CSN&Y: Squabbling Troubadors II: The Whole Enchilada

Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young: The Wild, Definitive Saga of Rock’s Greatest Supergroup
By David Browne
Da Capo Press, 2019, 465 pages

5 Stars

What? Another book about CSN&Y? This year is the 50th anniversary of the formation of the seminal singer-songwriter “supergroup,” Crosby, Stills, and Nash (and sometimes Young). To commemorate the milestone, two excellent biographies were recently published. Fortunately for my wallet, our local library system has both books on its shelves. Three weeks ago, I reviewed Peter Doggett’s book, which focused mainly on the band’s first five years, 1969 to 1974 (see here). In contrast, David Browne’s book spans the entire life of the band, the whole messy enchilada, from 1969 to 2015, discontinuous and painful as it was.

Following the releases of their highly-successful eponymous debut album in 1969 and “Déjà Vu” the following year, Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young was arguably the most popular rock and roll band on the planet (made possible only by the official break-up of the Beatles in April 1970). However, the reasons for the band’s great success also precipitated it’s downfall. The old saying about “too many chefs in the kitchen” certainly applied to CSN&Y; a volatile combination of four very talented and very strong-willed performers with contrasting temperaments. Copious drug use added to the constant disharmony. Unable to perform as a unit, CS&N put their energies into solo projects, although Crosby and Nash remained on friendly terms and recorded several albums together. Young, a prolific songwriter, was able to achieve an unusual degree of success on his own and increasingly distanced himself from CS&N.

Crosby, Stills and Nash were able to occasionally put animosities aside and unite briefly for various projects, but Crosby’s spiraling heroin addiction was a major impediment. After having spent five months in prison in 1986 on drugs and weapons convictions, Crosby was released and (somewhat) sober, but CS&N found that their style of music was increasingly out of favor with the MTV generation. From 1988 to 1999, the trio released multiple joint and solo projects of uneven quality to a declining audience. I had already stopped listening to CS&N back in 1977 because the political rants began to grate on me. By the early 00s/aughts, CS&N had largely devolved into a touring oldies band.

After their phenomenal initial success, CS&N began their very long and sometimes tortuous decline. Browne devotes 303 of the book’s 418 pages of text to that post-1970 decline. Being the nerdy, former-fan that I am, I found that information very interesting. Most readers wouldn’t.

It’s revealing that Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young won’t be reuniting this year to celebrate their 50th anniversary because of the bitter acrimony between the ex-members. It’s easy to sing about peace and love, but “the heart [of man] is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.”

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21 thoughts on “CSN&Y: Squabbling Troubadors II: The Whole Enchilada

    1. Thanks, Bonnie. Each member accused the other guys of having huge egos. Funny how we can easily see the mote in someone else’s eye, but not the beam in our own.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I’ve long loved the song “Deja Vu”. I put it on in the background while I read your post.

    “And you know… it makes me wonder… what’s going on… under…

    The ground…”

    Yeah, we never really know what’s going on in the heart of man. Things may appear wonderful on the surface, in the lives of celebrities or in the lives of individuals we know personally, but only God knows the extent of what’s going on.

    “What’s going on, down under you?” Good question, guys. Maybe some of it we don’t want to show because it is so ugly and discouraging, but sometimes we share it and others feel validated and not so alone.

    I find it interesting that they sing “we have all been here before”. I don’t take it as “reincarnation” or anything weird like that, although maybe that was what they had in mind when they wrote it? I don’t know. I take it as relating to the way others have already been through pain that is similar to whatever we ourselves suffer.

    There is nothing new under the sun, eh.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for the feedback! That’s a very good way to look at that song. Lyrics aside, Deja Vu may be David Crosby’s best song as far as mood and ambience. Crosby is quite outspoken about not being a religious guy and has even said some disparaging things about Christians. Yet, it’s ironic that he does hold to some Buddhist beliefs like reincarnation. Yup, Deja Vu is about reincarnation. Crosby said he innately understood how to sail a sailboat and how to sing precise vocal harmonies and attributed those things to having lived previous lives. In his last four solo albums (all recorded in the last five years) he’s written several songs about “coming to terms” with his looming mortality (he’s 77). They’re actually sad to listen to knowing he doesn’t know Jesus.

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    1. Good chime in, Wally! Yes, “For What It’s Worth” was a great song! After I became a CSN&Y fan, I went back and bought their previous bands’ back catalogs, the Byrds and Buffalo Springfield. BS had two really good albums that few people knew about.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. They actually don’t get a lot of attention/respect these days because they were so closely associated with the politics of the late 60s and early 70s. I became tired of their politics myself.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yeah, I thought the Kent State shootings were going to spark violent confrontations across the country but Kent State happened just as Summer break was beginning and that diffused it.

        Liked by 1 person

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