Exhausting Truth

C,S,N,&Y by David Browne (2019. Hachette. ISBN 978-0306922633)

They are my Beatles. And, in some ways, the rise and fall of this great American band, the band I grew up listening to through covers of their best stuff played by my buddies at high school dances, mirrors that of the Fab Four. What do I mean? Well, Browne lays it all out: the jealousy between the fabulously talented guitar licks and songwriting of Neil Young versus the sometimes brilliant and often times mundane contributions of his other three bandmates to the legacy of their work (think John and Paul versus Ringo and George). Steve Stills, whose career started with Young in the Buffalo Springfield, shot his wad, in many ways, very early on in BS and through his early contributions to C,S, & N. “For What It’s Worth”,  “Love the One You’re With”, and “Carry On”, are some of his most important contributions to our musical heritage and they all were written very early in Stills’s lengthy career. Crosby (kicked out of another supergroup, the Byrds), always the best of the band’s voices, was never a great or prolific songwriter, tending to moody, strange, off-the-cuff tunes that, while very personal, didn’t really sell beyond his initial solo offering, If I Could Only Remember My Name, a cult classic. And Nash, the sensible, intelligent, former member of the Hollies, hit the mark as well with his early solo album, Songs for Beginners. But after that, the mule carrying the egos of the quartet was all Neil, plain and simple.

This was another ’round the YMCA track “listen” for me. And it was a gem. Granted, those of you who aren’t big fans might get bored as to the detail Browne invests in telling the stories of these four talented musicians. But for anyone who possesses and cherishes the original C,S, & N album, Deju Vu, the two later-in-career studio reunion albums from the full quartet, or, my personal favorite, a glimpse of the band at its peak despite its flaws, Four Way Street (the clunky piano mishaps on “Chicago” notwithstanding), or have followed Young’s mercurial career and his oft-misfiring journeys away from the sound that made him a legend, this book is a must read.

The chronicling of Crosby’s addictions and near-death experiences; the frail ego of Stills when his work is compared with Young’s; the snappy comebacks of Nash to criticisms of his and the band’s work; and the on-again-off-again participation of Young in group projects; are all here for you to discern, consider, and apply to your own view of the band’s importance to American rock and roll.  Though the story ends short of Crosby’s recent death, this is as complete rendition of the band’s sad, joyful, filled-with-jealousy complexity you’ll ever encounter. 

A great book about good to great singer/songwriters who rarely saw got along.

4 and 1/2 stars out of 5.




About Mark

I'm a reformed lawyer and author.
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