stage of growing as musicians. We went through one stage together and another separately and now we’re going through another together.
“I missed ’em, you know. I missed Graham telling me when to stop and what was too much and I missed David’s vocals and I missed Neil’s collaboration on the sound of the records. I missed playing guitar with him, ’cause we really back each other up. Like the song we were doing this afternoon–I just love it, to sit there and listen to Neil tell the story, and a couple of times I had his phrase and just repeated it back to him. That kind of shit.”
In March 1973 Stills married Veronique Sanson, the popular French singer, in London; they are now the parents of a boy named Christopher. “So Neil and I, both of us, had babies, and that puts us in a place where we can really relate to each other. Some of the kid stuff we used to pull goes away. Just taking things the wrong way, not using your head about relationships with people.”
Stephen Stills says he’s grown up. Talking politics–he’s a voracious reader and has Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago on the road with him–he concludes: “I could be totally full of shit, but at this point in my life, I don’t care.”
“Why do you say at this point in your life?”
“At this point in life? I really don’t give a shit if Rolling Stone thinks I’m stupid, jive, horrible.”
“But why are you thinking that at this particular point of your life?”
“Because I’ve grown to the age where I can apply my own intellect to the situations I’m in and remain true to what occurs to me as a human being existing on this planet. Whereas at age 23 that was not true. There’s a lot of creative thinking that goes on at that age, but you get surrounded by the kind of experience that I’ve had… I mean, man is the sum total of his experience. And you can only apologize for so much. “I mean, hey, what did we all do, what the fuck were we all doing? David with the Byrds, and me and Neil with the Springfield, we were all trying to… I mean, Neil’s got that beautiful song, ‘Don’t Be Denied.’ It says, ‘Pretty soon, matter of fact, played guitar. Used to sit on the back porch and think about being stars…‘ And that’s about as far as it goes.”
We are in a Sportscoach camper van, on the way home to San Francisco after the first show at the Oakland Coliseum. “People who play music or attack their art form in one way and then find themselves in a position of obtaining popularity and find that it means something entirely different to everyone else and trying to strike the balance… or in a lot of cases just reject what the fuck everybody else thinks… I mean, you could spend three months with me and maybe you’d get the idea of what it is. I mean, look how long–I don’t mean to compare myself–but look how long it took everyone to understand Picasso. Look how long it takes people to understand artists period… and I don’t think there’s a musician who has gotten popular support that hasn’t been through the same thing. An artist cannot often be responsible for the effect his art has on his audience, be it a painter, sculptor, musician, actor, whatever. He just can’t. If he gets hung up with that, he’s going to lose it because he’s gotta keep working at his shit. I mean there’s that time when it’s going down: It’s now, not yesterday, not tomorrow. And what you play or how you sing right now is how you sing right now, and the only thing that lasts are the songs.”
Stephen Stills will be 30 next January. Is that growth? From observation, he seems to be consciously reining in his take-charge ways of the past–the product, he says, of some military schooling in his background. The maturity–or simple awareness of what’s needed to keep this show on the road–is obvious onstage. He is relaxed and lets the others have their ways; given his moments on electric guitar or acoustic or banjo, he sings and stings with his instruments, picking out some neat blues figures on the banjo he plays only occasionally. Vocally, he exercises two fine voices: the alcoholic scowl for his Texas-based blues and the frankly middle-of-the road, sloping croon that gets me thinking, from a distance, how, in physical comparison with his co-workers, Stills comes across like a Bing Crosby in a hockey jersey–especially when he’s got on pressed slacks and straw beach shoes to boot. But I mean if Dylan hadn’t showed up at the hotel after the concert and spirited Stills away with a guitar, I might have spent three months with Stills all in one night.
At three in the morning, we were heading into the second hour of this beery rap, Stills disposing of his thoughts on Gulag and Russian history, on the history of art and his own recent tries at painting; on how he wanted to find a printer to do a Stephen Stills songbook in the fashion of an old hymn book. The next afternoon–late the next afternoon–getting ready to leave for Denver, Stills tries to keep his eyes open long enough to look into mine, forms a smile, then laughs: “Bob sang all these great new songs and then he turned the guitar over to me and asked me to sing him a new one, and I was so wasted I couldn’t remember the words!” Stills is genuinely amused. “Hey, all that stuff last night. I hope you disregard it.”
