Carry Me

When did I first hear Crosby, Stills & Nash? By my calculations, I was 16 years old. I was primed for good music, a disciple of the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Beach Boys, and James Brown, to name but a few. The Vietnam War was raging, as were my hormones. It was a time to march against the war and be in love.
How perfect, then, was CS&N? Their music was a gorgeous mix of lilting love songs and anthemic anti-war and anti-establishment vitriol. Almost every song they performed scratched the itch of baby boomers seeking a new way to express outrage and to break the bonds of traditional American mores.
In the perfect mix of their voices were harmonies as daring as a high-wire act and as heartbreaking as the end of a love affair. In their songs was an invitation to lean way in, to listen closely and enter the music. I bought their first album –I can conjure up the cover art instantly – and I sang along. I learned every melody and belted it out—from Suite Judy Blue Eyes to Wooden Ships – every song. Sitting on my bedroom floor, I must’ve played that album ten thousand times until their second album, Déjà vu, was released. And then I played that one.
Amid the music, with a clear, smooth tenor, was David Crosby. Crosby’s voice had an exceptional quality, a certain je ne sais quoi, that thrilled and moved me to rapture and tears. His magic was an umami blend, and I always wanted more.
I used to think that Crosby’s uniqueness, the thing that moved me, was inspired by his love of jazz. By my estimation, jazz is a foundation for musical creativity and daring, and Crosby had that. He always wanted to explore new dimensions of music and push the envelope of vocal and instrumental possibilities.
But now I know that Crosby’s gift was his ability to reach deep inside and pull out his deepest self. Croz could be funny and generous. But he was also an absolute mess, by his accounting, a terrible person who lied, cheated, stole, and lost most of his millions. So much of his life was about excess: women, wine, heroin, guns, cocaine…
Crosby lost people he loved, most famously a girlfriend he’d lived with for a long time who died in a car crash. But he also lost friends. None of the oldest and closest friends from his early years would talk to him again. Graham Nash, who never spelled out why he shut Crosby out of his life, could barely contain the anger he felt towards Crosby.
Crosby was an addict, locked in a relentless wrestling match with an unquenchable drive to destroy himself and a spirit so pure as to be compared to a saint. He spent time in prison. He got a liver transplant. He messed up so many times.
Through it all, there was the music. Rich and deep, joyful, angelic, heart-crushing. All of us who loved Croz and his music are so sad today. An iconic presence is gone. A master of the music that lit up our lives when we fell in love and provided us with a balm when we broke up, who expressed our rage with the war machine and with injustice, is gone. In the shadow of this loss, we are grateful for all the music he made. Neil Young, Stephen Stills, and yes, Graham Nash, among others wronged by Croz over these many years, were all able to write words of sympathy and genuine sadness.
David Crosby released For Free a few years ago, his final album. The song below, I Won’t Stay for Long, is a gorgeous and heartbreaking song about loss and bridges burned. It’s a testimony to resilience and pain and what it means to live on after losing so much. It’s about forgiveness. It’s about David Crosby. Rest in peace.

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