Biographies & Memoirs


Thanks to a thick, crusty snowfall, the early morning of September 22 wasn’t the ideal moment for a photo shoot at the Roosevelt National Forest park in northern Colorado. Nonetheless, Stephen Stills, in work boots and jeans, headed outside a rented mountain cabin with his friend Henry Diltz to snap shots for the cover of the record Stills had started in London in the winter.

No sooner had they begun than Stills told Diltz to stop; he needed something inside. Darting back in, he returned with a stuffed animal, a spotted purple giraffe, that he set in the snowdrift next to him as he began playing guitar. He didn’t tell Diltz anything other than he wanted it featured in the photo that would grace the album cover. With its long neck, the giraffe was both a message to someone and a reminder of her. “I have a thing for long, tall slender women,” he recalled. “She wasn’t that tall, but she looked like she was.” As summer gave way to fall, she was also one of the reasons Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young were finished.

Although Rita Coolidge had entered their lives three months earlier, everyone in the Los Angeles music scene already seemed to know her. Born and raised in Tennessee, the daughter of a Cherokee preacher, Coolidge had begun her career singing jingles at a company in Memphis and had had a regional hit, “Turn Around and Love You.” The industry still being small, one of her friends, producer Don Nix, touted her to his friend Leon Russell, then playing with Delaney and Bonnie. Before Coolidge knew it, she was driving across the country to Los Angeles with Russell, now her boyfriend, to sing on a Delaney and Bonnie album.

With her slender figure, warm smile, and waterfall of dark hair, Coolidge had a modest, unaffected magnetism, and her voice, with its touch of sultry smokiness, was equally unfussy and soulful. “She was a very charismatic girl, in a weirdly quiet way,” recalled drummer Jim Keltner, who played with Delaney and Bonnie. “She was really beautiful when she made herself out to be. At other times, she looked like a little squaw with braids and everything.” After recording and touring with Delaney and Bonnie from the fall of 1969 into early 1970, she was recruited by Russell to join the backup choir on Joe Cocker’s “Mad Dogs & Englishmen” tour in the spring.

Once that tour wrapped up, Coolidge was back in Los Angeles, working on a record of her own. During those sessions, produced by her brother-in-law, organist Booker T. Jones of Booker T. and the MG’s, she met Stills. Their first encounter was less than auspicious. “One night, he made it clear to me that the real magic of the record had nothing to do with me,” Coolidge recalled. “It was because the two great musical minds of the decade, him and Booker, had come together. I thought he was arrogant.” But Coolidge had to admit to herself that Stills was, in her words, “totally adorable.” (When he smiled, his recessed upper-left tooth made him look down-home and less hard-boiled.)

Stills was immediately intrigued. As soon as she left the studio that day, he stayed behind and wrote and recorded a song about her, “Cherokee.” Set to Jones’ churning organ, it had the feel of an after-hours confessional in a smoke-drenched bar. (To lend the song an exotic twang, Stills rented an electric sitar to play on it.) He then invited her to be part of a backup choir he’d assembled for “Love the One You’re With,” which he’d begun recording in London and was now finishing up in Los Angeles. The track had been transformed from a solo guitar workout to a pulsating groove with congas and steel drums. At the late June session, Coolidge found herself gathered around a microphone with Crosby, her sister Priscilla Jones, the Lovin’ Spoonful’s John Sebastian, and another new acquaintance, Graham Nash.

Like Stills, Nash was struck by Coolidge’s voice and looks—so much so that he asked her to accompany him to the CSNY show at the Los Angeles Forum the following night, June 25. Since he was staying at Stills’ house in Laurel Canyon, Nash gave Coolidge Stills’ number and told her to call him to make arrangements. “And then,” Coolidge recalled, “all the nonsense began.”

According to Coolidge, Stills answered when she phoned the next day and told her that Nash said he’d made a mistake and couldn’t take her after all—but that he, Stills, would love to drive her to the show instead. Unaware of the band’s complex dynamics and only interested in seeing them perform, Coolidge said yes, and Stills picked her up at her home on Wilshire. Backstage at the show, the once-friendly Nash barely looked at her.

