Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Book: CSNY: Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young by Peter Doggett (Atria Books, 2019)

The story of CSNY is a microcosm of rock and roll in America in the sixties and seventies, beginning in a burst of camaraderie and goodwill and ending in acrimony and spite. Doggett focuses on first five years of the group's existence 1969-74, but begins by providing a thumbnail biography of of each member leading up to their prior brush with stardom. David Crosby spent three years with The Byrds, singing and playing guitar on some of their biggest hits, while Stephen Stills and Neil Young were twin guitar leads in Buffalo Springfield, and Graham Nash had a long term in the successful British pop group The Hollies. No one quite remembers how they came together (most suspect Cass Elliot to be the catalyst) but soon they were demonstrating their harmonizing to anyone who would listen and after scrambling to work out the logistics of contracts, they signed to Atlantic Records and released their self titled debut record in 1969. It was a massive hit, but Stills felt something was missing and with the backing of label boss Ahmet Ertegun, Young was added to the mix for the group's first second concert before the untold thousands at Woodstock. They toured festivals throughout the year including the doomed Altamont gig, and went on to record their first album as a quartet, the massively successful Deja Vu. But success doesn't always breed contentment as egos fueled by copious amounts of cocaine, marijuana and alcohol began to take their toll. The 1970 tour was lucrative, but also marred by band friction, fired sidemen and fans boycotting over high ticket prices. Atlantic scraped together a live album called 4-Way Street, which would have to tide fans over as the sniping and backbiting led to a series of solo albums, Stills putting out solo work plus his band Manassas, Crosby recruiting members of the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane to create an unheralded masterpiece in If I Could Only Remember My Name and Neil Young mining a massive seam of brilliance from the pop friendly Harvest to the bleak beauty of On the Beach. By 1974, the money became too big to ignore, and the four re-grouped to perform a massive stadium tour, despite the fact that stadiums aren't the most conducive environments to acoustic guitars and close harmony singing. Young and Stills would battle it out on electric guitars during the plugged in section of the performance, with complaints that staying in tune or in key going by the wayside. Self indulgence, egotism and excess doomed the tour which finally sputtered to a halt in London, where the narrative leaves off. Doggett did very well presenting this story, telling the facts of the band's existence, the ups and the downs, leaving out some of the most salacious gossip, and trying to keep the music in focus when there are four very different characters moving in different directions. CSNY: Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young - amazon.com

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