By Daniel Margrain
In ‘Revolution Blues’ from his 1974 album, ‘On The Beach’, Neil Young famously spews vitriol on the fake tinsel town celebrity life-styles of the wealthy residents of Laurel Canyon many of whom lionized the killer, Charles Manson:
“Well, I hear that Laurel Canyon is full of famous stars, but I hate them worse than lepers and I’ll kill them in their cars,” sang Young.
Forming part of his ‘Ditch trilogy’ this was Young at his most angriest and bitter. It’s probably the Canadian artists greatest song from one of his best albums that reflected his disillusionment with the idealism of the hippies as the realism of the 1970s began to take hold.
Three years earlier, one of Young’s contemporaries, former Byrds member and long-time collaborator, David Crosby, released the album, If Only I Could Remember My Name, a far more cerebral, and to my mind, devastating critique on the pessimism of the age.
Indeed, with this record, Crosby created a tonal, harmonic and semi-baroque masterpiece. The recording remains, more than half a century since its release, one of the most absorbing and moving experiences in the history of rock music.
Among the seminal musician’s of the period who worked alongside Crosby on the album included Kaukonen, Slick, Casady and Kantner of Jefferson Airplane, Garcia, Leisha, Kreutzmann and Hart of Grateful Dead, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell and Graham Nash.
The creative influence of these brilliant musician’s is tangible, but the sound created is nevertheless incomparable to anything recorded before or since. Deeply philosophical and existential, the music and vocals exude a sad poignancy, a yearning for some kind of spiritual redemption and lamentation of a world lost in the mists of time.
Mainstream obituaries of Crosby are likely to focus on his vocal ability and the contributions he made with the Byrds and Stills, Nash and Young. This, of course, is warranted. But his best ever work, arguably one of the greatest albums of all-time, will of passed many of the obituary writers by.
Crosby was a provacteur who went against the grain. His uncompromising counter-cultural outlook meant he had many enemies. But ultimately he was true to himself and the spirit of love and peace that his music embodied. Rock music has lost one of its greatest figures. A huge flame has been extinguished.