Stills and Coolidge began seeing each other soon after. Stills’ passion was instantaneous. In quick order, he wrote and recorded another song, “Sit Yourself Down,” that captured the conflicting sides of his personality, his internal conflict between taking stock and pushing himself. The ruminative lyrics talked about aging, maturing, slowing down, and buying land. The music, particularly its fervent chorus propelled by his galloping piano, a choir (again with Coolidge), and a lead guitar line that kept tugging at the melody, was anything but calm. Stills was so optimistic about his and Coolidge’s budding relationship that in the song he envisioned the two of them living “on a patch of ground” later in life.

Coolidge wasn’t so sure. When she met Stills, she was still recovering from her first encounter with hard-core show business insanity. The spring 1970 Joe Cocker tour was, in her words, a dose of the new brand of “rock and roll university, really tough.” Every night, she’d watch as the seemingly fragile Cocker tossed down whatever pills or drugs anyone handed him as he walked onstage. She’d witnessed Cocker’s band members scoring heroin at a seedy farm. Cocaine was everywhere. Walking into the lobby of one hotel, she saw half the tour members, musicians and crew alike, lining up to get shots for venereal disease. Even scarier was Cocker’s drummer, Jim Gordon, whom Coolidge had dated before the tour. Watching TV one night in a hotel room, Gordon—a boyishly handsome and kinetic drummer—said he needed to talk to her outside. As soon as they stepped into the hallway, Gordon punched her so hard she fell unconscious to the floor. Later, Keltner saw a huge black shiner on her face but didn’t ask what happened.3

Stills was nowhere near as explosive as Gordon, who was later diagnosed with schizophrenia after murdering his mother with repeated blows of a hammer. But Stills was intense in his own way: He liked to race horses at local tracks to clear his head, he indulged more than Coolidge could tolerate, and he would spend long hours, often midnight to dawn, in studios, working on his music. (At three o’clock one morning, he called a sleeping Johnny Barbata and asked him to come down, but Nash advised the drummer to pass, given how many hours Barbata would inevitably end up spending with Stills.) Almost from the start, the CSNY universe itself was too much for Coolidge. One night at Stills’ house, she cooked him, Crosby, and Nash a dinner of beans and cornbread. Feeling sleepy afterward, Crosby accused her of dosing the food with acid—when, in fact, he was merely sleepy from eating so many beans. “Graham was the most elegant human being,” she recalled. “The other two were pretty wacky.”

In the aftermath of the Cocker tour, Coolidge needed a more stable, even-keeled force around her. The soap-opera element kicked in when she discovered what had happened the night of the CSNY show: Nash told her Stills had purposefully made up that story in order to escort her himself. At this point, Nash made his own growing feelings about Coolidge known to her. “I talked to Rita about it and she said, ‘I feel the same way,’” Nash recalled. “And I said, ‘There’s nothing we can do. I’m not touching you or kissing you or fucking—I’m not doing anything until we go to Stephen.’” Nash wound up writing a song, “Better Days,” with the situation in mind: “Though you’re where you want to be, you’re not where you belong,” he sang. “That was Rita,” he said. “She was with Stephen but didn’t want to be there. She wanted to be with me.”

Deciding it was best to tell Stills to his face about this realignment, Nash and Coolidge drove to Stills’ house to personally deliver the news of their burgeoning relationship. Sitting poolside, a stunned and humiliated Stills spit at Nash (but missed). Nash moved out of Stills’ home and into a room at the Chateau Marmont. “Girls fell quite naturally in love or in lust with Graham,” said Crosby. “He had that lovely British accent and was a good lover and a gentleman.” Coolidge melted whenever Nash would call her “luv” with his British accent. The Coolidge triangle was far from the principal cause of any intra-band breakdown; fractures in the band had been building for months. But after the poolside conversation, Stills refused to speak to Nash, and the increasingly delicate thread that held them together finally snapped.

His pride publicly wounded, Stills drowned his sorrows in whatever way he could, one result being his drug bust in San Diego. (The charges were eventually reduced to a misdemeanor and a fine.) By the middle of September, tiring of what he called “the incestuous California scene,” he rented a Lear Jet and flew to Colorado for a few weeks. Judy Collins had introduced him to the state during their relationship, and Stills rented a cabin, joined by Diltz, bass player Fuzzy Samuels, and his personal assistant Dan Campbell. With his solo album nearly complete, he buried his sorrows in work, planning sessions for another record and writing and jamming on songs in the house. “When you’re sitting there dealing with all these feelings, it’s, ‘Oh, poor me,’” he recalled. “All this stuff is coming out.”