“What stuff?” I say.
Even friends dismiss much of what Stills has to say when he’s off the stage. He talks about moving back to California, to the Bay Area, in fact, where the rest of the group now have homes. Michael John Bowen, his manager and friend from high school days in Tampa, Florida, pshaws in his tart, jock-strapped voice: “That’s this week.” Stills had talked about the burden on Solzhenitsyn’s shoulders and I relay what I recall of his thinking to Graham Nash.
Nash snaps back: “That’s this book.”
As he says, Stills doesn’t have to apologize his entire past away; he can, in fact, be forever proud of much of it. Neither do audiences–the minority that have minded when Stills lost either his voice or his head–have to forgive. Still, today he does find it easier to admit or at least rationalize mistakes. “When I did ‘For What It’s Worth’ and did the rant and all that, you point out what an incredible bust it was for me. It was really dumb. But the last generation, that’s what they wanted to hear and, of course, being an entertainer, I was behind it. “And I’ll blow records sometimes,” he says, “’cause I get so far into getting it recorded, and some of the mixes are so difficult, I’ll get too hung up and blow the performance of the gig. But, you know, I’m learning.”
In the studio, Stills used to be the seldom-disputed captain. He clearly and cleanly dominated the first album–producing, mixing, arranging and dubbing in most of the instrumentation (guitars, organ and bass) on the 10 tracks. Stills won’t talk about the stories of battles over Déjà Vu; he thinks ahead to the next CSNY album, to be done in the studios after the tour. “That’s going to be a whole different kind of thing to deal with,” he says. “It’ll be give and take and getting a consortium of opinion. The erroneous assumption is that we are gonna hassle about it and nobody’s into that any more.”
David Crosby has also talked about growth, about how “everybody’s willing to give each other more room and respect.” Michael John Bowen breaks into a conversation Stills is having just before the show in Vancouver. “They’re reworking the first set,” his manager tells him. “Graham wants you. They want to put ‘Cut My Hair’ into it.”
Stills: “OK, all right. We can do that instead of ‘Black Queen.'”
Bowen: “But Graham says ‘Black Queen’ follows ‘Cowgirl’ nicely.”
Stills finally excuses himself. The impression is that he’ll go along with whatever anyone wants. “Maturity,” Crosby is saying, “has lessened the pressure between us. I’m knocked out with how good partners we’re being and how hard everyone’s trying.” But doesn’t stepping back and holding tongues approach a kind of dishonesty?
Crosby says he’s talking musically: “You’ll hear us playing along and we’re playing to a place where we’re storming and somebody, without even looking, will come to a peak”–Crosby, in his hotel room, mimes a lead guitarist creating a storm–”and everybody goes fwhooop! and drops way back, and one guitar will come out speaking right out of it, just clear. Now that’s leaving room for people, and that happens when you’re gettin’ to be a band.”
When I first enter his suite at the St. Paul Hilton, Crosby, dressed down to just shorts, is near to attacking his vanity mirror. He is five months into kung fu–that’s maybe two months past the cut-off point for most faddists–and finds time to work out every day. I tell him how much fun I had the night before and how Stills and Dylan stayed up to at least 5 a.m. “I don’t do that any more,” he says, like a kid who’s had a pleasant bad habit forcibly changed. “It just doesn’t pay off. It’s mostly my throat. If I don’t get enough sleep, I get a cold and blow it, and 18,00:, 40,000; even 60,000 people don’t get a righteous count. It sounds corny but it’s true.” He also wants to trim himself down (he’s now a “bear-shaped” 155 pounds) before it gets too late. But most important: “When you’re physically active, your mind feels better, you think more clearly and you’re less likely to be irritable.”
