Rant ‘N’ Roll: In Harmony With David Crosby

BETHLEHEM, PA, July 5, 2015—Upon at first demurring at the inconsequential nature of the question posed to him by this reporter backstage in his dressing room after his one-man show at the Musikfest Café, he answered it. He was holding court, being a good sport despite his ravenous hunger, posing for pictures and answering inconsequential questions. The man’s been a rock star for 50 years and, as such, has lived by a different set of rules than the rest of us. There’s a sense of entitlement that goes with the territory. He truly does try to contain it but when you’re gifted with the kind of talent he houses within his trimmed-down frame, you look at the world differently.

“I know it’s not exactly a play-the-hits show,” he warned the adoring 650-strong sold-out crowd—seated concert-style instead of the usual chairs and tables—who gushed with love at his every cough. He wasn’t kidding. “I write every day,” he boasted. “I wrote this one this morning.” His two sets consisted of lesser-known deeeeeeep-cuts (“just naked songs”). He certainly had a lot to choose from what with four solo albums, four duet albums with Graham Nash, eight studio albums with Stills, Nash and sometimes Young, plus countless live albums.

Thousands of teenage girls roamed around outside the Café dressed in American flag attire for the occasion. Crosby referred to them as his “overflow crowd.” (Levitt Pavilion at Steel Stacks was hosting the USA-Japan Women’s World Cup Final on giant screens.)

Still, it was his night. And he made the most of it. If anyone in the sold-out Café was disappointed that he didn’t bring the sterling band (that includes his son, James Raymond, now a mainstay in CSN) and heard on last year’s surprisingly supple and vital Croz, they soon were satiated by his winning between-song stories, unearthly perfect pitch at age 73 and always underrated guitar-playing on 19 songs.

It was a magical night.

You could understand the lyrics perfectly what with the Café’s winning sound system. So when he went into “Tracks In The Dust” from the solo 1989 Oh Yes I Can and “Naked In The Rain,” a 1975 Nash/Crosby gem, it was like hearing these rarities anew. “Dream For Him,” a 1999 CSNY tune he wrote for his son, and “The Lee Shore,” a 1971 CSN nugget, went down majestically.

“Triad,” a Byrds song from 1967, seemed to be the first song people actually knew. “I did not get kicked out of The Byrds for writing that song,” he said. “I got kicked out of The Byrds for being an asshole.”

My personal highlight was his interpretation of Joni Mitchell’s “For Free.” Crosby produced Mitchell’s debut album and said he sings the song today because of what it means. He also alluded to Joni as the type of artist who you only need to say her first name to know who she is. “Sorta like Bob,” he joked. “Bob Dylan, yeah, he’s a friend of mine but I still call him ‘Old Weird Bob.’ I swear he’s as weird as Neil!”

His spoken rants included diatribes against all politicians (except Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren) and China. After more songs of his that nobody knew but everybody loved (“Laughing” from his ’71 solo debut was especially dramatic), he finally let down and said, “I promised myself I would sing you guys at least two songs you would know,” before launching into the crowd-pleasing “Déjà Vu” and “Guinnevere.”

The question I posed to him backstage was trite but in the moment seemed appropriate. After properly gushing over the decades of pleasure he’s given me, I told him tonight I finally saw him solo after seeing him in duet, trio and quartet shows. “My favorite is the trio. What’s yours?”

He looked at me before one of the other guests said, “That’s like asking who’s your favorite child out of all your children.”

Then he answered the question. “I really like rocking out on big stages in front of tens of thousands with Graham, Steve and Neil.”