BY PATRICK FOSTER
If you like your music books in the same way I like my music books, plowing through an entire volume only to find one or two juicy nuggets you were previously unaware of — stories of outrageous rock star hedonism or self destruction for instance — is the very minimum return you expect. The max is something closer to a captivating thrill ride filled with jaw dropping behavior, bridges burned, grudges still held, meanings of favorite songs revealed and relationships scattered like twigs in the relentless pursuit of Art. In short, shining a new kind of light on the main subject.
Peter Doggett’s take on the careers of David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Graham Nash and Neil Young, simply titled Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, barely scrapes into my minimum category, covering the basics but providing little original insight into the life of this enormously high profile (and cliched) combo. And therein lies the challenge Doggett faced.
He’s not an inexperienced hand in this pursuit, having written about a little pop group called The Beatles, as well as some guy who paraded around as Ziggy Stardust. But if you are going aim high, you better be a damn good shot and Doggett’s aim is pretty average.
The book is a routine ramble through a familiar rock star tale, from the legendary goosebumps that those present felt the first time these dudes got really high together and harmonized, to taking separate buses on massive tour dates (because they weren’t speaking to each other at that point, natch) at which they each pocketed 80 zillion dollars a night — and were so high on coke you could practically hear their nostril cartilage collapsing between songs.
The book is overstuffed with quotes, many of which are confusingly pinned to the beginning of chapters and often bear little relation to what’s happening in the story at that point. To further muddy the waters, there are “Woodstock” asides inserted into the text, attempting to tell the story of their legendary performance in parallel, but it serves little purpose other than to derail the narrative.
That said, it’s not without merit. If you don’t know the story or are a rock fan under the age of 21, (you poor sucker) there is something to be gleaned from the work Doggett has done. He’s certainly a skilled compiler of previously published interviews and reviews. He understands how to keep a rock bio moving. There are some nice photos.
What ultimately undoes Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young is Doggett’s willingness to try to uncover what really went down during the key years of the group’s existence. Somewhere near the middle of the book, he employs a sentence that gets to the heart of my issues with this work: “As ever, there are multiple versions of what happened next.” Well, yeah, Peter, of course, like duh. It’s your job to peel those layers away and come up with what your years of music-consuming, rock star interviewing and researching tell you really went on. That’s what I hoped for when I cracked this book. What I got was a story that came and went with barely a ripple on the water, hardly an impression of the band’s place in history altered.
It’s a high profile swing for the fences, but Doggett gets caught looking. Not even the minimum is delivered. And eventually, like the song says, it gets to the point where it’s just no fun anymore.
Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young By Peter Doggett 368 pages Atria Books Buy on Amazon