Crosby says he’s begun to control his temper, blamed for numerous Byrd flaps and untold problems within CSNY. “There was a time,” he says, “when I would stop that song last night (‘Guinnevere’) and call that audience a bunch of inconsiderate, stupid assholes–the three-or four-hundred Quaalude freaks in front, I mean. (In Vancouver Crosby had left Joni Mitchell’s “For Free” unfinished after several attempts to quiet the crowd failed. The audience, festival-seated and jammed in like what Crosby called “vertical sardines,” were being hooted by people in the back to sit down. It happens everywhere.) “Anyway,” says Crosby, “at least I’ve escaped some of that. It does it naturally. Life knocks corners off of everybody, you just go along bouncing down the street, you know.”
But Crosby, not long ago, worried about the apocalypse and wrote a song about escaping, by wooden ships, with a few friends, to some island where their common values would create an unimpeachable little utopia. For almost two years after CSNY, he was determined at least to locate and buy an island for himself. Instead, as he puts it, “I settled for a home in suburbia.” He bought a house in Mill Valley a year ago. He is content to sail off once in a while in his boat, the Mayan, to Hawaii or to Tahiti. And he no longer has doomsday on his mind. “That lurks a bit further away than before,” he allows. “But you gotta admit,” he says, “we all did feel apocalyptic at one point, didn’t we?” Jackson Browne didn’t, I say. Crosby smiles and nods. “That’s true. Jackson–well, there he is, ‘Everyman.’ He really said it. He made me sit down and think. He wrote it for me, I guess. [Crosby sang harmony on the track in fact.] He stopped me cold in my tracks. He nailed a certain thing in me, that escapist thing, and he called on something in me that’s very strong, that I really believe in–and that’s human possibility. I have a basic faith in the transcendence of the human spirit over everything. The present condition is not encouraging, but I believe in the human potential to an astounding – almost religious–degree, and he called on me hard.”
It is easy, of course, to take a man’s words from four years ago and laughingly offer them back to him for lunch. It is also easy to look at someone’s photograph from 10 years ago and laugh. The sounds should be equally hollow. Return with me to those quotes of yesteryear and note that in 1970, while this loud-mouthed, honey-dripping bear of a hippie Hollywood rock & roll star was saying things like “I want to blow this political system,” he was also quite far along in having dug to the bottom of that system and found–not pigs, but robbers: the oil company barons. His onstage raving at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 about who killed Kennedy also seems a little less mad these days. As does his depiction back then of Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon as politicians “who’ve made their deal years ago, who sold out to the special interests and controlling powers in this country in order to gain power.”
At any rate, Crosby’s got fewer stress marks these days. “Watergate [which he and Stills follow avidly, the way some pop stars follow NBA finals] has made the people more aware of what government is, and that’s enormously encouraging. I think things are pretty healthy now.” And, of course, there’s an effect on Crosby, the songwriter of “Long Time Gone” and “Almost Cut My Hair.”
“There’s a lot less hollowness,” he says, “a lot less loneliness. I’ve had an old lady for two, three years, and a wider circle of friends that includes a lot of people who have nothing to do with music–boat people. And it helps balance. Music itself is wonderful but the business needs a little balance from the outside world. It’s a very good real world: They’re a bunch of realistic people, and living on boats, sailing long distances, is very real. The ocean doesn’t know who you are and doesn’t care. I know it’s helped me, given me a different perspective. When I was with the Byrds and living in L.A., I thought that was everything that was happening in the world. But there’s stuff happening out there that has nothing to do with music, concerts, money and showbiz.”
Graham Nash, who has also widened his circle of friends–into the field, he says, of art–early this year ascribed CSNY’s inability to regroup to “stupid, infantile ego problems.”
In Denver, Nash is more specific: “It was between me and Stephen and it was over a lady. That’s why we broke up that first time.” Crosby agrees with Nash’s earlier description. “Ego being out of balance with intelligent cooperation makes you impossible to work with,” he says, “and some of us were more guilty than others and it’s nobody’s business which ones they are.”
