Linda Castellani (castle) Wed 12 Jun 02 14:14
Our next guest is Dave Zimmer, author of _Crosby, Stills and Nash, the Biography_. He tells us a little bit about himself and the book: "Baseball was my first love. Music and writing came next, further down the line, during my freshman year as an English major at UC Davis in central California. The music of Crosby, Stills & Nash, Neil Young, and Joni Mitchell grabbed me by the soul in the early '70s. During my 13 years as a music journalist, I wrote about 500 articles, became friends with Crosby, Stills & Nash, and authored the text of the group's only biography. Henry Diltz provided the photos for my book. While I've worked as a writer and editor in Corporate Communications for a global entertainment company since 1990, my musical heart and journalistic soul still reside in Laurel Canyon, California, circa 1969, even though I now live in New Jersey. "Crosby, Stills & Nash: The Biography "Back in 1981, photographer Henry Diltz and I approached Crosby, Stills & Nash about working together on their biography. I had earned CSN's trust as a journalist after interviewing each of them individually. Henry Diltz had been their friend since the mid '60s, taken the photographs for their first album in 1969, and chronicled their musical lives ever since. The group agreed to cooperate and opened up full access for the next two years. In addition to CSN, I interviewed Joni Mitchell, Grace Slick, John Sebastian and a host of other friends, associates and family members. The resultant book, "Crosby, Stills & Nash: The Authorized Biography," was published by St. Martin's Press in 1984. Da Capo Press published an updated and expanded edition in the spring of 2000 (as "Crosby, Stills & Nash: The Biography"), coinciding with the release of a new Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young album and concert tour of North America. It remains the only book written on the band." Leading the discussion with Dave is Mary Eisenhart, long-time WELL member and host. Back in the days when Dave Zimmer was editor at BAM and working on this book, Mary Eisenhart was the proofreader and much given to arcane stylistic fixes at the last possible minute. It is a testament to the saintly patience of the said Zimmer that she lived to tell the tale. Mary also co-founded the Well's first Grateful Dead conferences, was the editor of MicroTimes magazine for 14 years, and is now a freelance writer/editor in Oakland, CA. Please join me in welcoming Dave and Mary to inkwell.vue!
Mary Eisenhart (marye) Wed 12 Jun 02 14:35
So Dave, my first question is--why this particular music? You say in your bio that CSN, Neil Young and Joni Mitchell all had a profound impact on you when they first burst on the scene--what was so different and/or compelling about them? What else was going on at the time that made them so impressive?
Dave Zimmer (zimmerdave) Wed 12 Jun 02 17:19
Well Mary, the truth is I didn't really experience CSN, Neil and Joni when they first burst onto the scene in the late '60s. Baseball was my life then. Music was in the background, although I played clarinet in my high school orchestra and took music lessons at Dana Morgan's Music Shop in Palo Alto. (Several years later I learned that Jerry Garcia used to teach guitar there.) When I started college at UC Davis in 1971, my record collection was a motley mix of albums by Burt Bacharach, Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass, the Beach Boys and the Ventures, some original Broadway Cast Recordings, and a few classical records (Dvorak, Rimsky-Korsikoff, Mussorgsky). I was introduced to the music of Crosby, Stills & Nash, Neil Young and Joni Mitchell by a college dorm friend. Their songs were like a lifeline to a 19-year-old kid finding his way out of the "straight world." I was immediately taken by the blend of honesty, sensitivity, strength and power in such songs as "Wooden Ships," "Long Time Gone," "4 + 20," "Ohio," "The Lee Shore," "Right Between the Eyes," "Woodstock" and "For Free." To my ears, CSN(&Y) sounded like musical realists. They weren't hiding their feelings. They were turning them into passionate music. I listened to their personal tales, sparked by feelings of love, pain and wonder, enveloped by this magical vocal harmony. I would later see that they helped define an era. Initially, CSN's music just helped me define me, to be honest. When I began immersing myself in the first CSN album, Deja Vu, 4-Way Street, Ladies of the Canyon and After the Goldrush, I found my voice as a writer, stopped cutting my hair and grew a full beard. I also took my clarinet back to Dana Morgan's in Palo Alto and traded it in for a steel-string acoustic guitar. So '71 - '72, with the help of CSN & Co., was a pivotal axis turn in my life. At that point, I had no idea that I would one day become a journalist and write a book about their music and lives.
