And it appears to be a long time, such a long, long, long, long time before the dawn...
Few songs have captured the zeitgeist of the times as well as David Crosby's "Long Time Gone." First aired on Crosby, Stills, and Nash's eponymous debut, the ballad expressed the malaise, the anger, the disappointment, and the turbulence of the late 1960s with thunderous bass, furious guitar, and cascading harmonies. "Speak out, you got to speak out against the madness/You got to speak your mind, if you dare," Crosby implored. "But don't try to get yourself elected/If you do, you had better cut your hair..." The lifelong musical rebel - arguably as famous for his offstage indulgences and blunt talk as for his rich legacy of song - passed away on Thursday at the age of 81 following a long illness. It was just weeks ago that Crosby released the final album of his lifetime. Live at the Capitol Theatre featured his Lighthouse Band, its three young members having revitalized the singer-songwriter in recent years. Through his many well-publicized troubles and controversies, the rock and roll survivor never lost his love of music and his passion for exploring; he never missed an opportunity to lavish praise upon his friends. He produced Joni Mitchell's first album, Song to a Seagull, and always shared his belief that she was "unquestionably the best of us." In 2019, he took the stage with Steely Dan and wrote a song with frontman Donald Fagen indulging his love of the band's sleek sound.
Of course, David Crosby's own C.V. was as enviable as anyone who ever strapped on a guitar and sang from their heart. It was Crosby who devised the shimmering vocal arrangement on The Byrds' "Mr. Tambourine Man," catapulting the band to the top tier of L.A. pop stardom. He championed psychedelia on "Eight Miles High," contributing lyrics and those unparalleled harmonies to the groundbreaking tune, but even his lesser-known tracks shone brightly. His "Renaissance Fair," co-written with Roger McGuinn, was effervescent and transporting: "I smell cinnamon and spices/I hear music everywhere/All around kaleidoscope of color/I think that maybe I'm dreaming." When his stark, pointed, and provocative songs began to cause division within The Byrds - such as "Triad," the ode to a threesome, or "Lady Friend" - he left the group. Much the same had happened to Graham Nash, whose Hollies compatriots didn't see eye-to-eye about the new music he was creating. When Crosby and Nash teamed up with ex-Buffalo Springfield member Stephen Stills in the Laurel Canyon hills, a supergroup was born.
Crosby, Stills, and Nash afforded its members the creative freedom to define the sound of the 1970s, much as The Byrds had to American pop in the 1960s. Their sound wasn't pop; it wasn't rock; it wasn't folk; it was all of those things and more - and imbued with a social conscience informed by the collision of '60s idealism with harsh reality. In addition to "Long Time Gone," the haunting "Wooden Ships" and delicate "Guinnevere" both confirmed Crosby's stature as a powerful songwriter. His songs weren't necessarily the band's hits; Nash and Stills could knock those off effortlessly, even as Crosby graced their compositions with his ethereal vocals. Crosby's songs, though, might have been CSN's soul. When Neil Young joined the lineup, Crosby raised the stakes with the searching title track to Déjà Vu and the searing "Almost Cut My Hair."
He began his solo career with 1971's If I Could Only Remember My Name, one of the most striking albums of its era (or any other): dreamy, dark, impressionistic, unconventional, and altogether beautiful. Speaking to the respect Crosby commanded among his peers, he welcomed such guest musicians as Nash and Young, Grateful Dead's Jerry Garcia, Phil Lesh, Bill Kreutzmann, and Mickey Hart; Jefferson Airplane's Grace Slick, Paul Kantner, David Freiberg, Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady; Santana's Michael Shrieve and Gregg Rolie; and Joni Mitchell.
In between various well-chronicled escapades onstage and off with CSN(Y), Crosby and Nash released three studio albums and one live set between 1972 and 1977. Though not as well-known as the full band's LPs, they offered an abundance of riches in such moving and deeply personal compositions as "Where Will I Be" (inspired by the death of his girlfriend Christine Hinton in a car accident) and "Carry Me." Crosby tapped into his own experiences much as his so-called "confessional" contemporaries did, but frequently added poetry and an aura of mystery to his writing.
A second solo album wouldn't arrive until 1989, by which time Crosby had cleaned up. He had hit bottom in 1985, serving time behind bars and ultimately finding sobriety. (He eventually returned to marijuana usage but eschewed hard drugs and alcohol; he even played an AA counselor on The John Larroquette Show.) CSNY's 1988 album American Dream offered another of his underrated tracks, the semi-autobiographical rumination "Compass," in which he came to terms with his past experiences and new life ahead.
His 1989 "comeback," Oh Yes I Can was adorned with a photo of a truly contented artist, his long hair and famous mustache still intact. Solo albums still didn't come regularly; 1993's Thousand Roads - with its all-star lineup of Phil Collins, Jimmy Webb, Stephen Bishop, Joni Mitchell, Marc Cohn, Phil Ramone, Don Was, and others - was his final solo studio release for over twenty years. (He survived a liver transplant in 1994.) He was hardly idle, always finding solace in collaboration - whether with CSNY or others. A letter from a young man named James Raymond changed his life once again; Raymond revealed himself to be Crosby's son, and they shared a close musical kinship. With guitarist Jeff Pevar, father and son formed CPR, and they released four albums (studio and live) between 1998 and 2001. Raymond played a key role on 2014's Croz as Crosby once again faced his past demons head-on with such affecting tracks as "Set That Baggage Down." The Steely Dan/jazz influence he had long nourished was taking fuller flight while his distinctive voice remained, as ever, a comforting balm ready to envelop the listener.
2016's Lighthouse introduced Michael League, Becca Stevens, and Michelle Willis to Crosby's orbit. The nautical imagery was second nature to the lifelong sailing devotee. These young musicians would form The Lighthouse Band, and at least two members would appear on every one of his final studio albums from 2017's Sky Trails through 2021's For Free. His final studio release, For Free brought Crosby full circle with its heartrending interpretation of old friend Joni Mitchell's title track.
Producer Cameron Crowe and director A.J. Eaton admirably captured the fearlessly outspoken Crosby's talent, passion, spirit, and irascibility in a 2019 documentary. The film's elegiac portrait of the artist was one of a man driven by his convictions and unafraid to admit his foibles. The movie was called Remember My Name. David Crosby's name will never be forgotten, as it will always remain synonymous with beautiful and incendiary music, sheer candor, and above all, those glistening harmonies that wondrously softened even the hardest blows. Sail on, David.