In all the ensuing excitement, we forgot to mark the 30th anniversary of the Woodstock festival's most popular attraction. No, not the Port-O-Sans -- I'm talking about Crosby, Stills and Nash! Or, as its lazier followers prefer to call the band, CS&N. Or as they're sporadically known when Neil "Sonic Youth loves me" Young re-enlists for the odd mortgage-paying tour, CSN and sometimes Y.
CS&N marked the big 3-0 late last year with the release of the lackluster Looking Forward, featuring several convoluted contributions from Y, making it only the third studio effort with ol' Neil in as many decades. Like Paul's grandfather in A Hard Day's Night, Young is a "king mixer," the snake in their midst, the loner who manages to get everyone bickering because group unity goes against his granola. For every aborted CSN & sometimes Y album attempt, there were at least three solo albums waiting in the wings to carve up the outtakes, a considerable number when you add it up. While you're taking off your shoes to count the spoils of war, consider the 1992 CS&N boxed set, which distinguished itself by being the first four-CD group retrospective consisting of more than two and a half CDs worth of solo material! That's like the Beatles putting out a boxed set filled with selections from Goodnight Vienna and Ram!
Therein lies the secret of the band's longevity -- do everything apart. Commending the group for hanging together so long is like congratulating a couple for staying married for 30 years when they've lived on two separate continents the entire time! And still they bicker! But it's always about the music, man. And yes, occasionally, chicks. At least one CSN & sometimes Y album (the follow-up to Deja Vu) was canceled because English gentleman Graham Nash tried to "Change Partners" with Rita Coolidge while she was still Stills'. In its place we got two Stephen Stills albums, two Manassas albums, one Nash and David Crosby together, one Crosby alone, one Nash alone, a live album, a greatest hits and Lord knows how many Neil Young records. But you've gotta break a lot of egos to build one supergroup. So sit back, rewind back 4+32 years ago and see how much of an achievement it is just getting these guys in the same photo. What have you got to lose?
So You Wanna Be an Ex-Byrd?
To understand the pecking order in CS&N, you gotta understand the dynamics from the beginning. According to a recent Mojo article (in which not one pre-1977 photo was dispatched), Stills named Buffalo Springfield the best of the three pre-CS&N aggregations, Crosby and Nash said it was the Byrds and no one said anything about the Hollies that wasn't condescending. Of the three earlier groups, the Byrds tower in stature, as arguably the most influential band of the '60s. They combined Dylan's smarts with Beatles instrumentation and harmonies, inspiring Dylan to go electric and the Beatles to go folk. Roger McGuinn, an even bigger egomaniac than CS&N combined, made sure early on that the Byrds' album credits noted his role as "guitar and leader."
After Gene Clark left the group in 1966, Crosby rose to second in command. Yet he ran afoul of the control freak in granny glasses when he made political manifestoes about the FBI's role in the JFK assassination during the Byrds' set at the Monterey Pop Festival without first clearing it with the Rogemeister. The Byrds love fest continued when Crosby decided to replace the sometimes Y factor in Buffalo Springfield for their Monterey set, following Young's first spontaneous departure from the group. Young had already established his king mixer reputation by sewing the seeds of dissent in two great groups. Crosby's brief stint with Springfield, during which he didn't once mention either the FBI or JFK, infuriated McGuinn and Chris Hillman. The angry Byrdmen then refused to record Crosby's song "Triad" on their next album because they suspected it wasn't about free love but rather a sexually self-centered Crosby wanting to bed two women at the same time. Its sleazy chorus "Why don't we go on as three" actually inspired the other three Byrds to boot Crosby out of the band!