A warts-and-all—mostly warts—look at the legendary musical group.
Judging by Rolling Stone contributing editor Browne’s (So Many Roads: The Life and Times of the Grateful Dead, 2015, etc.) latest book, it’s altogether improbable that all four members of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young should still be alive and perhaps even more improbable that they smoothed out their feuds and egomania enough to record together for so long. The story begins with David Crosby and Stephen Stills plotting to lure Graham Nash from the Hollies. Characteristically, the three can’t agree on where they first sang together, but it appears to have been a Hollywood street outside a club where the British band was playing in February 1968. Stills emerges in these pages as a stern taskmaster given to running the trio—and, intermittently, quartet, with the addition of fellow Buffalo Springfield alum Neil Young—as a military outfit, staying up with chemical help for days at a time to get exactly the right sound down on tape. For his part, Nash often figures as peacemaker and go-between, although Browne makes it clear that the peace-and-love avatar has both an ego and a temper. Throw the head-in-the-clouds Crosby into the mix, and it’s a perfect recipe for volatility—and magic. The author appears to have talked to nearly every living soul with a part to play in the band’s long career, except for Stills and Young, who disagreed on nearly everything about the group but came together in keeping mum. Says Crosby, meaningfully, “We had a good band. It was easy. I made a good paycheck. But we had gotten to the point where we really didn’t like each other.” Though the narrative takes some of the bloom off the Flower Power rose, it also celebrates those fine moments when the band merged to make such epochal songs as “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” and “Ohio.”
Fans of CSN(Y) may find this disenchanting, but Browne delivers an excellent portrait of a troubled partnership.