Mary Eisenhart (marye) Wed 12 Jun 02 18:24
So how did that happen, the becoming a journalist and writing a book about these guys? (I ask having essentially turned myself into a journalist because I couldn't see how else I'd ever get to have a decent conversation with Jerry Garcia...) And also, what is your view of the sage advice "don't make friends with the rock stars"?
Dave Zimmer (zimmerdave) Thu 13 Jun 02 08:55
My career in music journalism certainly didnt happen by design. A little providence was involved. In the summer of 1977, I was living in a $140-a-month studio apartment in Mountain View, CA and working as director of editorial services for an ad agency in Palo Alto. I was also going to several local concerts and club shows each week. One in particular was a bar date in Santa Cruz featuring The Ducks (the local band Neil Young played with that summer). I happened to sit down at the same table as BAM Magazine publisher Dennis Erokan and BAM editor Blair Jackson. We struck up a conversation, by the end of which Blair had invited me to stop by the BAM offices to talk about writing a review or two. I did just that about a month later. My first piece for BAM was a short item on the by then Young-less Ducks. My first major BAM feature was on Neil Youngs band, Crazy Horse. My first BAM cover story was on Stephen Stills. Flying down to L.A. to interview Stills at his old Bel Air home in early 1979, I thought about how I lucky I was -- on the verge of meeting one of my musical heroes, with a legitimate, professional reason to do so. I thought, This is a job? My first interview with Stills spanned about two hours and four different rooms in his house. It was hard for him to sit still for long, and I just moved when he moved. It was a magical afternoon. Stills paused at the door as I was leaving and said, You did your home work. I like that. A year later, I was able to interview Graham Nash for BAM. We met at Crossroads of the World in Hollywood. Instantly warm and inviting, Nash told me one amazing story after another about his early days with the Hollies, CSN in Laurel Canyon, meeting Joni Mitchell, the Woodstock experience I was enchanted and mesmerized. The resulting Nash article ran in two parts. A month after Part II was published, I got a phone message from the BAM receptionist: David Crosby just called looking for your phone number. Is it OK if I give it to him? Of course I said, Yes! Two minutes later I was on the phone with Croz, who just wanted to tell me how much he enjoyed reading the Nash article and that I was welcome to interview him any time I wanted. I took Crosby up on his offer and visited him at his old house in Mill Valley a number of times and filled up about a half dozen 90-minute cassettes. Since he had no product out at the time, no article resulted, but much of the content of those conversations would end up in my CSN book. Having met photographer Henry Diltz in 1979 after interviewing Stills, we kept in touch. Henry frequently invited me to his charming little house in Laurel Canyon that was filled with boxes of proof sheets, prints and slides -- many of them of CSN, CSN&Y, Stills, Joni, Neil. It was a photographic paradise. One night we talked about working together on a book on CSN. No one had ever done one. We talked of making the book a fluid tale, a marriage of words and photos. Crosby is the first one we approached. He was enthusiastically supportive. Nash and Stills soon gave also gave their consent, and we were off. After penning a sample chapter and boxing it up with a dozen of Henrys photos of CSN, our agent in New York soon landed a deal with St. Martins Press. Ill get more into the book research and writing process later. In answer to your second question about dont make friends with rock stars Before I became a music journalist, my favorite rock writer was Cameron Crowe. I loved his articles in Rolling Stone and Creem. He usually wrote these long, expansive pieces on my favorite artists with such warmth and caring. He painted real portraits filled with insight, candor and humor. It felt like he was writing about his friends, people he genuinely liked. My own style evolved out of an appreciation for this approach. So I dont agree with Lester Bangs, who (according to Crowes almost Almost Famous) offered that sage advice. I know, from experience, that its possible for a journalist to be an artists friend without becoming a sycophant. By the time I committed to writing the biography of Crosby, Stills and Nash, I had interviewed each of them enough times to the point where there was a relaxed honesty to our conversations. They sensed I wasnt there to probe for dirty laundry. I was just looking to present their lives honestly and comprehensively. So, from my perspective, I never viewed my friendship with Croz, Nash or Stills as a hindrance. It only helped me get deeper into their music and their lives.