On September 18, two days after the giraffe-enhanced photo shoot, more troubling news arrived. A call to the cabin delivered the news that Jimi Hendrix had been found dead in a hotel room in the Notting Hill section of London after choking on his own vomit. Stills was devastated and angry. “I cried and drank,” he recalled. A friend awoke the next morning to find Stills cleaning out marmalade jars so he could have additional glasses to imbibe some more.

The two men had made tentative plans to record an album together, perhaps even form a band. Now those plans, like those with Coolidge, were history. It was time to flee. The hell with all of them.


He couldn’t tell if he was crazy, extremely high, or some combination of both. In the aftermath of Christine Hinton’s death, sometimes it was hard to tell. Whatever the reason, Crosby felt her presence all around him late one September evening. Standing before a microphone in an echo chamber at Wally Heider’s studio in San Francisco, Crosby told engineer Stephen Barncard to roll tape, then began singing a cappella—no words, just a full-throated blend of melody and moan. Then he sang another part, then another, ending up with six voices, each echoed back onto itself for a woebegone, eerie mass of twelve wailing Crosbys. A Grand Canyon of pain, the performance was a belated musical eulogy to her; fittingly, he called it “I’d Swear There Was Somebody Here.”

To the consternation of friends and past lovers, little about Crosby’s world had ever been conventional; everyone still talked about the nonstop parade of nude swimmers in his pool at his previous home in Laurel Canyon. But Crosby’s life now took on something actually resembling a routine. After Hinton’s fatal accident, he’d sold his house in Novato, where the Déjà vu cover had been shot; the place evoked too many painful memories. (Briefly, he’d lost the Halliburton case that contained some of her clothes, but after word of its disappearance or possible theft went out, it turned up amidst the Jefferson Airplane’s gear.) His home became the Mayan, now docked in Sausalito after he and Nash had sailed it back home from Florida. Crosby lived, ate, and slept on it, often well into the afternoon.

Around seven each night, he’d drive across the Golden Gate Bridge to Heider’s. Music would be his escape and salvation. In the same room where the torturous Déjà vu sessions had taken place a year before, Crosby began making the first record under his own name. Much like his lifestyle, it wouldn’t be traditional in any form. To indulge his every whim, he booked Studio C for himself for months and put out an open call to whichever musician friends were around. For support, Jerry Garcia, Crosby’s brother in outlier music, stopped by almost every night. Other members of the Dead, including Phil Lesh and Mickey Hart, visited, along with his friends from the Airplane like Paul Kantner and Grace Slick. The jam sessions and creative pokings-about, augmented by Crosby’s ever-present stash, would last for hours. “Jerry and I were both pushing-the-envelope kind of people,” Crosby said. “We liked doing things that other people thought were weird. They brought out an encouragement of ‘there are no rules.’”

The intermingling of musicians produced the strangest yet most gorgeous music of Crosby’s career. In hazy-day soundscapes like “Tamalpais High (at About 3)” and “Song with No Words (Tree with No Leaves),” harmonies and instruments bobbed and drifted, like waves lapping onto a shore and receding. Instead of singing words, Crosby—joined by Nash on the latter—sang wordless phrases rooted in the jazz records of his youth. “Song with No Words (Tree with No Leaves)” was a particularly pastoral chorale—music basking in its own stoned-out bliss—yet it also bristled; by the end, Crosby began fervently scatting around his own one-man chorus, and Jorma Kaukonen and Garcia yanked sharp, shrieking notes out of their guitars. The song heaved and lurched until, suddenly, it ended. Even songs centered around Crosby’s voice and acoustic guitar were hardly campfire-sing-along material. “Traction in the Rain,” inspired by the jealous looks Crosby received one day while walking through a park with Joan Baez and her sister Mimi Fariña, had a glistening, benumbed calmness. “Where Will I Be,” cut at the sessions but held for a later album, was a statement of personal confusion, spaced-out and rhythmless—Crosby’s comment on how both his band and his lover were part of his past, leaving him alone and directionless.

