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Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young: In Their Own Words

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The members of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young each brought a distinct personality and powerful dynamic to their seminal band. David Crosby was known for his hippie demeanor and fiery passions; Stephen Stills for his musicianship and air of mystery; Graham Nash for his velvety tones and soulful demeanor; and Neil Young — who came in and out of the group — for a still-fierce sense of independence. What they created together — including unforgettable songs like “Marrakesh Express,” “Teach Your Children Well” and “Southern Cross” — has more than held up over the years. Thus, it’s pretty fascinating to dig into the individual, private madnesses behind their now-legendary output. Consider this required reading.

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David Crosby’s Long Time Gone (1988)

“Croz’s” robust first memoir sweepingly details his early days with The Byrds before joining CSN&Y. And what a wild ride it was for the man whom ex-lover Joni Mitchell privately referred to as “Yosemite Sam” in her journals. Crosby openly shares insights about his artistry, activism, his egomania, and yes, his addictions. (He portrays himself as a near-feral junkie who caused mayhem to everyone in his midst, especially his beleaguered wife Jan Dance.) The book was just the beginning though and required a follow-up…

David Crosby’s Since Then: How I Survived Everything and Lived to Tell About It (2006)

This more-recent autobiography continues to showcase Crosby’s mordant wit and mercurial spirit. Still with wife Jan, he shifts to a more sober lifestyle as he gets a new liver, becomes the “bio-dad” of Melissa Etheridge and her former partner Julie Cypher, and keeps making music to ensure his legacy. Like the earlier book, Since Then weaves stories from friends and colleagues into the text so that you’re not just reading about a life but rather experiencing an entire scene from multiple perspectives.

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Graham Nash’s Wild Tales: A Rock & Roll Life (2013)

Think that Nash is the most “restrained” of the bunch? Well, you have a rollicking treat in store for you as he spins a riveting tale from hardscrabble beginnings in Manchester, England, though his initial success with The Hollies to his decades-long connection to CSNY. (The man was even knighted by the Queen!) This is a fabulous “sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll” account from a looser-than-expected gent. He captivates with tales of romance (he too paired up with Joni Mitchell, the muse behind “Our House”) and of his four-decade-long marriage which ended in 2016. The real love story here though is about Nash and his bandmates, tempered by Crosby’s fraught drug use which caused a deep rift in their friendship.

Neil Young’s Waging Heavy Peace (2012)

Young parted from the band for long stretches to pursue a fruitful solo career but his musical gifts are not the focal point of this autobiography. It’s composed of charming stream-of-consciousness reflections on his complex familial relationships, his ranch, model-train obsession, and deeply-held political convictions. Bawdy? Packed with music trivia? Not really. But what else would you expect from someone who always went to the beat of a different drum? Young’s erudite book is witty, his thoughts wide-ranging. Which explains why he didn’t write a conventional sequel either.

Neil Young’s Special Deluxe: A Memoir of Life & Cars (2014)

This compilation of personal writings continues Young’s eclectic observations — and quite a bit of it concerns his lifelong love of vintage cars and his advocacy for electric vehicles. (There are even illustrations of cars drawn by Young himself!) In truth, this is more a companion book than a sequel to Waging Heavy Peace, so feel free to read Young’s two volumes of reminisces in whatever order you choose.

Stephen Stills: No Memoir…Yet

The only one to have not written his own autobiography to date is Stephen Stills, though he was quoted in a 2014 issue of Rolling Stone as saying, “I’m writing one right now.” Until then, your best bet is probably David Roberts’ Stephen Stills, Change Partners and Dance: The Definitive Biography, an encyclopedic effort packed with reams of information and enough quotes from previous interviews to at least give you a taste of what that long-awaited memoir might examine.

Ellen Fagan

Photo by Mick Gold/Redferns

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