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Crosby rocked his way into many hearts

by Bob Wisener | January 22, 2023 at 4:00 a.m.

Living to 81 left him somewhat younger than billion-year-old carbon, a line from one of the group's greatest songs, but David Crosby squeezed a lot into those years.

Some explanation no doubt is required for our less rockish readers. The line about carbon came from "Woodstock," Joni Mitchell's account of all that went on at Max Yasgur's farm in upstate New York one weekend in August 1969.

Jimi Hendrix, still the greatest left-handed guitarist to come out of Seattle, one who overdosed when considerably younger than Crosby, played Francis Scott Key's greatest composition -- the one extolling "the land of the free and the home of the brave" -- in a polarizing manner that day but in keeping with the times. "We play it the way the air is in America today," said Hendrix, who died a year later at 27.

Crosby himself was in transition, splitting from the Byrds ("Turn Turn Turn," "Hey Mr. Tambourine Man") and soon finding himself with one of the rock era's super groups. Something was happening here, as Stephen Stills wrote in "For What It's Worth" for Buffalo Springfield, when Crosby, Stills, Graham Nash and Neil Young joined forces.

If you're not into Woodstock or prefer something shorter than "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes," check out "Our House," with its two cats in the yard and tales that life used to be so hard. Minor gripe: Why CSNY chose to sing "vase" with a long A rather than the shorter version has never made sense. Maybe they were under the influence of something at time of recording.

Few songs in the Nixon years hit home harder than "Ohio," Young's composition after the shootings at Kent State University in 1970. "Tin soldiers and Nixon's coming," the opening line, is enough to shake the soul after all these years. America was at war in Southeast Asia, if not against itself, and the music of the day was not meant to leave one ambivalent.

Crosby received Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction for his work with the Byrds and then with CSNY. Glenwood, my hometown, was far from the cutting edge of most movements back then but the influence of the Beatles, Bob Dylan and whichever group Crosby was performing for at the time was felt, believe me. Before anyone knocks the music of that day, remember it was all we had, back when WLS in Chicago and KAAY in Little Rock provided mandatory listening for the young rocker. Classmate and best friend Tony Smith fancied himself as the next Larry Lujack ("Super Jock") on WLS before joining the family business and lending his name to the former Davis-Smith Funeral Home locations in Hot Springs and Glenwood.

The songs of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young and other artists of the time may be played when the Adeles, Ushers and weaker artists are long forgotten. Just as new generations (like mine) discovered Frank Sinatra -- permit me, a year before its centenary, to nominate George Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" as the greatest American musical composition -- music lovers will find the old classics.

"Marrakesh Express," whether sung by David Crosby or heard on Muzak, is sure to sound like a swinging place when sampled in 50 years. That child brought into the world listing Crosby and Melissa Etheridge as parents should not be lacking in musical ability.

Though some personal choices were not exemplary and his hair was a fright, Crosby was a uniquely American artist, willing to experiment in all ways. Part, no doubt, of what Joni Mitchell meant in the last line of "Woodstock" about "caught in the devil's bargain."

He is the first of that Fab Four to pass our way; Nash is 80, Stills and Young are 77 (why am I just learning that Neil is married to actress Daryl Hannah?). They, and so many others, contributed to the soundtrack of my life.

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