What about persistent stories about Stills and Young and their fights? “Oh, no,” says Crosby. “It’s not that simple. We’re all four guilty as shit.” Crosby laughs at the past. “The reasons… I could come back and forth with reasons all day, but it would sound like two high school kids arguing in homeroom about who did what to who first. I don’t remember all that and I don’t want to; that’s like holding grudges. The basic thing is we all had to get to a point where we wanted to play with each other, where we felt like, ‘Outtasite, I want to be in a band now, I want to play and sing harmony with those guys.'”
So Stephen and Neil didn’t want to be with each other, or with Graham and David, when they did their own tours? “No,” says Crosby. They were looking for “self-expression.” Crosby himself went out looking for his own audience–or, more accurately, “Elliot insisted I do it. He said it’d change how I felt about myself. It did. It gave me much more confidence.” First, he coupled up with Nash for a month-long acoustic tour in the fall of 1971, after the first attempted CSNY regrouping fell through. They toured again a year later, and, last fall, after another reunion dissolved, each took off for short tours through Eastern college towns, doing a half-dozen shows each. “I flat loved it,” says Crosby, “and I found all the weirdos who would come out just to see me. I found out that there is a group that likes my songs.”
Earlier on the tour, Crosby has given the impression that he was an elitist about his music; that he considers some of the more recent dominant forces in rock–the noisier, splashier, bi-sexier acts–to be something less than valid.
In St. Paul, Crosby seeks to clarify: “I’ve learned that it’s different audiences out there. It is not the same people who go to a Uriah Heep concert as go to a Bob Dylan concert. I tell you what’s been happening. There has been a change in the scene and it’s mostly because we copped out, in a sense, in doing what we’re supposed to do. Us and Dylan and, in a sense, Joni and James and other people who are word/music people. There was a hiatus there. The whole community of people who write word music, in that kind of changes and space and emotional context, the descendants of Dylan and the Beatles and folk music. We are not supposed to lead any segment of the population but I think we’re supposed to reflect it and respond to it. But I think that segment hasn’t been reflected musically in a long time and to that extent we just haven’t been pulling our weight. Those people just didn’t have concerts to go to until Dylan went out. That was the icebreaker. I bet him being out and us going out, you’ll see a couple of other people try to get back out, too. Something’s going on that I think is really good.”
So Crosby won’t dismiss even the crappiest music as crap. As he sees it: “We’re back to ‘Wooly Bully’ and ‘Tambourine Man’ again. Two to one, ‘Wooly Bully’ outsold ‘Tambourine Man,’ and that’s an important fact. Remember where that bell curve is. You got to know that the world’s not like you. “I have no quibble with that. I’m glad all those people have any music at all that they like; I’d rather have them listening to even music that I don’t think is music than going out and street-fighting or laying around taking Quaaludes. If it’s a party for them, good. I want everybody to have a party.”
The piano is just being tickled to death; out comes “It Had to Be You.” Over the central bar area, hanging off to the side of a display of circular ceiling lightbulbs is the TV, tuned to the All-Star Game. Summertime in Denver, at the Hampshire House tavern, and Graham Nash is on his third Coke. He looks around. “Isn’t this fuckin’ bizarre,” he says, soft and hoarsely. The observation is more in wonderment than in amusement. Outside the hotel, he’d responded to a “how are you” with a “lousy.” With the group’s strategically relaxed schedule–roughly two days off for every concert–Nash is finding himself bored and depressed on this, the evening of his arrival.
We decide to have a drink. I ask him to paint a portrait of himself over the past few years since 1970. He proceeds to draw a surprisingly blue picture of the spoils of success and the elusiveness of inner harmony. “When CSNY decided that emotionally it couldn’t make it as a band, that we couldn’t stand each other for more than the three hours it took to play together, I retreated. First I toured with David ’cause I still had that energy. Then I turned 30 and I took acid on my birthday at Vanessi’s [an Italian restaurant in the San Francisco North Beach area that, along with North Beach, keeps late hours]. I went to mix me and David’s album and I was trying to mix ‘Where Will I Be,’ which is musically very spacey and difficult to get on top of when you’re–well, you just get side-tripped. ‘What’s on track two? Wow, what a cowbell!’ But I decided that I finally really needed to find out who the fuck I was, what was important to me in terms of how much I could put up with to be able to live with myself. So I took a couple of years where I didn’t do too much except finish my house [a Victorian in the Haight/Ashbury], write several songs and just stay away.”
