of the Week #3
Where Will I Be?/Page 43
Nash David Crosby, 1972)
quite funny, in a way, to find yourself immersed in deep concentration,
thinking about the world as it was before Internet, while looking at the cover
of an old album: If I Could Only Remember My Name (1971), the much-lauded first
solo release by David Crosby. An album cover the never failed to capture one's
attention, in that spacious 12" format that was the LP. A
"movie-like" cover image I'd call "innovative", with an
inventive coupling of elements, combining a close-up of the artist and a
panoramic view of his great love: the sea.
the time it was quite normal, upon entering the room of someone you knew
barely, or not at all, to have a look at his "record collection" that
typically consisted of ten or twenty titles, rarely many more, that told one
that one's guest was a "serious listener". If the collection was of a
high quality, it was obvious that your host was a person of taste. But
sometimes it happened that one could see David Crosby's eyes and the sea appearing
among those records, which meant that one's host was a really special listener,
a lover of both "attentive listening sessions" and of that special
kind of "delayed satisfaction" that only comes after a certain amount
of time is spent exploring the music.
"the others" thought about a certain album - those one didn't know,
and those whose existence one could not even imagine as existing - was bound to
remain an unknown quantity forever. Learning about an album's sales, or its
chart placement, was not too difficult, radio speakers announcing "from
the top of the American charts", and singles' covers reproducing slices of
"trade papers" such as Cash Box, Billboard, etc. as a witness to the
fact that, yes, that song was really a "smash hit".
about a "different opinion" could be a source of heavy quarreling, in
most extreme cases proving to be the end of a strong friendship. Many harsh
words - even injuries - were thrown at those few critics one could read at the
time, rarely in a foreign language.
more disconcerting to learn ex post that somebody didn't share one's enthusiasm
when it came to album x. That not everybody at that time "got" David
Crosby's first album. And that world-famous critics such as Robert Christgau and
Lester Bangs spoke words of great scorn and ridicule about it.
Bangs's review - in Rolling Stone, 4/15/71 - admits that "it is not a bad
album", but then it defines it as this: "It would make a perfect
aural aid to digestion when you're having guests over for dinner". After
unfavourably comparing Crosby's album with Alexander Spence's solo album, Oar, here's
the punch line: "And oh, the songs! They may sort of mumble and drone into
each other, but they sure got vibes!".
Christgau's review is short and straight, just a few lines that start with
"This disgraceful performance" and end with what I think is one of
his lowest grades ever (D-). The review announces a reader competition: to
change David Crosby's name. Christgau offers his entries. (His opinion of the
David Crosby and Graham Nash album I'm gonna talk about in a short while proves
to be even more spiky: "Two stars trapped in their own mannerisms,
filtering material through a style.")
judgements offer quite a few surprises, with an unexpected twist: a favourable
opinion whose argument makes the material sound ridiculous.
Amanda Petrusich, with her piece which appeared on July 16, 2019 in the Culture
Desk section of the US weekly the New Yorker under the title "David Crosby
Celebrates His Ornery Self in the Documentary 'Remember My Name'".
record was a moderate success upon its release, but it has since been heralded
as a weirdo classic, beloved by stoners and record geeks for its easy harmonies
and pleasantly meandering melodies."
If I Could Only Remember My Name "a weirdo classic" is quite strange
- to today's ears, it's not such an unusual-sounding work - even more if one
talks about "easy harmonies" and "pleasantly meandering melodies".
more perplexing is her use of the same put-down devised by Lester Bangs, but as
a compliment: music sounding similar to an open-air party.
of its best songs feel like luxuriating in a long summer afternoon in the
country, when good friends have come by and the fireflies are just beginning to
gather in the yard: the music is warm, buoying, and gently psychedelic."
way it appears online, Petrusich's piece features two YouTube links at the
words "best" and "songs": one takes readers to the song
titled I'd Swear There Was Somebody Here, the other to the song Laughing. Songs
that really need no introduction, with the first - featuring echoes of
"chanting" that appear in Indian music - as a solemn meditation about
the ghostly apparition of somebody whom one once loved (besides being one of
the most "wasted" performances by David Crosby, as witnessed by
Stephen Barncard, the sound engineer that was an accomplice to the song
creation); and the second as a deep meditation in a way that's both serene and
full of grief at the same time - a quality shared by the pedal steel guitar played
by Jerry Garcia, appearing here as a guest - about one's trying to find an
answer, or a light in the darkness, or the truth; and it's really superb, the
way the tiny single voice placed in the background talking about one's search
and the majestic choir placed in the stereo spread announcing the sad outcome
of one's search - "I was" (pause) "mistaken..." - are
played as opposites.