Much as Nash turned the group’s interactions into fodder for new material, Crosby put CSNY’s shambolic summer to song. With Garcia, Lesh, and Hart, he began rehearsing a new song, “Cowboy Movie.” Driven by the brusque strums of Crosby’s electric twelve-string, the song was rough and savage, Garcia playing with a piercing, angry tone rare for him. The lyrics, an Old West tale set to music, told the saga of an “Indian girl” who comes between a gang of outlaws, sowing the seeds of their destruction. The four principal characters were a “weird” cowboy named Harold, a wild-eyed gunslinger called Eli (“young and mean, and from the South”), a “Duke” good with dynamite, and the youngest, Billy; the girl, whom Harold doesn’t trust from the outset, is called Raven. After both become taken with Raven, Eli and the Duke “get down to it”; Eli pulls a gun, and in the end everyone’s dead except Harold. With each verse, Crosby’s voice sounded raspier and more pent-up, as if he’d been smoking all night and decided to record anyway. Anyone who knew anything about the band’s recent falling-out knew the characters’ real names. Coolidge, for one, was not amused. “If that’s the way David saw it, he has a right to think that,” she recalled. “David just thought I was the Devil.”

For Crosby, the recording of his album, which stretched out into the late fall, embodied the new rock and roll: music without parameters, concrete personnel, and in some cases anything approaching a standard rock and roll rhythm. His art would now fully become an extension of his personal life. “The Byrds, the Hollies, and Buffalo Springfield were very formulaic groups,” Crosby recalled. “Good bands, but in a form. Kantner and I were on a quest. We were rule-breaking guys who wanted to see more interaction between bands, more cross-pollination.” Kantner was using the same revolving-cast approach on his first record outside the Airplane, Blows Against the Empire; Crosby popped up on many songs on that one as well.

Struggling to find his identity after the problems with CSNY and Hinton’s death, Crosby would later describe himself during this time as “not a happy camper.” But to some, he’d never seemed more content—as one friend put it, ”making the best music of his life and getting laid every night,” thanks to whatever girl happened to be on the boat with him at night after the hours in the studio. Everyone got high, made music, and slept with whomever they wanted. The proudly esoteric tracks Crosby was cutting would be released by a major label, Atlantic, without any qualms. It was easy, seductively so, to imagine it would all last forever.


During this time, word leaked out that Crosby, Nash, and Young—no Stills inserted between them—would be releasing a single together. The song, “Music Is Love,” had its origins in an August Hollywood jam in which Crosby began strumming and singing what he called “silly stuff” and Young and Nash spontaneously joined in. After Nash and Young borrowed the tape and overdubbed additional instruments, “Music Is Love” wound up on Crosby’s album. Its creation affirmed the way in which he, Nash, and Young had grown closer in the aftermath of the group’s collapse. Nash and Young dropped by the sessions for Crosby’s album; Young and Garcia traded solos on one take of “Cowboy Movie.”

Young’s hesitation toward a full-time commitment to CSNY gnawed at Nash (but not Crosby), but neither Nash nor Crosby felt as threatened by Young as Stills did. They couldn’t help but admire his uncompromising approach to his music and presentation. (“As of this writing, Neil’s about to okay the test pressing. Again,” sighed a Reprise Records ad in September for Young’s nearly complete After the Gold Rush.)

Starting with Crosby, the CSNY breakdown also played itself out geographically. During the summer, Young had bought a 140-acre ranch south of San Francisco. (His first wife, Susan, would file for divorce from him in October.) Even earlier, Nash had purchased a four-story Victorian townhouse on West Buena Vista Street in Haight-Ashbury, on the edge of Buena Park. Like Crosby, he’d grown weary of Los Angeles and envisioned himself relocating to Northern California with Mitchell. Now, that romance over, Nash decided to make the move himself. “I thought, ‘Fuck, I’ve got a house in San Francisco, I’d better go and live there,’” he recalled. With its front-door pillars and balcony, the structure felt regal even before Nash moved in, yet he enhanced it further, installing a skylight and a bath that led into a stream with goldfish on the fourth floor. Although the three weren’t within quick driving distance of each other, they were still in the same Northern California vicinity.