“What did you have to put up with in order to live with yourself?”
“There’s a certain thing that goes on, you face a certain situation and you deal with it one way. But if that situation means that whoever you went through the scene with doesn’t grow from that situation, you bullshit yourself. Like if someone pulls a trip and you let it go, you’re not helping either yourself or the other person, and I decided I was going to try and be as honest as I could in my relationships. I changed dramatically as a person because I was always very easygoing and outward, and I’m not easy-going now…
“And before, when I got depressed, I could always go to someone’s room and yuk it up, just fake my way out of it. But I can’t do that anymore. And girlfriends come up and hug me and I feel… I don’t know, I don’t feel anything. And I’m trying to figure out whether I’ve thought myself into a paralysis of feeling.
“There’s something in me that automatically makes me do the positive thing in any given situation. It’s because I’ve trained myself that way. The bad feeling is wondering whether I really mean it or whether I’m just on automatic pilot.”
Once a thin man with a shaggy haircut and a neat goatee to dramatize a rectangular face, Graham Nash is now a thin man with a less-controlled look about the head and beard. He wears black high-top gym shoes, patched jeans and two shirts, one gray, one Army tan, all four sleeves rolled up. “All my aware life,” he is saying, “From age 16, 17, 18, I’ve been an object. A fucking object. That’s why I try very hard to be as unrecognizable as possible.”
A reporter is by no means an analyst, although by the nature of the work, one learns to peel a head through questions. I offer a phrase I’ve heard from friends who’ve been in therapy–”self-love.”
“Yeah,” says Graham. “I’ve got to try and see the good things that I am. David is doing numbers on me every day, ’cause he sees me sinking and sinking. He was driving the car today–and he asked how I was. And I said, ‘I don’t know; I’m just glad that we’re getting off onstage.’ And he said, ‘Feeling a bit shaky, hey?’ And I said yeah. And he turned around–which for David is very unheard of–and he said, ‘You should look at the good things that you are instead of the bullshit.’ And he turned back and continued driving. But just the fact that he turned away–I mean, you know David and driving and Christine [Crosby’s girl-friend, killed in an auto accident in 1969]. And I knew he sincerely meant it. David said, ‘Look, you very rarely lie to others and you’re as honest as you can be,’ but that’s not special or ‘good’ to me. I think consideration of others, general well-being and things like that are normal.”
Earlier, walking the block from my hotel to the Hampshire House, he’d depicted himself as a misanthrope. I venture, now, that he must find most “normal” people less than “good.”
“I see mirrors,” he says. “I see a reflection in everybody; I see somebody fuck up and I get mad and see me fucking up and it’s so unlike me. I was always the other way, saying, ‘No, come on, it’s better than that.’ I was always where David is now and David used to be where I am.” Nash looks up from his fourth Coke. “That’s strange. I just realized that.”
That evening David is at the wheel again, on the way with Stills and Nash, to the Clapton concert. Stills is a friend of Clapton’s from the days of Springfield and Cream. When Stills lived in London, the two had gotten together numerous times to talk, jam and record. Stills credits Clapton with teaching him “fluidity… in that style of real nicely constructed blues guitar.” He is thinking of a jam tonight, but his head is still feeling the effects of his audience with Dylan. “I don’t know if I could play tonight, even if he asked me,” he says in the car. “Usually it’s the other way–I have to twist his arm to play with me.” Crosby advises: “Well, there’ll be other times.” He doesn’t turn his head.
At the concert Stills will stay on the sidelines, watching the show from a seat onstage. Nash, meantime, stays away from the action, standing early on by himself at the rear of the auditorium building. Graham Nash’s melancholy may be at least partly the product of rejection. All four members of the group have suffered declining album sales on their own (with Young the slowest to fall), but none ever failed to reach the charts–until this spring and Nash’s WildTales. “I was a little disappointed in the response,” he says. It’s an understatement. He continues: “It almost feels to me like no one heard it and that hurts for any artist trying to communicate. I haven’t even asked about the sales.”
