David Crosby’s Cosmic Americana – The Atlantic

David Crosby’s Cosmic Americana – The Atlantic

“We’re going to do some kind of science fiction story, if you’ll bear with us,” David Crosby said on August 18, 1969, as his band Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young began playing their song “Wooden Ships.” in Woodstock. Crosby, the singer, songwriter and guitarist who died Wednesday at the age of 81, was never a typical hippie, despite being one of the movement’s founders and figureheads. However, the band’s Woodstock rendition of “Wooden Ships” is a perfect example of his sweeping, singular, sci-fi-driven vision.

For him, the counterculture of the 1960s was more than a protest movement or a bohemian aesthetic; it was a vehicle to probe the reaches of the human being. While many hippie-era anthems have painted pictures of folkloric peace, including CSNY’s “Teach Your Children” and “Our House,” both penned by Graham Nash, “Wooden Ships” is an utterly depressing, dark tale of the apocalypse. Still, it rises in cautious hope, its title ship sailing through the sea or outer space.

In fact, Crosby was known for his love of all things maritime, and to him, the ocean flowed to the stars. Musically, Crosby incorporated everything from free jazz to synths into his cosmic Americana. “Science fiction was so expansive and so limitless,” Crosby told Neil deGrasse Tyson in the latter’s interview. StarTalk podcast in 2016. “Anything could happen, and that was just enriching for me. And I coveted it.” His obsession with space exploration, emerging music technology, and fantasy literature forged a kind of future folk.

Crosby’s band just before CSNY, the Byrds, started out as a bunch of earthy Bob Dylan acolytes before quickly reaching escape velocity with songs like “CTA-102,” which blended folk-rock with electronic noise while borrowing its name of a recently discovered. quasar. One of the reasons Crosby was ultimately fired from the Byrds was a creative dispute over a song he had written, “Triad,” which was inspired by the classic Robert A. Heinlein novel. stranger in unknown land. It’s a song about group sex, yes, but it puts such terrestrial pleasures in a sci-fi context. Where Dylan read Jack Kerouac, Crosby read Isaac Asimov.

Paradoxically, folk, Crosby’s first love as a musician, is a form fueled by tradition rather than innovation. When Crosby first appeared on the music scene in the ’60s, folk was only progressive in the political sense, thanks to leftists like Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger. So their 1971 debut album, If only I could remember my nameNot only did it become the crown jewel of his solo career; he elevated folk-rock to a new firmament. The song “What Are They Names” contains what might be Crosby’s most direct lyrics: “Peace is not awful lot to ask,” he sings, but transcends that commonplace with a fugue of plucked strings and layered vocals (conducted by a choir that includes, among others, Jerry Garcia and Joni Mitchell). It all comes together in a resounding raga from deep space. The album cover shows Crosby’s face superimposed on a photo of the ocean at sunset, as if to announce the notion that her mind and his music are part of an unbroken continuum, a kind of galactic hum.

In the liner notes from the 1969 CD reissue of the album Crosby, Stills and Nash, Crosby explained that “Wooden Ships” is an allegory where “we imagine ourselves as the few survivors, escaping in a boat to create a new civilization.” But while he outlived many of the hard-living musicians of his generation, Crosby did more than survive. He altered the trajectory of American music with an imagination far beyond his years.

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