Since all four had songs that hadn’t made it onto Déjà vu, the logical response was to make records of their own, whether Ahmet Ertegun, David Geffen, or Elliot Roberts liked it or not. “It was never up to management or Atlantic,” Crosby said. “It was up to us.” On September 7, Young became the first to release his own music that year. Recorded on and off over the previous year, After the Gold Rush reflected his time with Crosby, Stills, and Nash: It was more focused on acoustic songs and relatively pared-down arrangements than either of its predecessors, Neil Young and Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere. It even included a few tracks, “Southern Man” and “Tell Me Why,” he’d performed with them that summer.

After the Gold Rush presented Young as both balladeer, on “Birds” and “Only Love Can Break Your Heart,” and rocker, notably the whirlwind that was “When You Dance I Can Really Love,” with Jack Nitzsche wildly pounding piano keys. Even throwaways like “Till the Morning Comes” (with Stills chiming in on harmony) and “Cripple Creek Ferry” felt meaty. With its preorders of four hundred thousand copies, the album was clearly a breakout, breakthrough piece of music—definitive proof that Young didn’t need the other three and their mania for anything other than a larger bank account.

Although everyone expected Young to work on his own (“All of us knew we were going to do solo records, Neil above everybody,” said Crosby), Nash’s decision to go that route was the most telling. It was ironic that the band member who had worked hardest to preserve the group should be the one who helped fracture it, thanks to his affair with Coolidge. But in the end, the chaos on which CSNY thrived had finally unnerved even Nash. “You can only stand so much psychodrama in your life,” he recalled. “I needed a break from them.”

Like Crosby, he’d accumulated a batch of songs over the year and now had the luxury of time and money to commit them to tape. Over the course of several months starting in September, he casually began cutting them with a loose-knit ensemble of players he’d worked with all year, except Stills: Barbata, bassist Fuzzy Samuels, and now Coolidge, who came up from her home in Los Angeles and stayed with Nash while he recorded at the same Heider studio where Crosby was settling in.

As he’d shown when writing “Chicago” six months earlier, Nash had a tendency to relay his feelings about his musical partners or lovers in song rather than conversation. (In that way, Nash could simultaneously play the roles of good and bad cop.) Songs for Beginners, the album that began taking shape, continued that bent. With Coolidge supplying a fireplace-warm vocal harmony, he recorded “Simple Man,” his song to Mitchell, as well as another on the same topic, “I Used to Be a King.” (“In my bed, late at night, I miss you,” he sang.) He chastised his fellow superstars in “There’s Only One” (“Can we say it’s cool/From a heated pool”) and recorded “Better Days,” the song inspired by Coolidge and Stills’ relationship. The sessions were easygoing, the songs charmingly melodic and gentle, and Young and Crosby joined in now and then—both played on “I Used to Be a King.” “Being with Graham was as easy as breathing,” recalled Coolidge. “We just went in and did it, no pressure, no drugs and alcohol. That was fairly unique in those days.”

The absentee band member was never far from Nash’s thoughts. In “Wounded Bird,” he addressed Stills directly, advising him to “take to heel or tame the horse/The choice is still your own.” The song had been inspired by Stills’ breakup with Judy Collins, yet it also echoed the events of the summer, especially lines like “Humble pie is always hard to swallow with your pride.” This time, though, he didn’t have to worry about a reaction, since his partner was over six thousand miles away. No one was sure when they’d see him next.


Days at Brookfield House in Surrey were rarely as ordinary or surreal as they were on October 22. In the morning, geese honked by the side of the pond, and an eccentric gardener named John made the rounds. On the front lawn, Stills tossed around a football with a visitor who’d just arrived from the States, comanager Elliot Roberts. At the breakfast table inside, talking and rolling joints, were Crosby and, of all people, Stills’ one-time rival, Nash.

A few weeks earlier, following his Colorado detour, Stills had moved into Starr’s Tudor home, which he’d begun renting in the spring. Against the advice of the band’s other manager, David Geffen, Stills opted to stop renting and instead buy the house for 90,000 British pounds. (To Stills’ surprise and annoyance, Allen Klein, representing Starr, unexpectedly raised by the price by 10,000 pounds at the closing.) Now Brookfield House was all his: the wandering swans, the orange grove, the separate movie theater, the doorways built so long ago that it was easy to bump one’s head walking into a room.

