David Crosby turns 65

August 14, 2006


David Crosby: photo courtesy WMA)

It’s hard to believe. We look at Crosby Stills and Nash and see some of the beacons of the baby boomer generation aging gracefully. Even though David Crosby’s “freak flag” is white these day, he is still vital and productive touring with CSN and still recording with his other group CPR.

It was David Crosby’s harmonies that I wanted to imitate first when I first started writing tonal harmony. His choices were always magical, choices that helped the music transcend its genre (something akin to folk rock with some jazz). He had parallel 5ths and contrary motion. Everyone else was harmonizing melodies with 3rds and 6ths. He experimented with bizarre retunings of the guitar that served up equally tasty and unusual harmonies for rock n rollers.

I loved most of the songs he wrote while in the Byrds:

Change is Now
Dolphin’s Smile
Draft Morning
I See You
Lady Friend
Renaissance Fair

After David left the Byrds, he carefully cut up his gorgeous long leather cape into tassels and wore it again when he became the C in CSN. I loved his work on the first two CSN/CSNY albums and less so after that. (It was not his fault. I was studying Stockhausen and Schoenberg.)

Fifteen years ago, I was having dinner in Hugos and who should come and sit down RIGHT NEXT to me, but David and Jan Crosby. I couldn’t help myself. As you read the other day, I normally leave stars alone, but David Crosby. Oh my God. It all came burbling out of my mouth, how he was such a huge influence on me, and this is what I’m doing now, and on and on. And by the end of the conversation I invited him to give a presentation at UCLA about his music. He also promised to come to my apartment to hear some of my music. He did so the next week. He arrived, I showed him around. I played him some of the music I had written that I thought influenced by him. He was baffled. Didn’t hear it. He then played me the first album of Les Mystere Bulgare. (Why didn’t his music go THAT way?) I then proudly told him that I knew how to play “Guennivere.” “Really?” with a tone of incredulity. I pulled out my 1971 Gibson Dove, retuned it, (“correct” he said). And then I started playing. We sang it for a while and then stopped. “Cool man, I don’t use that fingering but you got the same notes.” I felt sanctified. The next week he came to UCLA and gave a lecture to our students about staying off drugs (he had just gone clean from cocaine) and played one of his new songs for the class. He loved it. Jan told me later that it was an honor for him to do this. It was a dream come true for me.

One of my former students, David Leone, looked me up a few years back. He told me that he recorded the interviews. He has now sent them but I haven’t listened to them yet. I will someday. The memories may be better.

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