In contrast, he claims his first solo, Songs For Beginners, hit the Top Ten and the Nash/Crosby album reached Number Two. Atlantic Records, however, says that the two albums did not do as well as Nash recalls. The first album, Crosby, Stills and Nash, has now reached 2.1 million units in sales; the first CSNY album has sold 2.5, and Four Way Street, the double live set, sold 900,000. Stills’s two solo albums went 800,000 and 600,000, respectively; the first Manassas product, a double album, sold over 400,000 and Down The Road, with Manassas, is near 300,000. Neil Young, whose pre-CSNY album, Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, sold 1.3 million, hit two highs after joining the group: After the Gold Rush (1.8 million) and Harvest (two million). Journey Through the Past, the soundtrack to his largely unseen film, was a relative bomb at 300,000 and Time Fades Away, from the Stray Gators tour, is at 480,000.
Crosby’s one solo, according to Crosby himself, sold near 500,000. In the last year, then, no single member–C, S, N or Y–approached the royalty riches of the old days. Still the group fends off the offensive notion that they might be doing this for the money. “I think that assumption is very easy to come to,” says Stills, who before the tour joked to one reporter: “The last time it was for the music, the art and the chicks; this time it’s for the cash!”
Now, riding over the Bay Bridge, he’s saying it doesn’t matter what he says about the group’s being back for the music. “Even if you write it down word for word, if somebody wants to believe it’s bullshit, it’s still bullshit. I think it has to do with everyone realizing that the service we can do each other was greater than how we were doing by ourselves. And without that, the other considerations never come into play. Of course the money’s good. I mean, I can build the kind of studio I want to build and, you know, I ain’t got no apologies to make. I don’t think we’re ripping anybody off. If people weren’t interested they wouldn’t come. That’s the difference between business and art. And we are all four of us very, very dedicated to our art form.”
And that is word for word. Nash reasons it out this way: “It can’t be the money or we’d have been playing these last four years and making millions of dollars. When we left it, we were pretty hot. We could’ve continued for a couple years but we didn’t because we couldn’t stand each other.” And if that’s not honest enough for you, Crosby weighs in. I had asked him not about money but about the future of CSNY. “My guess,” he says, “is that we won’t stay together. We’ll make an album and not stay together. I think the soonest you would see us come together again after we made the album would be the next summer. And even that might be too soon. Why? Because contrary to everybody else, who seem to want to just grind it out by the pound as fast as they humanly can–you know, ‘make your hay while you can’–we like to do it when we feel like it, so that it doesn’t come out sounding to you like it’s been ground out by the pound. So we get together and play when it’s exciting to do it–and it isn’t exciting to do it all the time.”
Somewhere in the middle of “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,” on the line, “It’s my heart that’s a-sufferin’, it’s a-dyin’,” Stephen Stills trills a stretched out “heart,” turns the word into a one-note blues number, and 19,000 people in St. Paul whoop it up.
Moments later they literally rock the coliseum with an ovation for the song and the performance that lasts, by my count, a full 170 seconds, during which matches get lit and lifted and fire-crackers ignited. An attempt by Nash to speak–he gets out a “Jesus!”–is greeted by another wave of all the rabble a rock & roll crowd can crank up these days.
It is two more hours before the concert ends and the group files past the towel man, down the stairs and back into their dark-lit dressing room. Outside the room in an adjoining, bright white bathroom, Crosby and Nash stop to talk. Crosby is wiping his forehead, keeping the dressing room door closed to outsiders and talking about the concert all at once. “Steve was outrageous,” he says. “That was the best response we’ve ever had to that song.” He turns to Nash. “Did we sing the suite or did we sing the suite?” Nash laughs and recalls the ovation. “That was ridiculous. I started laughing! I’ve never had to stop them before.” He turns toward the dressing room and as Crosby pulls open the door, someone inside–it kinda sounds like that reluctant star–yells out: “A great show!”