Although Nash remained in love with Coolidge, he and Stills had mended their broken fences once more. Nash, who always worked the hardest to keep the band on an even keel, had heard the stories about Stills’ excesses and decided to fly to London to see for himself. “We were very concerned,” Nash said. “Everyone knew where this Stephen Stills story was headed. It wasn’t as if we were clean, smoking dope and snorting. But we had it more under control than Stephen did.”

Over breakfast, Crosby, Nash, and Henry Diltz, who’d joined Stills as houseguest, talked more immediate concerns, namely politics back home. Two weeks earlier, the Yippies in New York had received a tape featuring the voice of Bernardine Dohrn; on it, the cofounder of the Weather Underground announced “a fall offensive of youth resistance that will spread from Santa Barbara to Boston.” Two days later, the group, most on the lam following the March brownstone incineration, followed through on the threat: Explosive devices went off at an ROTC building at the University of Washington and an armory in, as promised, Santa Barbara. At a press conference, attorney general John Mitchell, hardly sympathetic to antiwar protesters to begin with, snapped, “They’re psychotic and out to destroy our institutions.”

In tandem with an increasing number on the left, Crosby actually agreed with Mitchell for probably the first and last time in his life. Although he’d long been a vocal critic of the government, Nixon, and the Warren Commission’s report on John Kennedy’s assassination, Crosby was disturbed by the Weathermen. Their actions, he explained over breakfast in Stills’ house, would be little more than an excuse for Nixon to declare a police state in America. “It would be instant war on us all,” he told Nash and Diltz, adding the Weathermen were “fools.” “Setting off bombs in office buildings was stupid,” he recalled later. “All you do by going that route is become more suppressive.”

The bombs had kept going off, not always by way of Weathermen associates. On the night of August 23, a stolen white Ford Falcon pulled up in front of a research building on the University of Wisconsin’s Madison campus. At 3:40 A.M., an anonymous caller told police, “Hey, pig, there’s a bomb on the university campus. Clear the building.” Two minutes later, the truck—loaded with fertilizer, dynamite, and fuel oil—erupted into a fireball, uprooting trees and smashing windows in nearby buildings. Although the intended target was the Army Mathematics Research Center on the upper floors of the six-story building, the victim turned out to be a thirty-three-year-old research assistant (and father of three), then working in the physics department on the first floor. A manhunt ensued for the four men believed responsible, none associated with the Weathermen or other fringe groups. All were eventually tracked down and arrested, although it would take seven years.

In Tulsa, a district judge was injured when a bomb went off in his station wagon. Firebombs crashed into police headquarters in Burlington, Massachusetts. From those and other bombings, forty people were dead, almost four hundred injured.

For Richard Nixon, all of these jarring detonations and mayhem were, in a twisted way, good news. Even before Kent State, his approval ratings had been down, mirroring the plunge in the Dow that spring. As fall approached, inflation was still on the rise, and early polls taking the public’s temperature on a potential 1972 presidential race between him and Democratic Senator Edwin Muskie of Massachusetts placed them neck and neck.

Then came the Weathermen, college demonstrations, and a general public that disliked the war but disdained scruffy campus protesters even more. (A post-Kent State clash in downtown New York, during which hard hats attacked antiwar activists, was a particularly telling sign for the administration.) Unnerved by the bombings—and comments like Dohrn’s about how her group was “everywhere”—the public was happy to let the so-called Establishment put its fist down, and the administration was more than eager to exploit the law-and-order atmosphere. That fall, Agnew talked up violence and government intervention in speeches, and FBI head J. Edgar Hoover warned of “dissident elements” who “strive violently to destroy our current way of life.” In an attempt to rebrand Nixon as a sympathetic figure, handlers made sure that unruly demonstrators interrupting him at rallies received ample media attention. Even one of Nixon’s gaffes—declaring Charles Manson guilty of murder before his trial had even begun—worked in his favor: Of course Manson did it, most people thought, especially once they saw courtroom photos of the ultimate deranged hippie. (Of course, they were right in that regard: Manson and his cohorts would be found guilty of first-degree murder.) By the fall, Nixon’s ratings had risen once again, and a November poll placed him eight points ahead of Muskie.

