There are only two cars on Arthur Godfrey Road this early morning in Miami Beach. One, a Toyota, is full of punks looking for a party. They spot a rented Chevrolet carrying three men, older and looking rumpled in an eerie way. The Toyota pulls up alongside with a honk.
No reaction. Down roll the windows. It’s five in the morning and an Aerosmith tape is blasting out of the Toyota. The guy behind the wheel leans out and yells: “Hey, let’s go find some chicks!”
Then it registers. What? The driver nearly careens into a divider as he tries for a better look. It’s …
The three men ignore him. The Chevy turns off on Pine Tree Drive and slowly pulls into the driveway of a miniature villa. Just as the driver is about to shut off the ignition, a familiar song — “Woodstock” by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young—comes on the radio. The driver cranks it up, and all three begin to sing along.
“What a rush,” whoops Graham Nash. He remembers his harmony line perfectly.
Stephen Stills is grinning broadly. His missing tooth is in full view.
David Crosby, the driver, stares straight ahead. “Yeah, we were definitely hot,” he says, turning off the ignition at the song’s end. “That love, peace and granola shit went over real big, didn’t it?”
They laugh, grab their guitars out of the trunk and head inside. After five weeks of recording and living together in this spacious house, life has taken on a cuckoo-clockwork domesticity: up at 5 p.m., dinner at 6, Walter Cronkite at 6:30, recording studio at 8, then home for a sunrise breakfast.
“I’m just gonna put my guitar in my room,” says Stills brightly. He bounds up the stairs. “Meet you guys in the kitchen for a nightcap. Save some Shredded Wheat for me. …”
So Crosby, Stills and Nash—CSN—are back together. It’s 1977, eight years since their first and only album became a rallying point for a budding Woodstock generation. But now, Richard Nixon is out of office, the war is over, marijuana is slowly being “decriminalized” and a Democrat is in the White House. Rock music is bigger business than ever, and artists like Peter Frampton and Fleet-wood Mac easily outsell the entire CSN catalog (with or without Neil Young) with a single album. Cameron Crowe has recently interviewed Van Morrison, Fleetwood Mac and Linda Ronstadt.
And yet, Young is back with his band, Crazy Horse, and CSN are back in the studio. Another turn around the wheel. …
There was a time in late 1970, with Deja Vu at its peak, when CSNY were just about the American Beatles. The four of them had clear and separate, slightly adversary identities: Crosby, the former Byrd, the political voice, the California dreamer; Nash, the Briton, the former Hollie, the spiritually hungry searcher; Stills, the guitar hero from Buffalo Springfield; and Young, the brooding dark horse from Canada. They were, at once, steeped in mystique and still the guys next door.
“They always had that Judy Garland, tragic American hero aura about them,” a former business associate remembers. “It’s still going on. Were they strong enough to survive? Would they kill each other? Did they really like their audience? Were they leaders? Was it all for the bucks? Would they fall apart before reaching the top?”
In the end, they did fall apart. In 1970, after less than two years, CSNY shattered into four directions several months after recording the single “Ohio,” backed, ironically, with “Find the Cost of Freedom.” With the exception of a summer-long reunion for a tour in 1974, they never got together again. Apart and in partial combinations, their projects were mostly disappointing. But every year or so there was a tease. At least three times they announced attempts to record another CSNY studio album, but each one collapsed in bitterness. In their place, bands like the Eagles, whose members once idolized them, emerged.
And then, two months ago, I got a phone call and invitation from Crosby: “We’re doin’ it, man. It’s CSN, just us this time, and it’s coming out. C’mon down and have a listen.” A plane flight later, I learned that he was right. For the first time since those nights in 1969, Crosby, Stills and Nash are in harmony. Only one question: does anybody out there still care?
Anything you want
Just ask me
I’m the world’s most
—“Anything at All”
by DAVID CROSBY
David Crosby is not quite ready for that one. He thinks about it for close to a minute, an uncommon silence for a man who calls himself “Ol’ Motormouth.” It is the next morning and Crosby is finishing off a snack of bacon and eggs. He dabs away the yolky residue caught in his waterfall moustache and smiles. “Sure, we may have blown it,” he eventually admits. “But what constitutes blowing it? Not playing the game? I don’t see any rules, anyway. … Overall, I don’t regret anything. I’m here and there’s music … and it’s being released. And I’m making it. Sure, the specific things I regret. Pieces of music that were never made or never came out. … but I’m glad that we were smitten in the face with reality again and again. If we’d had to knock those corners off each other rather than just bounding down a couple of staircases of life, I think there might have been too much scar tissue between us.”
It’s hard to keep from gagging on Crosby’s constant paeans to The Music, but he is sincere. Music, by choice, is his “entire being … with sex a very strong second.” He lives his life from album to album and from tour to tour, rarely allowing himself any time home alone. At night he is often in the studios, either working on his own projects or cheering others on. And he spends his days ruminating over songs, letting petty business matters grow into problems.
Crosby, 35, has gained weight from lack of exercise, and he’s sensitive about it. Propped up against the headboard of his bed, unshaven and wearing baggy cords and an oversized Pendleton shirt, he exudes a grand-fatherly benevolence.
In Miami nine months earlier, the last attempt at a CSNY album had left a particularly foul taste in his mouth. Yet Crosby is back for more. “I look at it this way,” he once said. “Suppose you’re crawling through the desert, you haven’t had a drink in days, you’re parched, dehydrating. And then you remember where you once drank from this deep, crystal blue oasis. Would you go back there or what?”
