“Crosby should write an introspective book: ‘Why People Won’t Talk to Me Anymore.’” — Neil Young
It doesn’t really matter if you’ve spent some of the greatest moment of your career with someone; you can still end up on bad terms. That can certainly be said for Neil Young and David Crosby. Though the latter has made a great life out of upsetting most of the people he has ever worked with, Young, it seems, has now turned his back on his Crosby, Still Nash & Young bandmate for good, promising to never work with him again.
The news broke last year amid rumours of a reunion tour. Given the long time spent apart and the perceived animosity that resonated throughout the group in their final moments, the chances of such a tour were faint, at best. But, with a newfound audience garnered from his Fireside Sessions, Young quickly moved to dash all hopes of such a return. In truth, it was a separation that never seemed far away; only this time Young seemingly made it permanent.
It all started so sweetly too. With his band Buffalo Springfield, alongside Stephen Stills, Young had begun to find the spotlight fit for his unique songwriting. The band had started to see some success as their vibrant folk-rock hit the radio airwaves. David Crosby, meanwhile, had been extremely successful with his band The Byrds but, following their decision to snub his song ‘Triad’ to cover a Carole King number (all in hopes of cashing in as they had done two years prior), Crosby left the group with an unceremonious snarl. Speaking in 2018 about the split, he said, “If you give kids millions of dollars, they’ll screw up,” seemingly holding no regrets at his decision.
One good reason for his confidence was that he would enjoy an incredibly successful career outside of The Byrds, much of which wouldn’t have been possible without Graham Nash, Stephen Stills and Neil Young but, perhaps most importantly, Joni Mitchell.
After Crosby was thrown out of The Byrds, he stumbled upon a young Joni Mitchell performing at the Coconut Groove club in Florida, and he was immediately blown away. The two of them then had a brief and volatile love affair, one which Crosby described as being “like falling into a cement mixer. She is a turbulent woman and very, very crazy.” It should come as no surprise that the relationship didn’t last, but the two of them remain good friends, even today. But under Crosby’s mentorship, he guided Joni to the bright lights of Los Angeles and helped her kickstart her career.
The year they spent together was dysfunctional, to say the least. A learning curve in more than one way, with Crosby revealing in the same interview he called her “the best songwriter alive, easily as good as Bob [Dylan] and ten times the better musician that he is”, he continued on their relationship, saying he “wouldn’t say fun was the word, but it was educational as hell. I liked all the complex chord inversions you hear in jazz, but I wasn’t good enough to play them, and then Joni showed me how to retune the guitar. Suddenly I was writing ‘Déjà Vu’ and ‘Guinnevere’.”
Joni Mitchell had also been a part of Neil Young’s fledgeling career, operating in the same folk clubs in Canada that Young had established himself within. By 1968, a lot of time had passed, and the two Canadian stars had grown immensely in a relatively short time. While Mitchell had gotten married and divorced, moved to Britain and been furiously writing, Young went south to the US and began work with Stephen Stills and Buffalo Springfield. Mitchell would reconvene with the singer around this time and make a connection that would benefit his career forever.
Crosby and Mitchell had agreed to go into the studio and begin laying some tracks when the folk singer suddenly recognised someone she knew. It was then that Mitchell made an important introduction “You’ve got to meet Neil Young,” says the singer, before adding: “I know him from Canada. He’s in the Springfield. He’s so funny. You’re going to love this guy.” It was the first meeting of Crosby, Stills and Young and the start of their iconic band.
They would go on to record some of the rock world’s most beloved songs, including the album Deja Vu, arguably one of the best albums of 1970, but it wouldn’t broker much love between the members of the band. Coming from different band backgrounds and constantly fighting for the spotlight, the group soon dissolved only to attempt to reconcile in 1973. The group agreed to go on tour, lovingly titled the ‘Doom Tour’ and came with some incredibly established acts like Santana and The Beach Boys as openers. But, for Crosby, the sound and sentiment of the shows were all off: “We had good monitors, but Stephen and Neil were punching well over 100 dB from their half stacks. Graham and I simply couldn’t do the harmonies when we couldn’t hear ourselves. Also, when you play a stadium, you almost have to do a Mick Jagger where you wave a sash around and prance about. I can’t quite do that. We did what we could, but I don’t know how many people in the audience really got it. A lot of them were there for the tunes. When we’d start them, they’d hear the records.”
It was the start of years of excessive drug abuse, detrimental record contracts and a sea of interpersonal problems that seemed to drown any good song they came up with. The group would continue to bat away at the project like a bored kitten with a dead mouse, endlessly gnawing away at something that was once so special—their latest reunion, in 2013 as part of Young’s Bridge School Benefit show was still pleasing enough. A few years later, Crosby would say something that would finally see Young (and Graham Nash) cut ties with him for good.
Speaking to the Idaho Statesman in 2014, Crosby called Young’s wife Daryl Hannah “a purely poisonous predator”. It’s a volatile thing to call anyone, but to call your bandmate’s wife, such a thing is surely irrevocable. A few weeks later, while performing, Young said: “CSNY will never tour again, ever… I love those guys”. It had the rumour mill whirring that Crosby had finally stepped over the line and, two days later, he confirmed it: “[Young] is very angry with me”.
Seemingly understanding that he had said too much, Crosby chose to publicly apologise to Daryl Hannah on The Howard Stern Show saying: “I’m screwed up way worse than that girl. Where do I get off criticising her? She’s making Neil happy. I love Neil, and I want him happy,” and “Daryl, if you’re out there, I apologise. Where do I get off criticising you? There are people I can criticise: politicians, pond scum. Not other artists that have gone through a hard life, same as me. She hasn’t had it easy either.”
“I got as out-front with it as I could,” recalled Crosby reflecting on the bust-up. “I sent an email to Neil, saying, ‘Listen, I know you’re pissed at me because I slagged your girlfriend. And I’m sorry.’ I’ve apologized for a couple of times publicly … and I said, ‘I’m really sorry I shot my mouth off about your girlfriend. I really am. But we’ve all been horrible to each other over the years.’ Neil left Stephen in the middle of a tour twice! Twice! It was a really good email, man. It was very sincere, very straightforward. I’m not buttering his toast, trying to suck his dick.” It’s one of the biggest step-downs in Crosby life in the limelight, and it looked as though it might have worked.
Speaking in 2017, Young said of potential reunions: “I think CSNY has every chance of getting together again. I’m not against it. There’s been a lot of bad things happen[ing] among us, and a lot of things have to be settled. But that’s what brothers and families are all about. We’ll see what happens. I’m open. I don’t think I’m a major obstacle.” However, in 2020, Young firmly put things to bed.
Talking to AARP Magazine, Young said: “Crosby should write an introspective book: ‘Why People Won’t Talk to Me Anymore.’ He made a lot of great music for a long time. I don’t know what happened with David. I got nothing to say. I love Stephen. I love Graham. If a reunion happens, it would be a surprise. I won’t close the door on anything. I can hold a grudge with the best of them, but only if there’s a reason for it.” Judging by the above, he certainly has a reason.
There are always two sides to every story, and we’re certain that Young is far from squeaky clean in this scenario, but it’s hard to see anyone as aggressive in their rhetoric as Crosby. Given now the former Byrds man spends a lot of his time on Twitter trying to get some column inches here and there, it’s easy to see how where Young, Nash and Stills may have all fought for their own satisfaction, Crosby’s attack on Young’s girlfriend and now-wife Hannah, was seemingly all about ego.
“Brothers fight,” said Young of the subject, and if that’s what we’re looking at, two brothers scrapping with one another, Young has just picked up his ball and is refusing to come out and play once more.