The fall midterm elections didn’t go the White House’s way: Democrats gained ten seats in the Senate and nineteen in the House. In a memo to Nixon two days later, special counsel Charles Colson wrote his boss, “We did not succeed in making the public believe that Democrat, Liberal permissiveness was the cause of violence and crime.... We didn’t sell the point that violence and disorder in our society are caused directly by the rhetoric, softness, and catering to the dissidents which the Democrats have engaged in.” But the White House took some comfort anyway. A Vietnam referendum on the ballot found the majority (711,000) supported Nixon’s “peace plan” to end the war, compared to 440,000 who supported immediate withdrawal. “In the urban areas of the East, where fear of crime and violence is widespread,” Colson also wrote, “our stand on law and order was the key issue.”

The election marked the first all-out use of a relatively new Republican tactic of luring Southern white Democrats to the opposing party by way of coded reference to Democracts’ alleged affiliations with black America and “liberal” leanings. In Tennessee, Republican Senate candidate William Brock—better known for the chocolate-covered cherries made by his very profitable Brock Candy Company than for any experience in politics—kept reminding voters that his opponent, Al Gore Sr., supported school busing and desegregation and was against the war and prayer in school. The GOP passed out Gore stickers and buttons to black voters in one largely African American county to make it clear to whites exactly who was in Gore’s camp, and Agnew deemed Gore the “Southern regional chairman of the Eastern liberal establishment.” It worked; after thirty-two years in the House and Senate, Gore lost his job on election day.

For his media profile, Nixon turned that year, as he had in 1968, to a thirty-year-old New York television producer, Roger Ailes. In a memo to Nixon in May, Ailes gave the President and his team pointers on televised appearances, such as having Nixon carry a handkerchief to wipe away perspiration and urging him to act warmer toward his own wife. (“Women voters are particularly sensitive to how a man treats his wife in public,” Ailes wrote. “The more attention she gets, the happier they are.”) Making the most of the medium—and scaring the hell out of white voters—were proving to be effective forms of voter persuasion, and Nixon went along, sometimes begrudgingly and sometimes willingly, with what appeared to be a trend of the future.


The Beatles continued to haunt them. On November 8, Crosby was back in San Francisco. With members of the Dead, he recorded “Laughing,” written two years before about George Harrison’s devotion to Indian spirituality. The song wasn’t just about Harrison. (“It was a response, but not just about George,” Crosby recalled. “Anybody who tells you ‘I’ve been talking to God’ is full of shit.”) But it cast a wary eye on spiritual saviors in the same way Lennon had on Plastic Ono Band. With his layers of twelve-string guitars and Garcia’s aching pedal steel guitar, which seemed to turn into a fiddle, “Laughing” was another massive, engulfing sonic cavern from the Crosby sessions. Joni Mitchell, whose bond with Crosby extended farther back than hers with Nash, contributed a spiraling, cooing harmony as well.

Whether CSNY, like the Beatles, would converge again remained an open question, the unsteady stuff of whims and moods. The informal reunion in London hadn’t taken hold; to the press, Elliot Roberts declared that a group tour in the summer of 1971 was “a guess.” Did Ertegun or Lookout Management make a mistake pushing for Young to join Crosby, Stills & Nash to begin with? Did they sacrifice short-term financial gain for the long-term group cohesion? Or were they always meant to come together and fall apart? “We were doing what we always intended,” Stills recalled, “which was to make a couple of records together and then go away from each other for a while before we killed each other.”

In November, the record Stills had been slaving away on all year, Stephen Stills, became the next sign of disharmony in the band. The album was a road map of Stills’ previous six months. Some of it had been cut during his visit to London in the spring, the cover presented Stills with his mysterious, intimate-message toy giraffe, and Coolidge sang on several songs and was the subject of two others, “Cherokee” and “Sit Yourself Down.” For someone who valued his privacy, Stills exposed more about his personal life on his first album than any of the rest of CSNY.

