Though I tend not to wax nostalgic over dead musicians, even those whose music contributed to the soundtrack of my formative years, I was surprised at the surge of emotion I felt upon hearing about the death of David Crosby of the Byrds and Crosby, Stills & Nash (and sometimes Young).
Yes, Déjà Vu was an album I played to death in the early 1970s, and Crosby's "Almost Cut My Hair" was a personal anthem back when I was living with my parents and they were incessantly telling me, "Cut your hair! You look like a damn freak!" I very much liked his lyric about the paranoia he felt when he looked in his rearview mirror and saw a police car. Because those were the days when my freaky hairdo was a magnet for police attention, and I couldn't so much as drive around the block without getting pulled over for a "routine" license and registration check.
I should also mention a fond memory of smoking hash in my bedroom with a couple of friends and hearing for the first time CSNY's take on Joni Mitchell's "Woodstock" come over the radio, with Crosby providing those ethereal harmonies and rhythm guitar, and thinking that a song never sounded so good.
But whatever emotions I've been feeling about Crosby probably have more to do with the last time I saw Crosby, Stills & Nash, in May 2015, when I'd gone back to Brooklyn to meet some old high school classmates for dinner. They all had tickets to see CSN at the Kings Theatre (formerly the Loew's Kings), which was down the street from our high school, Erasmus. I didn't even know they were playing there that night.
In A Brooklyn Memoir, I describe the Kings as "one of the rococo, multi-tiered Flatbush Avenue movie palaces," where for 50 cents I'd often satisfy my taste for Godzilla, vampires, and James Bond, and once saw the Three Stooges make a live appearance. (Moe was an Erasmus dropout.)
Since I fled Brooklyn in 1975, the Kings, after falling into disrepair, had been restored to a sumptuous entertainment venue equal to its original 1929 magnificence. And it was surreal to walk down Flatbush Avenue and see "Crosby Stills & Nash" on a marquee where I was more accustomed to seeing such offerings as The Three Stooges in Orbit.
In any case, I bought tickets to see CSN that night, sat in the balcony with my wife, and listened to one of my all-time favorite bands, still in fine voice considering what they (especially Crosby) had been through, open with "Carry On," and play, among other classics, "Long Time Gone," "Déjà Vu," "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes," and, yes, "Almost Cut My Hair" (which it's no longer necessary to tell me to do).
And that's why surprisingly poignant emotions have been welling up over a musician I never met, but who touched my life, and in the final phase of his own life came to my old neighborhood to sing his songs.
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