And Then There Were Three: S, N and Y
I had a blog post all ready, but then the news popped up in my Facebook feed. News that was both expected and a shock: David Crosby died.
From time to time over the years I’ve written about the experience of grieving a celebrity, someone you’ve admired and loved but never met. Some people are taken aback by the depth of the grief they feel, and that’s understandable. They’re grieving for someone they’ve only known from a distance. So they wonder why they feel that loss so deeply.
The easy answer is that the celebrity represented an important part of your life. Maybe their music was playing while you were in bed with someone you loved. Maybe their TV show was “must see TV” with your Mom. Maybe watching them perform in person was something you shared with your closest friends. All of that could be true for people now grieving David Crosby. But there’s a deeper reason for me.
I was a fan of Buffalo Springfield, the Hollies, and the Byrds for several years before the supergroup Crosby Stills & Nash (and sometimes Young) was formed in 1969. So I already had a history with their music. That was a time when a lot of groups were shifting and breaking up, the Beatles among them. “How can they break up?” was a question I often asked myself. “They make beautiful music together. They’re friends.”
A lot of celebrities try to cover up the more personal aspects of their lives, though that seems to be less common these days. That’s their right, of course, but CSN&Y never seemed to hold back. Their fans knew when the guys were getting along, when they weren’t, when Neil Young would suddenly leave a tour for his own mercurial reasons that were not subject to debate.
We’ve known all along that Crosby wasn’t just insanely talented, but deeply troubled. Nash attributed Crosby’s dramatic change to identifying his girlfriend’s body after her fatal car crash. The grief led him down a path of addictions. That’s certainly possible.
His troubles are well-documented: arrests, prison, addiction to multiple drugs. Crosby’s liver transplant in 1994 was controversial: why should a celebrity addict get a new liver? One of my favorite stories about their group took place in the hospital, just before his surgery. Graham was visiting him, and as he started to leave, stopped and turned back to David: “Don’t you f*cking die and leave me here with Stills.” It’s the kind of remark, probably only half-joking, that is the mark of a long, complicated friendship.
Did David Crosby deserve that second chance? I guess he did, because he sure didn’t squander it. He continued to make beautiful music, support causes important to him, mend fences, and occasionally burn a few bridges, too. We marveled that the lion-maned singer-songwriter was still active up until the end, at 81.
Since 1969, their fans have watched their friendship come together and split apart many times. Neil would disappear, or David would make the others angry. Even Graham, who I often described as ‘the grownup in the room’, finally had enough of David’s abuse. But in between the very public insults and arguments were reconciliations. Was it only the music that brought them back? It was certainly the excuse.
Over the years, they gave us a very public, unvarnished view of how these men navigated their friendship. They criticized and still managed to support each other, even if they were in a stand-off. And they showed that no matter what the conflicts might be, the work transcended everything. They all knew they were better together, both personally and professionally, even if those times were brief. What they were able to create transcended the bickering. They loved each other.
David’s voice, which could sound angelic or full of rage, sometimes in the same song, will no longer thrill us in new ways. His death is a loss to the music world and the fans whose lives have been enriched by his talent.
And it’s a loss to his friends.
“They are one person
They are two alone
They are three together
They are for each other”