By then, each man’s songs and approach to music-making reflected his personality: Nash’s orderly and tidy, Crosby’s laissez-faire and permissive, Young’s sturdy and focused, Stills’ nervy and headstrong. If After the Gold Rush was an indisputably well-built house of songs, Stephen Stills was a messy room that wouldn’t have it any other way. The album moved from a raw-voiced, ferociously picked acoustic blues, “Black Queen,” to a lushly orchestrated ballad, “To a Flame,” pausing along the way for a nod to gospel (“Church [Part of Someone]”), a ballad that could have been part of a Greenwich Village folk repertoire (“Do for the Others”), and scene-stealing cameos by Hendrix (“Old Times Good Times”) and Clapton (“Go Back Home”). Stills’ creative ambitions were on full display: None of the others in his current band would have attempted, nor pulled off, a piece of orchestrated folk rock with gospel midsection like the climactic “We Are Not Helpless,” complete with Ringo Starr on drums. Stills’ voice, too, ran the gamut from supple to whiskey-roughedup. In the way it moved restlessly from one genre to another, Stephen Stills attested to Stills’ burning-at-both-ends intensity that both drove him and, as the fall progressed, threatened to derail him at any moment. (With its songs’ subtle instrumental and rhythm shifts, it also pinpointed Stills’ painstaking devotion to the craft of recordmaking—a vastly different approach from Young’s, who preferred as much spontaneity as possible.)

Even before the album was out, Stills was already at work on its follow-up, driving himself even harder. Kept awake by any number of substances, Stills and his engineer and coproducer, Bill Halverson, would stay up for days at Island Studios in London, recording song after song, take after take, variation after variation. They cut “Change Partners,” two years old but prophetic given CSNY’s situation, in different tempos; at Stills’ expense, the Memphis Horns were flown over from the States for a taste of the big-band rock then in vogue. “Stephen heard what was in his head and was chasing it,” Halverson says. “But I was starting to lose perspective. Some of those long three or four days together, what we ended up with, we didn’t want.”

In London, Stills’ days and nights became a nonstop blur of activity, musical and otherwise. Bill Wyman of the Rolling Stones and Robert Plant dropped by. Stills would start recording, take a break, and go to a club, where he could watch Princess Anne dance or meet Peter Sellers, in whose former house Stills was now living. One night, he dragged Sellers back to the studio at three in the morning to hear his tapes. When Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention came through town, Stills jammed with them onstage and caroused with them in their dressing room later. In his brown Jaguar, he drove to an airport and flew to Amsterdam to join the Stones onstage, then partied with them until dawn in Keith Richards’ hotel room. Hearing that his Mulholland Drive dragracing buddy Steve McQueen was filming Le Mans outside Paris—and hoping he could write the score for the film—Stills rented a Mercedes and drove it onto a ferry bound for France. When he arrived at the racetrack where they were filming, he discovered McQueen and his crew had already left.

Back in England, he tooled around the countryside in his other car, a Ferrari, and bought two Thoroughbreds from an Irish horse dealer. Deliveries for the wine cellar would appear regularly. One day’s shipment included four bottles of 1960 Château Mouton Rothschild, six of Kruger champagne, six of Dom Perignon, and four of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Inevitably, empty bottles were scattered on the lawn near a fence. “It was wicked dangerous because there were nasty things crawling about,” Stills recalled. “And I managed to walk that razor’s edge. Probably not without making an utter fool of myself.”

Somehow it was fitting that Stills and Starr would find themselves face-to-face again at Tramp during the first week of December. Try as they might, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young couldn’t escape the sobriquet “American Beatles” that had been bestowed upon them. “The Let It Be stuff was overhanging the whole year,” Stills recalled, “that they were basically ready to kill each other. And I guess we got caught up in that too. We could all feel it. It permeated the whole industry. We were all getting very full of ourselves, and it was probably time to not be restricted by running everything by your mates, because some of them may understand what you’re doing and some might not.” Like the Beatles, CSNY had experienced it all: early camaraderie, dizzying fame, endless hours in recording studios, ample drug experimentation, mounting interpersonal tensions, and, finally, disarray. Remarkably, though, they’d managed to do it not in a decade but in a mere eighteen months.

If you find an error or have any questions, please email us at Thank you!