Boats drift along the canal outside, and Crosby smiles wistfully at the view. He begins to stare. I wonder if he looks back at himself and sees naivete. “You always do,” he says with a world-weary sigh. “My whole ‘Wooden Ships,’ wanting-to-sail-forever fantasy was bullshit. Where do you get off leaving the rest of humanity behind, even in your mind? … You live, you learn.”
Crosby and Nash have remained close friends through the years. So all they needed to accomplish a CSN reunion was Stephen Stills. It is strange to hear Crosby answering for Stills’ celebrated inconsistency. But he does so, and vigorously. “I’m not gonna hype him,” he begins. “He’s not a saint. He didn’t suddenly change. The thing is … you don’t get it for free. You can’t ride on your fucking laurels, it doesn’t work for long.”
Crosby doesn’t like to get into specifics about personality differences with Stills, and says only: “He and I used to go nose to nose about once every 15 minutes. And we haven’t gone nose to nose once. Nothing. It’s either amazing grace or great luck, but it’s working. …”
He leans forward and speaks in a stage whisper, overenunciating every word: “His chemistry is altered because he is not drink-ing. . . . That cat, believe me, when he’s heavy into the sauce, he doesn’t have the chops, the attention span, the patience . . . he derails, he goes on trips … he can’t make the music. But when he feels supported and when it’s called up out of him, bullshit on the people that think he can’t do it. I’m proud to say that it happened to be us that could call it up out of him again. He says it, too.”
They assume that Neil Young knows exactly what they’re up to in Miami, using two months of studio time that Young himself wanted to book. But there has been no communication. He is spoken of in friendly but distant terms. Young views CSNY as an occasional marker in his own career, but CSNY comes first for the others. “I love singing with those guys,” he said in 1975, “but CSNY tends to get too big. Too many people attach too much importance to them. I enjoy being able to visit, but I want to avoid people thinking, ‘Oh, there’s Neil Young from CSNY.'”
“At this point,” Crosby says, “I don’t know how to deal with my relationship to Neil at all. The last time the four of us were together, the psychic balance in the room, the level of trust, love or friendship was like” … Crosby whistles … “real strange.”
That was last May, and the room was the very same Criteria Sound Studios. Recording sessions by the Stills-Young Band had reached an impasse. Young called Crosby to see about giving CSNY another shot. Crosby and Nash, close to finishing their own album, Whistling Down the Wire, in Los Angeles, flew to Miami Beach. It was a disastrous move. Besides a lack of material and some disagreement over the approach, there were rapidly approaching deadlines. A summer-long Stills-Young Band tour was scheduled to begin in June, and Crosby and Nash were already late delivering their own album. They finally had to rush back to L.A. to wrap it up, leaving Stills and Young to work on the CSNY album until they returned. Instead, the album reverted to a Stills-Young project. Crosby and Nash were not invited back to Florida, and their vocals were wiped off the tracks to make room for others.
Crosby was livid at the time. “I have nothing but contempt for those two,” he said then. “I refuse to be on call for them any longer.” Now, he can rationalize the incident: “Everything was wrong. I wish to fuck, man, that I had not felt so long an enmity for those cats over that.”
In the end, the Stills-Young tour fell apart after a month. Crosby and Nash played throughout the summer, and the incredible irony occurred: the two harmony singers, the leftover pieces of the old group, outsold the Stills-Young album (Long May You Run).
The phone rings and Crosby snaps it up, as he usually does whenever a ringing telephone is within reach. It’s John Hartmann, one of Crosby and Nash’s managers. “Yeah? … I’m just shooting my mouth off. … Well, how’s things on that battlefront? … What did the Turk say? … Did you call the Russian? What did he say? … Well, play it for him. Our end is together. …”
It is an easily breakable code since I know that CSN, still signed to Atlantic Records (where Ahmet Ertegun, “the Turk,” is chairman), want to find out whether or not there might be another company that wants to buy them out, like, maybe, the only label that could afford them, CBS Records (whose president is Walter Yetnikov, “the Russian”). Crosby hangs up.
“We’re having a huge business duke-out at the moment,” he says, “which is what all that was about. You know, we’re spread out all over the record business. At present we’re on three different companies [Crosby and Nash are on ABC. Stills is with CBS as a solo artist]. It’s weird that it should be fought over like 40 pieces of silver. But we know what it is in terms of its commercial worth. We know what happens when you make sounds as unusual and completely different from everything else as this does.
“If all somebody has to relate to, in terms of what’s gonna come out of this, is Whistling Down the Wire and the Stills-Young Band, they’re in for a monster surprise.”
A striking blond woman, the cook and part owner of the agency that rented the house, pokes her head in the door and announces dinner. And so begins the prestudio ritual.
Downstairs, a spectacular spread is being attacked by Stills and Nash, by Joel Bernstein, their photographer of seven years, and by their young crew of three. Dinner is over in ten minutes; then they watch CBS news for their nightly crash course on the real world. CSN like Jimmy Carter. They had talked about announcing their reunion by singing “The Star Spangled Banner” at his Inaugural Ball. Crosby, oddly enough, is the biggest fan of the president. The same man who had in the past proclaimed himself “ashamed to be an American” would gladly accept an invitation to the White House. “The Constitution is still strong enough to beat Richard Nixon,” he says. “Bottom line, man: dude lost.” As for Carter: “I feel that the guy is so intelligent that he knows how to be human and accessible and real. It’s sheer genius. …”
After Cronkite, they zip down to the studio. As he walks in, Crosby triumphantly claps his hands. “All right,” he booms. “We’re gonna finish the album tonight.”
He has said the same thing every night at the same time for the last five weeks.