Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young: “It’s not a democracy, it’s a dictatorship”

On the road for the controversial 'Living With War' tour

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One reason for CSNY’s indelible association with Woodstock is that they performed on the film’s soundtrack Joni Mitchell’s theme song (written by Mitchell in a New York hotel room, watching TV footage of the festival, and used in the movie at the persuasive insistence of David Geffen, who otherwise would probably have vetoed the already sparse footage of CSNY). “She wanted CSNY to do it,” says Wadleigh. “She wanted that kind of community sound, the choral multi-harmony thing. I think she also wanted the more rock’n’roll sound that they could give.”

“We went on around 10 at night. It was fragile, tense,” Graham Nash remembers. “It was our second show ever, and there was a tremendous amount of people out there, and we only had one guitar for ‘Guinevere’, for instance. And it was acoustic. The conditions weren’t great, and the weather wasn’t great. But the spirit was fantastic. We were brought together with common feelings. We felt that love was better than hatred, that peace was better than war. I think the myth of Woodstock has gotten larger over the years since it happened. But I was glad to be there. It was a defining moment, where two things crossed. One, corporations began to realise that if you could get half a million kids together and sell them all a pair of Nikes and Coca-Cola, your business was going to go up. And it also became: ‘These kids from garage bands are monster stars now.’”

“Did I believe in the Woodstock Nation?”


Stills asks, giving voice to his original cynicism.

“It was lost on me. They were mostly Grateful Dead people.”

“It’s an odd thing to me,” adds David Crosby, “because Woodstock gets aggrandised so much in history. It gets bigger every year. When it goes further away, it looks bigger. Things usually shrink when they go in the distance, but Woodstock keeps getting bigger. I think the real significance of it was that we discovered how many of us there were, and we sort of had a wake-up. Up to that point, we had been scattered hippies. And then all of a sudden, we were this huge bunch of people, all feeling pretty similarly about things. And that was a very big turnaround.”



Three months before Woodstock, Crosby, Stills and Nash – who had come together after falling out with their previous bands, The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield and The Hollies – had released their eponymous debut album. By July it was in the American Top 10, selling millions, and would stay on the charts for two more years. They were already huge as a trio, but Stills, who had played most of the instruments on the album himself, shaping the record’s sound in long sessions with drummer Dallas Taylor, felt they needed an additional musician to play the songs live. Steve Winwood was briefly considered, then Atlantic label boss Ahmet Ertegun – a big fan of the Springfield who’d been baffled by the lack of commercial success of the albums he’d released on his Atco imprint –suggested Neil Young, despite his often combative relationship with Stills, which had hastened that band’s demise. Surprisingly, given the conflicts that would soon follow, Stills agreed. Young, whose own solo career had yet to take off, had everything to gain from the exposure of joining CSN – with an insistence, which he said was “non-negotiable”, on equal billing – and nothing to lose.

So by the time they played Woodstock, CSN had become CSNY, and in the moment of their most public triumph, there was an inkling of the tensions to come between Young and his new band mates. Watch the Woodstock movie closely, and you’ll be hard-pressed to catch even a glimpse of Young, who had little interest in playing to the cameras. Michael Wadleigh, though, disputes the claim that Young refused to be filmed.

“That’s not true,” he insists. “You can see him in a number of the shots. After all, they’re really only shown singing ‘Judy Blue Eyes’. Neil became more separate later on. But the story’s bullshit. It’s the same with The Grateful Dead. The only reason the Dead were left out of the film was their set was so fucking bad, it was wretched. Same with The Band.”

LA Johnson, however, who worked as Wadleigh’s assistant on Woodstock and has since become a collaborator on all Young’s film projects, says that Neil did refuse to be filmed.

“In the credits we had it as ‘Crosby, Stills, Nash’. It doesn’t say, ‘Crosby, Stills and Nash’. I had to take Neil’s name off. He didn’t want to be in the movie. He was conflicted about that at the time. He was a late addition to that group.”

As far as drummer Dallas Taylor is concerned, that late addition of Neil to the original trio was the moment everything started to sour and the story of CSNY becomes a perfect miniature of the contradictions of the hippy dream, which rewarded a few artists with extraordinary wealth, creating a separate caste of pampered superstar musicians, whose increasingly cosseted, druggy existence was remote from the society they had set out to change.

“Relationships were OK until Neil joined the band, frankly,” Dallas Taylor admits to Uncut. “Then they went downhill very rapidly. Everybody started to squabble. By the end of the first tour, we were barely talking to each other.

“It was the egos. I think Neil had a great band on his own [Crazy Horse], and the whole idea of bringing him into the band was drawn up by lawyers, so you can take it from there. We met him and he seemed like a nice guy and we got along for a while, and then,” he adds darkly, “we didn’t.”

“We blew it,” Graham Nash says, looking back at the uncontrollable conflicts that would destroy CSNY. “Because of our own naïve, childish attitudes, we blew it. Even though we made a lot of fine music together, there was a lot of music that was wasted.”


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