Last week, I spent a couple of hours with David Crosby at his ranch house in the middle of nowhere in California. I was there to interview him for The Wall Street Journal, and my profile appears on today's Leisure & Arts page (go here). David likes kicking back far from the hustle and bustle when he's not performing. His five-acre spread sits in a valley so quiet you can almost hear the sunlight. In fact, while driving there, I didn't see a car in either direction for the final 15 minutes of my drive.
Crosby, Stills & Nash (and sometimes Young) was a critical folk-rock quartet in the late 1960s and 1970s. The band repurposed vocal harmony and acoustic guitars for the rock-album era, when original songs grew in length to suit the 12-inch LP format and the curiosity of young album-buyers. Prior to the late 1960s, singles dominated the market until FM radio transformed albums into self-contained musical adventures.
To me, David's high-tenor voice and penetrating harmony was the sound of the antiwar movement, environmental consciousness and sexual revolution all wrapped up into one seamless delivery. It was the voice of blondes on the backs of motorcycles, VW vans with curtains, tie-dyed shirts, incense, large sunflowers, leather sandals and underground comics depicting the absurdity of everyday life.
David has a new album out—Croz—but instead of being flanked by Graham Nash and Stephen Stills, he teamed with his son, James Raymond to write and record 11 songs. What's refreshing about the album is that his voice is completely exposed, as are his songwriting skills. It's a superb recording and I loved it from the moment I first heard it about a month ago. I wouldn't have made the trip out to see him if I didn't dig it completely.
Perhaps the high point for me last week came at the end of our conversation in the living room on David's leather couch. He leaned over and asked if I wanted to hear a new song. At first I just assumed he was going to reach for his stereo's remote. Instead, David jumped up and said, "Come on." As we entered his large sunroom, which has a huge stone fireplace, chairs and a carefully-made king-size bed, David tossed a laptop onto the covering and reached for a McAlister acoustic guitar [pictured above] hanging on the wall. "Throw the blanket off that rocker and pull it over here," he said.
As I dragged the chair across the room, David hopped up onto the bed, opened the laptop, found the lyrics he wanted and began warming up on his guitar. Hearing David run his pick along the strings was magical. Then he began to sing and play his new song, which he is calling Sometimes I Think That We Know—a ballad about the importance of challenging conventional wisdom.
Hearing David's voice in close, intimate quarters was like having a counterculture quilt dropped over my head. I immediately felt transported back to the early '70s, when parents and teachers weren't to be taken seriously and the countryside was to be savored.
When he was finished, David hit the strings with one final hard chord-stroke and beamed. His self-satisfied smile turned those twinkling eyes into crescent slits. At that moment, with the sun pouring in, David sitting crosslegged on the bed with his long white hair and moustache, his guitar in his lap and a grin on his face, I was reminded why music is such a potent elixir—to the musician and the listener.
There, in David's voice, was an entire generation's dreams and enchantment with art and nature—and the bafflement we once felt about why the world wasn't a better place. On each of my assignments for the WSJ, I wind up storing away a mental slide that crystallizes the adventure. This was that moment—when an artist performed in a small room and his own expression reflected pure delight. For me, time seemed to stand still that afternoon—when the wind chimes outside started to move around, the sun warmed to 80 degrees and I was sitting in a rocking chair in the middle of nowhere listening to David Crosby's new song. [Pictured above: Joni Mitchell and David Crosby]
JazzWax clip: Rolling Stone has a great video of David's new album up here.