Most any true fan of classic rock music tends to keep up with the genre and all that it entails because it is in their nature. News of fresh tours, final shows, deaths, and other incidents in the lives of our rock heroes of yesteryear capture our attention faster than lightning strikes, and lovers of the stupendous sounds which enamor us so much seem to embrace and retain even the tiniest details with an unquenchable thirst. Along those lines, the current times are what actually allow us to call classic rock what it is; if not for the passage of time, we wouldn’t worship the rock gods of years gone by the way we do.
In keeping with these facts, books seem to be coming out in droves, detailing the lives and times of the very people we have placed so high on our musical pedestals. In the last ten years alone, countless volumes have been released documenting the lives and times of bands such as Motley Crue, Aerosmith, and Blue Oyster Cult, as well as The Who, Led Zeppelin, and Queen, just to name a handful. All of these bands, and countless more, have impacted music in ways that even the most die-hard of fans can barely begin to comprehend, but we mustn’t forget about one of the most prolific classic rock bands in history: Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young.
Yes, books have been written about this incredible foursome before. Author Dave Zimmer dug into their history in his book ‘Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young: The Biography; Barney Hoskyns dissected the band’s various relationships and wild lifestyles with other bands such as The Eagles and Linda Ronstadt in his offering, ‘Hotel California: The True-Life Adventures of Crosby, Stills, Nash, Young, Mitchell, Taylor, Browne, Ronstadt, Geffen, the Eagles, and Their Many Friends’, and of course there have been different pieces written about the individual members of the band which chronicled their individual lives and careers.
Earlier this year, however, on April 2nd, David Browne released his own take on the foursome who harmonized their way into the hearts of rock lovers all over the world and wowed us all with their lives of fame and excess. In his book Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young; The Wild, Definitive Saga of Rock’s Greatest Supergroup, Browne gives fans a very profound look into each individual band member in a way that stands out to even the most casual reader and classic rock lover. As senior writer for Rolling Stone magazine, Browne likely had a foot in the door with these four men to begin with, and the result is a high-velocity, intricate narrative that captures the attention and holds it tightly to the very last page. If you have ever enjoyed Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young at even the most minute level, this is a book that will supercharge your fandom and give you a much better understanding of the men behind the glorious music.
What makes this particular contribution such a good read in comparison to other bios about this group is the fact that Browne breaks down the star-striking facades that each man presented to fans and puts them under a microscope, revealing the real men behind those masks. Yes, David Crosby will likely always be viewed as a somewhat spaced-out hippie by laymen, and Stephen Stills will continue to be perceived as being driven to a fault. Of course, Graham Nash is considered to be the one who consistently put everything together and made it work, while Neil Young seemed to delight in standing apart from the rest, reveling in his own individuality and seeming lonesomeness, and his parting from the band in later years appeared to validate that view.
When all was, and is, said and done, these were extremely talented men who, at their very core, dwell among the rest of us human beings. They felt pain, gladness, and anger. They each made mistakes they regretted, learned from, and possibly learned nothing from. The difference between them and us was not only the talent they have been given, or the fame that followed as a result of it, but in the contribution their incredible music made to the way an entire generation thought, behaved, and responded to life itself.
One particular example of the humanity and its struggle with the members’ fame takes place during the days shortly before their union is made official. Browne tells of a meeting that was to take place with Ahmet Ertegun, the Atlantic Records executive and songwriter whose focus was on picking up and promoting rock and rhythm and blues musicians in particular. The meeting was to reveal the breakup of the band Buffalo Springfield, which included pioneering members Stephen Stills and Neil Young. David Crosby was busy producing at the time, and had grown weary of the work. Ertegun brought the men together and introduced them, and in the pages that follow, Browne makes it clear that scrutiny of each other, on all the musician’s parts, was very specific and not always positive.
While each of them appreciated the talent and drive of the others, which would ultimately help lead them to astronomical fame, it seemed that there were more characteristics that they disliked about each other. David Crosby admired Stephen Stills‘ arrogance and ‘cocky’ attitude, attributing it to the fact that the man had a solid confidence in himself and his abilities, and Stills liked the way that David Crosby was supportive without being controlling. The opposite was true of the opinion held regarding Neil Young, who could be argumentative, superior, and leaned toward trying to run everything. Graham Nash was consistent, and that was appreciated by his fellow music makers. But for ever piece of talent contributed, there were two or three negative issues among them, which brought out their humanity in spades, and would eventually lead to their downsizing, and finally their demise.
In reading this book, I would have to say that David Crosby stood out to me the most, as I’m sure he does with most any fan, and for several reasons. His laid back, pleasant attitude and his ability to basically sail through some of the band’s most difficult times without an apparent care can make him quite lovable and endearing, but once we, as readers, get to know some of his character defects, we reach an understanding of why his brothers reached the points of frustration with him that they did. Many times, he simply didn’t care enough, and his ‘whatever will be, will be’ attitude could be infuriating to those who took a more professional stance, like Stephen Stills and Neil Young. Regardless, it is through these minute examples that we see the men that existed when the lights when down on each of their shows so many years ago.
I find it important to note that Browne makes it abundantly clear that, for all of their differences, the band did put forth their best individual efforts to really be the team that they presented to the world, and it was because of those efforts that we were gifted with the wonderful music they gave us all. Disagreements and personality conflicts aside, those efforts, no matter how large or small on each man’s part, assisted in the creation of some of the most beautiful lyrics and harmonies known to us, and David Browne doesn’t ignore that fact in exchange for the excitement their conflicts and excessive partying stirred up, and it shows throughout the book’s pages.
Of course, with this being a rock band biography, there is more than a fair share of partying and fast-paced living that is conveyed to readers through its pages. This is par for the course, and it is exactly what fans are looking for when they choose a book of this type to read, especially a book about creators and performers of rock, or classic rock, as we now know it as. But even though this conveyance and the telling of these sordid tales is expected, they also enable one to understand each and every band member as the individual that we never knew them to be. The limelight has a funny way of blinding those it doesn’t even shine on, and David Browne skillfully shades that light so that fans can feel and understand the unseen humanity that these four amazing musicians had to live with when the lights truly went down.
Their stories are not only interesting and compelling, they are painfully true to life as Browne presents them. One can almost imagine what it must have been like to stand in their shoes, gazing out at the masses and baring their souls while being taken for thriving rock stars who were doing nothing more than riding the wave of being in the right place at the right time. In a nutshell, when one closes the book after reading the last page, the limelight only seems blinding to the men on whom it shone.
As stated prior, many books are hitting the shelves that tell the tales behind the music that all of us have loved over the years, the music that formed us and made us exactly who and what we are. But few of them relay so clearly the escapades, successes, and failures of one of the greatest classic rock bands of all time. Without the existence and offerings of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young many of the bands which came after would have never pursued their dreams, and nothing we listen to today would sound the same. They did more than scratch the surface; these four men helped mold the most influential genre in music: rock and roll itself. David Browne shows us this clearly in this captivating book, and it is more than worth the read.