RIP David Crosby

“Awh fuck,” Patrick replied to my text. “:(((((((( It’s starting.”

“Major league asshole,” I said.

“Oh nightmare fuel. But I’m sad for what it represents. The Laurel Canyon scene is starting to take their last bows.”

And here I thought that Laurel Canyon would finally be able to take a breath.

My first thought upon hearing about the death of David Crosby, at 81, yesterday January 19, 2023, was …what an asshole. It’s morbid and I am morbid. But there’s something to be said about a man who was so mean and awful to all of his closest collaborators and friends that they completely cut off contact with him. That’s major league to me. And in true Crosby ethos: the man believed in truth and saying shit. So here I am saying shit and blogging for free.

This impression was left on me after watching the 2019 documentary ‘David Crosby: Remember My Name.’ The title is a nod to his debut solo album If Only I Could Remember My Name (1971). A record so full of sound and joy, a true celebration of the 1960s rock and roll scene, specifically California. I’m sad to say I came to it late. Half The Dead (including Jerry) plays on it, as does Neil, Stills, Nash, most of Jefferson Airplane, Joni Mitchell, Jack Casady, and so on. The guitar sounds capture what I love about rock and roll and what I love about the 1960s: something I spent the first 25 years of my life listening to and studying on and off the records, in the books, in the galleries, and in ethos. Hippie Shit is my shit. David Crosby is responsible for these sounds (you might’ve heard of his band The Byrds) and a true architect of a movement so particular and inspiring–sonically, socially, politically, lyrically–that he is a giant. He was during life and is he now as we remember him. Hence Patrick’s somber nod to the beginning of an end for so many rockers we grew up learning from and loving.

‘David Crosby: Remember My Name’ did exactly what the title demands of us. It’s an absolutely fabulous documentary. My husband and I do documentary month every February and we have for five or so years, so we watch a lot of documentaries. And when the subject in question is still alive, it’s an even better doc when said subject is in the documentary and or participating in some way or another. (There are a lot of bad docs out there.) But Crosby sitting for interviews and going off, like he famously does (rating strangers’ joints, art, songs, commenting on Phoebe Bridgers smashing her guitar on SNL, being an overall asshole to some and the nicest guy ever to others) is what we came to see. But of course none of the people you want to hear are there in the moment. The footage of Stills, Nash, and Young (and many others) are archival because none of them are speaking to him at the time. Stills and Nash made a statement about David Crosby after the announcement of his death. And I’m just a blogger. I don’t know what goes on behind closed doors. Maybe since 2019, Crosby and his friends found peace together; I don’t know. But as a part of a younger generation watching elders of rock, art, politics, and so forth pass on, it appears that death brings peace. I wish that for all of us. I know that Crosby has found peace with himself. I’ve seen the footage and I’ve heard the music. But I wonder if Stills, Nash, and Young ever made peace with him in life. And I wonder if Neil Young is gonna say anything now.

David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Graham Nash, and Neil Young are the most famous rock supergroup, known as CSNY. Before Neil Young came on board (and dipped in and out) CSN was a smash. Their self-titled Crosby, Stills & Nash (1969) is one of the first vinyl records I stole from Dad’s collection. I have a lot of memories of high school afternoons listening to their blend of folk and vocals: an instantly recognizable sound to anyone familiar with popular music in America. Their first show was Woodstock, for God’s sake! David Crosby and these collaborators and best friends who weren’t speaking to him literally define a generation of sound and rock music. They inspired and continue to inspire leagues of artists, singer-songwriters, rockers, players, writers, and so on. These are his best friends. I’ve lost friends on purpose and by accident: life and adulthood brings us to different cities and jobs, relationships change, and people change. The ones I’m not speaking to I don’t miss. (OK, there’s one. But I tried and she didn’t.) But I have no doubt in my mind that some of them miss David Crosby. How could you not? These people, these artists that continue to touch the lives of millions, are human.

CSNY’s fourth record, So Far (1974), a compilation; art by Joni Mitchell

Excuse my morbid thoughts of him as an asshole at his passing. ‘Remember My Name’ is fabulous and I encourage you to seek it out. (It appears to be on Amazon streaming and those with Hulu’s ‘premium’ account.) The footage is OUTSTANDING and the photos are even better. Look for Neil Young in hot pants. What a babe! But what I remember most is learning that Crosby was a JFK conspiracy theorist and the footage of him going off about it on stage!!! at the Monterey Pop festival! Everyone seemed embarrassed. There’s no doubt in my mind that Crosby wasn’t sober. And as we’ve come to learn in life he loves to shoot his mouth off like a rocket. All this being said, I have serious respect for that. This man was one of a kind and his songs were even better. He was never a coward. Those with a platform that keep their mouths shut to protect themselves are. Crosby was a champion of truth: messy, gross, uncomfortable truth.

David Crosby’s discography in CSN, CSNY, and his decades of solo work and collaborations is outstanding. It’s a ridiculous thought to pick a favorite song of all time, so I have a few and one of them is “Almost Cut My Hair,” off of Déjà Vu (1970). Déjà Vu is the first CSNY record, the second of the CSN universe. (Croz also wrote the title track.) Déjà Vu would produce three Top 40 singles “Our House,” “Teach Your Children,” and a cover of Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock” from Ladies of the Canyon also released that year. (Arguably my favorite Joni album.) Their cover of “Woodstock” is much more recognizable than Joni’s original, a somber piano ballad clocking in at a raging five and a half minutes.

(One of my boldest moves as a DJ was when I started a show with Joni’s “Woodstock” on my short-lived show, Theme Time on, The Golden Stream, for the episode “There’s No Place Like Home.” (Songs with place in the title.) When my husband messaged me that he didn’t know Joni’s was the original “Woodstock” I was pleased, my work as a DJ done.)

“Almost Cut My Hair” is one of two songs on the record Neil Young plays guitar on despite not having written. I’m a huge Neil Young fan and I heard his guitar long before I knew that factoid. “Almost Cut My Hair” is a counterculture anthem and what I like to call Hippie Shit, covering all the basics: not cutting your hair, hating the cops, paranoia, and of course: the freak flag.

Remembering people is easy, but it’s looking at them and what they did & said that’s hard. David Crosby’s music is easy to love but as a person, he’s complicated. Insert the artist versus art narrative here. But I think in death it might be better to look past the major league spiteful word vomit of David Crosby and remember his massive contributions to popular music. I am human and hold both concepts in my head. To not mention it here isn’t honest to myself, my writing, and why I write and think about music. David was the first to admit it and will never be the last. RIP David Crosby. You taught me so much about rock and roll with your songs, sounds, and most of all: your voice. No one will forget you.