Almost Cut My Hair: A Farewell to David Crosby

PAUL ROSENBERG
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It’s getting to the point where I’m no fun anymore… – Crosby Stills and Nash, Suite: Judy Blue Eyes

That line feels painfully true at this moment, sitting down to pay tribute to another fallen star. The recent deaths of some the world’s greatest musicians is enough to get you down. But I doubt that Christine McVie, Jeff Beck, and now David Crosby would want us to have less joy in our lives on their accounts, so I’ll lift my chin back up and write a fond farewell to Crosby, who died today at the age of 81. 

It’s hard to measure the impact of an artist like David Crosby, who in many ways is most famous for the groups he participated in. But we can start by mentioning that he was a founding member of The Byrds, who essentially invented folk-rock. Then there’s the fact that for many years his next project, Crosby Stills and Nash (and later with Neil Young as CSNY) was as successful, influential and iconic a group as ever existed. Speaking of impact, we also cannot fail to mention that it was David Crosby who first took the young Joni Mitchell back to LA with him and essentially launched her career as a recording artist.

What else is there to say? The man himself had a hard life, but he kept on playing and writing music until his recent illness. But talk about iconic – his voice, his songs and even his appearance were instantly recognizable.

Of all the songs from Crosby’s stellar career, for me one that particularly stands out is the classic Suite: Judy Blue Eyes from Crosby Stills and Nash’s first album. Yes, it was written by Stills, but it was synonymous with CSN, and for good reason. There is something about that song, a track that got nearly constant radio play in the 1970s, that is so entirely unique and memorable, from it’s unforgettable opening line (see above) to the joyful coda we all look forward to every time we hear the song – a coda so simple and fun that anyone can sing it: “doo doo doo doo doo, doo doo di doodoodoo…”. It sounds like a celebration every time, and that’s a very special thing to achieve in music.

Then there is the scene of Crosby Stills and Nash sitting nervously on stage at Woodstock, three singers with acoustic guitars in front of half a million people. As they look incredulously at the crowd in front of them, Crosby says “This is our first gig, man!”. You can feel the crowd warm to them – you can tell all those people were on their side, rooting for them as they launched into Suite: Judy Blue Eyes. It’s truly one of the great moments in popular music history.

They had good reason to be a bit on edge. With its multiple tempos and long, drawn out harmonies in the middle section (Wiiiilllll you come seeee me? Thursdays and Saturdays…what have you got to loo oo oose…”), Judy Blue Eyes is a hard song to sing live, and, riding the energy of the moment and the crowd, they nailed it the first time.

I know a bit about how hard it is to sing that song, because Suite: Judy Blue Eyes was actually the first song I ever performed live as a singer/guitarist – my first gig, in 1981. Every year my high school had a talent show, and some friends of mine wanted to work up an act. We all worshipped CSN(Y) – my copy of So Far (with cover art by Joni Mitchell) was always on the turntable back then – and for us Suite: Judy Blue Eyes was a kind of holy grail. We decided that we’d learn it for the show that year.

We practiced that song endlessly, trying to get the vocal parts to blend right and struggling with the timing of the second section’s drawn out lines. Honestly, I don’t know how close we got. But I do remember how nervous we were, and that the first night’s performance was kind of a blur.

The second night, on the other hand, I do remember clearly, as we tried to win the crowd over performing a song that was by then a true musical icon – everyone knew it. We were more audacious than we realized trying to take it on. But something happened that night – the crowd warmed to us, they were on our side – and when we finished the cheer that went up is something I’ll never forget.

So, there’s a personal element for me as I write this, responding to the news of David Crosby passing away, but I’m sure that it’s really no more so than for the countless people around the world who are feeling his death personally too. He touched so many lives with his music and influence. Everyone knew his name and his songs, and recognized his beaming smile when he played. He remained an outspoken and important artist for all of his life, but most of all he brought a rare joy to his music and to his listeners that will live on forever. 

And he did almost cut his hair – but instead he let his freak flag fly. 

Almost Cut My Hair: A Farewell to David Crosby ultima modifica: 2023-01-20T16:15:10+01:00 da PAUL ROSENBERG
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