You wrote “Long Time Gone” the night after Bobby Kennedy’s assassination, didn’t you?
You have to back up a little bit historically. This was an aggregate blow. First they killed Kennedy, then King, then Bobby. It was getting to be ballot my bullet and the heroes that we thought were going to turn things to a better direction were getting shot. We were all Woodstocky, the hippie generation, thinking we could stop the Vietnam War and achieve Civil Rights. Shooting King and the two Kennedys was like a punch in the face.
How does it compare to Neil’s “Ohio”?
It’s a similar thing, but “Ohio” was a more successful shot. The best way to help people do the right thing is to lead by example and not preach at them. But every once in a while, you simply can’t ignore it – like if your country starts killing its own children. So “Ohio” is probably the best of all those songs. Better than mine, better than “For What It’s Worth”, better than “Chicago”. I watched Neil write it right in front of me and when he finished, I called Graham and said, “Get a studio right now. Right now, this minute. We’re on our way to LA.” We went in and cut it, we had it out in 10 days.
There’s two political songs on your new album, “Somebody Other Than You” and “Look In Their Eyes”. Do you see a through line back to your earlier political songs like “What Are Their Names” and “Long Time Gone”?
Yeah, I do. I learned to stick up for what I believe in from people like Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie and they learned it from other people before them. I have a picture of Pete Seeger reading Ghandi and it goes back to there. And before Ghandi, somebody else was proposing those same ideas. But I learned it from Pete and Woody and Joan Baez and Josh White and Odetta and folk singers before me when I was a folkie and I think other people are learning it from us. It’s a thing that gets passed down.
Do you still consider yourself a folkie?
No. All of those are just labels, man. I’m a musician. They always want to label you. They did it with The Byrds. They were so desperate to label us because once you label the thing you don’t have to think about it. That’s a blah blah blah; now I know what that is. We do one thing, “Oh, it’s folk rock!” We include some stuff we got off Ravi Shankar: “Oh, it’s raga rock!” We do “Eight Miles High”: “It’s jazz rock!”
What’s your relationship these days with If I Could Only Remember My Name?
It’s one of my favourite records. I am absolutely and totally proud of it. It was a turning point in my life.
Is it possible to separate the music from the events leading up to it?
No. No, it’s not. It was a very tough time for me. My girlfriend [Christine Hinton] had just got killed. I was hiding in the studio, really. I couldn’t successfully exist anywhere but there. We had finished Déjà Vu, I had all these songs, and I just didn’t know what else to do with myself. I was distraught and crazy. They don’t tell you how to handle that, they don’t teach that in Home Economics or your maths class. It hits you. She was a 21 year-old girl – bam! – dead. I loved her and it was very hard for me. So my friends, [Jerry] Garcia and all the other people that helped with that record – him primarily – came by every night, they knew where I’d be, and whoever showed up was the band and whichever song I started playing was recorded. It was a very organic thing and a lot of kindness, a lot of friendship. A lot of wonderful people helped me do it.
And it was No 2nd in Vatican’s Top 10 Pop Albums of All Time…
I couldn’t fucking believe it! The best part was Pink Floyd were at No 3. I got an email from David Gilmour saying, “Damn it!” Neither one of us could figure out why we were on that list or what in the hell they were thinking. We laughed a whole shitload about it.
Lighthouse is only your fifth solo album. What stopped you from making more?
When I wasn’t making Crosby, Stills & Nash albums, I was making Crosby Nash albums. I liked working with Graham and we did some very, very good work on those records. I’m very proud of those records.
You’ve had a bit of a falling out recently, haven’t you?
Oh, yeah. Judging from the stuff Nash is saying in public, yeah, I would say so.
Have you heard either of the albums Neil has made with Promise Of The Real?
Willie’s kids? I saw a clip of them doing “Cortez”. They got Neil out playing some of the best guitar I ever heard him play in my life. The chemistry between them and Neil is excellent, the music is excellent. Live, I totally support him being with them, they’re fantastic. He’s totally right to want to take down Monsanto – they’re an obscene perversion – but I wish that Neil would be a little more rigorous about the records.
Neil’s a guy on a mission at the moment. What do you remember about the last time CSNY went out, on the Freedom Of Speech tour?
It was good. We had a blast. Neil knew that we would piss a lot of people off, singing “Let’s impeach the President for lying”. When we got to that song in Atlanta, Georgia, probably a quarter of the audience walked out – stomped out – giving us the finger and shaking their fists at us. It was pretty exciting. We loved that, a lot! And of course we knew it was going to happen so we had 11 camera crews, just in case.
It was an important time, with Iraq, George W Bush’s presidency and the war on terror. Considering all that’s going on now in America, if Neil came knocking tomorrow to get CSNY back together, would you go?
Yeah. Now is an important time for America in a desperate sense. We are quite possibly just about to destroy the country, f this lunatic Trump gets in. He’s an idiot, he’s functionally illiterate, he doesn’t know what the fuck he’s doing and he’s insane and he will have the button. That’s not a very good prospect. Particularly not in the middle of a global warming crisis, which he is on the other side of. Particularly not when we’ve got racial tension at a peak high in the United States and he’s aggravating it. These are very tense times in the United States. It’s tough to be an American, particularly in Europe. What I do is tell people I’m Canadian, wear a little Maple leaf on my shoulder, that kind of thing.
“I’m the Canadian! Not the other guy!”
So you would all go out with Neil, if he called?
I can’t imagine how we wouldn’t. I don’t think he’s going to because he doesn’t need to. He’s doing great music and he doesn’t have to split the take with those guys.