I think that it's quite difficult for one to find a more vulgar listening
perspective than one that presents these songs as comparable to the serene mood
of a party in the garden with one's friends.
such celebrities as David Crosby and Graham Nash one can assume much of their
story to be well-known.
was a former Byrds, known all over the world as the inventors of "folk
rock" with a colossal hit such as Mr. Tambourine Man, and those hit
singles called Turn! Turn! Turn!, Eight Miles High, and So You Want To Be A
Rock 'n' Roll Star (whose B-side was a song announcing Crosby's complete
maturation: Everybody's Been Burned).
was a former member of the Hollies, an English group whose memory is maybe not
as strong, but that at the time was one of the Beatles' rivals. While in the
Hollies, Nash perfected his typical way of doing things in music, quite
succinct, which will remain his trademark in the future.
new name, like a legal firm - Crosby, Stills & Nash - announced a new
group, featuring former Buffalo Springfield Stephen Stills, a very fine
guitarist and multi-instrumentalist (and the writer of For What It's Worth, the
only real hit song for his former group), for an album of same name (1969) that
proved to be a massive influence the whole world over. Quite typical of Nash, the
songs Marrakesh Express and Lady Of The Island. Quite typical of Crosby, the
songs Guinnevere and Long Time Gone.
Vu saw the appearance of another former member of Buffalo Springfield, Neil
Young. Nash wrote Teach Your Children and Our House, while Crosby penned Almost
Cut My Hair and Déjà Vu.
by Nash made for great singles, their linearity being greeted by the audience
with "Top of the Charts" placing. Crosby's songs were more
experimental, a lot less linear, with great use of "empty" spaces,
"open" tunings, and a chordal aroma that was not at all common in the
"pop-rock" music of the time.
first LP of the double album titled 4 Way Street (1971), featuring live
performances by the quartet, offers a few songs that were still unreleased at
the time of the album's original release, such as the widely famous socio-political
anthem penned by Nash, Chicago; and the excellent Crosby song The Lee Shore.
more or less at this point that the four group members released one album each.
Songs For Beginners (1971) was what at this point in time one could expect from
Nash, with good sales. While Crosby's If I Could Only Remember My Name (1971) was
the one selling less, and listening to it will explain why.
opening track Music Is Love - a song that too much over-exposure made persona
non grata - had to provide a link to the famous quartet; and track #2 Cowboy
Movie - featuring the Grateful Dead, Jerry Garcia dueling with himself - had to
show that David Crosby could rock; the rest of the album is simply superb.
High (At About 3), Laughing, Traction In The Rain, Songs With No Words (Tree
With No Leaves) offer a musical landscape that's rich and measured at the same
time. Among the special guests: Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, a bit of
Nash. The two closing tracks offer a world of music in less than 3'.
who have seen the BBC show (from 1970) that it's (still?) possible to watch
online already know the good musical relationship between Crosby and Nash, here
appearing as a "voice and guitar" duo, playing both released and
unreleased songs. The duo decided to go on as an entity, both in the studio and
on tour. Hence, the album I've always called Crosby & Nash but which is
titled Graham Nash David Crosby.
so differently from the duo's previous solo albums, Nash & Crosby (1972) is
not a parade of special guests, even though a lot of fine names are here to be
found. The main musical component is a quartet of musicians collectively known
as The Section, but who at the time were quite busy as session-men: Russell
Kunkel on drums; Leland Sklar on bass (a bass as famous as his beard); Craig
Doerge on keyboards; and Danny "Kootch" on guitar (who'll have a very
prosperous future as the main collaborator of Don Henley, post-Eagles). They
are practically perfect as a "normal" backing band (but listen to
Sklar's finesse on Nash's Girl To Be On My Mind, an inventive mix of Paul McCartney
and Jack Bruce for a song that sounds as quite influenced by the Beatles), but
they show great maturity in the difficult task of making Crosby's songs sound
"full" while not playing "too much".
songs penned by Nash that appear mid-album - Strangers Rooms, Frozen Smiles,
Girl To Be On My Mind - are fine, but his best songs are those that open and
close the album. Southbound Train, with fine harmonica and meditative groove -
Johnny Barbata on drums and Chris Ethridge on bass - talks about Liberty,
Equality and Fraternity. While Immigration Man - quite strange, this, nobody
thought about doing a cover during the Trump years - has Johnny Barbata's
groove coupled with Greg Reeves's nervous-sounding bass.
have a look at Crosby's songs. Whole Cloth asks questions over a slow tempo,
with great work by the backing band; Games features drums played with brushes
in a close dialogue with the piano and great work by Sklar; The Wall Song
features (about) half the Grateful Dead, with Nash on piano playing a motif
that acts as a "glue", and an image - the door that opens in a wall,
to reveal a world of great beauty - that was a classic tale in the "myths
and legends of the counter-culture" of the time (a short tale along these
lines appears in the classic Philip K. Dick book A Scanner Darkly).
Will I Be? features David Crosby in almost complete solitude. Three lines with
a succinct guitar accompaniment, then a long ensemble section of overdubbed
voices with mysterious echoes by the electric piano, an abrupt change from the
almost-serene to the almost-desperate, four more lines, and close.
perfect coupling, after a very short pause here's Page 43, where a clear, calm,
melody backed by an excellent Russel Kunkel on brushes and perfect background
vocals illustrates "the perfect recipe to a human being's serene
Beppe Colli 2020
CloudsandClocks.net | Dec. 7, 2020