"They are one person
They are two alone
They are three together
They are for each other”
Lyrics, "Helplessly Hoping," CSN, 1969
Were they ever REALLY for each other?
Even before they added the letter Y and the three became four-ish, Crosby, Stills & Nash were hardly the perfect trio. They’d already been in bands – The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, and The Hollies, respectively – and quit/got fired (that all depends on who you ask). And yet, after discovering their voices together sounded like a dream, they still formed (folk) rock’s first supergroup, added the sometimes present Young, and let the fun and games continue. Sounds like a documentary in the making. Or a book. Yes, a book!
50 years after Woodstock, strategically published now as a nation of aging hippies reflects on the past, Peter Doggett chronicles the success, excess, and eventual recess of four egotistical, hedonistic, and wildly talented musicians in the simply named Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. Long story short: They were destined to fail. Sadly.
You probably already know that if you’re over the age of 50 (remember kids, never trust anyone over the age of 30), but the devil is truly in the details. Doggett doggedly pursued this biography, pouring over years of concert footage, print and broadcast interviews, and books. There are the expected references to Joni Mitchell, cocaine habits, Laurel Canyon (sigh), sailing, all the things that make CSN(Y) who they were. But if any book is going to hold its own in this age of information at your fingertips, it’s got to go deeper. And that’s just what Doggett does.
He writes about the band's performance on This Is Tom Jones with Mr. Pussy(cat) belting out (overemoting) "Long Time Gone" with his special guests, David, Stephen, Graham, and Neil. Interestingly, if you watch it on YouTube, the commenters don’t seem to see that the boys in the band were not digging it. At all. As Young so politely put it, it was their first and last TV appearance.
Being a huge fan of these men in all their incarnations, my background knowledge of CSNY is more than decent, which means a writer better throw something new at me. Doggett did not disappoint. When I can't put a book down, it's pay dirt for me and the author.
Doggett could have ended this biography with “you never know if they will get back together,' especially with a Woodstock reunion just weeks away and fans constantly speculating on that possibility. Interestingly, he tells the reader that memory is a curious and fickle thing, stopping short of saying don’t believe everything you’ve read in this book (perhaps any rock bio/autobio). Take it. For what it’s worth.