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Sunday 22 January 2023

Half An Hour Of David Crosby

David Crosby died on Thursday aged eighty one. Given the sometimes chaotic nature of his life it could be seen as a miracle he made it to eighty one. That he did so still railing against the world, former bandmates, Donald Trump, slights and injustices, seems all the more admirable- he never gave into old age or mellowed, he carried on being the same wilful and difficult man he was when The Byrds fired him back in 1967 for being wilful and difficult. His talent as a songwriter, singer, player and arranger of harmonies meant that he was usually worth listening to although I'll happily admit there are sections of the Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young back catalogue I've avoided and will probably continue to. But when he was good, he was so very good. 

I started listening to The Byrds as a late teenager, aged eighteen in 1988. The Byrds were in the air (lol) back then, their Rickenbacker jangle, fringes, beads and sunglasses and acid/ folk rock chiming with the guitar bands of the day, the Creation bands and The Stone Roses. I started with a cassette, a compilation with all their songs in a random order and then picked up Fifth Dimension and Younger Than Yesterday on vinyl second hand. Crosby's songs were rarely the most obvious, rarely the ones with the shimmering twelve string chords and the perfect 60s verse/ chorus structure. His songs were sometimes in odd tunings or had strange time signatures, dreamlike songs, trippy and hallucinatory. 

In photos he often looked like The Byrd out of step, the round face contrasting with the other four's chiselled cheekbones and perfect hair, the only wearing a cape when the others were all in Levi's jackets or three button suit jackets.  His parents had tried to get some discipline into him as a young teenager when he was developing a strong anti- authoritarian streak and this seems to have followed him his whole life, a man who followed his own course, often to the detriment of his health and friendships. His 1971 solo album, If I Could Only Remember My Name, was made with an all star backing cast (Neil Young, Graham Nash, Joni Mitchell, some of Jefferson Airplane, Santana, the Grateful Dead) and by rights should be a  disaster but is one of those albums that exists on its own terms and in its own world a nine- song, beautifully weird, psychedelic folk masterpiece. 

David Crosby, one of a kind. R.I.P.

Half An Hour Of David Crosby

  • Everybody's Been Burned
  • I'll Feel A Whole Lot Better
  • Long Time Gone
  • Music Is Love
  • Wild Mountain Thyme
  • Ohio
  • Orleans
  • Guinnevere
  • Wooden Ships
  • Tamalpais High (At About 3)
Everybody's Been Burned is from The Byrds 1967 album Younger Than Yesterday, a slow burning, mysterious, jazz influenced written a couple of years before he joined the band. The opening lines were borrowed by Tim Burgess for The Charlatan's 1990 single The Only One I Know, The Byrds very much in the ether at the time. I'll Feel A Whole Lot Better is from1965, the B-side to their second single All I Really Want To Do (a Dylan cover) and was written by Gene Clark. It's the best 60s Rickenbacker, guitar jangle pop song bar none. Wild Mountain Thyme was on 1966's Fifth Dimension, one of the folk standards they played. 

Long Time Gone, Wooden Ships and Guinnevere are all from the first Crosby, Stills and Nash album in 1969, all Crosby songs. Guinnevere was about three women in Crosby's life, one unnamed, one Joni Mitchell and the third his girlfriend Christine Hinton who was killed in a car crash in 1969. Crosby identified her body, after which according to Nash, Crosby was never the same. Wooden Ships imagines the survivors of a nuclear apocalypse meeting and asking 'who won?'

Music Is Love, Orleans and Tamalpais High (At About 3) are all from If I Could Only Remember My Name. Orleans is a reworking of a traditional French song from the 15th century sung in round. Tamalpais is a mountain in California, mentioned by Beat writers Jack Kerouac and Gary Snyder in their works. 

Ohio was a Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young single written by Neil Young following the Kent State University shootings in May 1970 where four students were killed by the US National Guard at an anti- Vietnam War protest. Crosby's backing vocals stand out as he cries out 'Four!' and 'How many more?' as the song fades out. According to Young, Crosby was in tears after recording them. 'Tin soldiers and Nixon's coming/ We're finally on our own', is as good an opening line as any protest song has. 


Walter said...

Great job Adam. Most of these songs would be on my list if I had to do something like this.

Charity Chic said...

Excellent stuff Adam.A great read and some great music.

Martin said...

This is excellent. Cheers Adam.

Martin said...

Never occurred to me until listening to this mix several times today how much Guinnevere sounds like early Genesis!

JC said...

Nice tribute Adam. He wasn't someone I paid too much attention to, but there's no denying he was an important part of influential 60s bands.

Khayem said...

Phew, glad JC got there first, but I'm pretty ignorant of Crosby's musical output, post-The Byrds and a smattering of CS&N (&Y). This was an enlightening and entertaining half hour that's done the job of encouraging me to check out more. Thanks!