Mary Eisenhart (marye) Thu 13 Jun 02 09:58
Still, that's a tough balancing act. In this particular case, there was often some pretty dark stuff going on with all the transcendent experiences (this is not news, as your subjects are pretty candid about it). On the one hand, you don't want to go all Geraldo on them, betraying people who trust you, and on the other, you have a somewhat different role from their publicist. So what do you think about in trying to achieve that balance, and how do you work it out with your subjects, short- and long-term?
Dave Zimmer (zimmerdave) Thu 13 Jun 02 11:26
Ah, yes, "the dark stuff." David was in the middle of his severe drug addiction when I first met him and he made no attempt to hide it from me. The impact this had on his life and music are in the book. And David did not edit that out. He wanted the truth. Nash, too, was intent on this book not coming off like a sanitized version of the CSN story. And Stills ... he was intent on making sure his side of things was always clear and not white washed. While I may not have focused on the dark sides of CSN, I didn't ignore them. I was never afraid to ask the tough questions out of fear that the guys might not want to talk to me again. And I would not consider my role as a biographer anything close to that of a publicist. So, I never I had to work anything out with the guys when it came to tone and coverage. The balance evolved naturally.
Mary Eisenhart (marye) Thu 13 Jun 02 11:37
In one of our offline conversations, you mentioned the fact that for a lot of the rock-critic establishment, CSN aren't taken seriously. (This also comes up in the book from time to time!) Being a Deadhead and all, I am not wholly unfamiliar with this phenomenon, but... what are these guys missing??
Dave Zimmer (zimmerdave) Thu 13 Jun 02 17:04
What are they missing? The Mars to Venus Crosby and Nash jazzy scat harmony blends in "Guinnevere" (Miles Davis is no fool; he recorded a 20-plus minute version of the song) ... Stills' heart on the cutting board cries (vocals and guitar) in "I Give, You Give Blind" ... Nash's raging "Wild Tales" live ... the number of time changes and melodic U-turns in Croz's "Deja Vu" ... three voices, one acoustic guitar, "Blackbird" ... Stills' guitar solos in "Wooden Ships" and "Dark Star" ... Crosby and Nash's magical "Taken At All" ... the chordal beauty of "Triad" ... I could go on and on. My fantasy would be to lock the so-called "rock critic establishment" in a room and pipe in some of the above tracks through a state-of-the-art sound system. Because my sense is that these men and women just haven't taken the time to listen. The guy who referred to CSN as "limpid adult bubble gum rockers" has not heard "Almost Cut My Hair" live. I would stake my life on that.
Mary Eisenhart (marye) Thu 13 Jun 02 18:41
One more thing before we open the doors--most of the CSN fans I know, who may not be entirely representative, are relative geezers like ourselves, i.e. more or less contemporary with C, S, and N. And that's fine, of course. But is there also something going on there that would speak to today's young audiences, maybe not the Britney generation but people who like newer stuff? Say you were talking to a Wilco fan who for some reason had never heard these guys--what would you play for them to get them to check it out? How would you explain that this is worth their while? Or, if not Wilco, Modest Mouse! Gorillaz!:-)
Dave Zimmer (zimmerdave) Fri 14 Jun 02 08:09
If someone was already a fan of artists like Wilco and Ryan Adams but had never really checked out CSN, I would start them out with CSNY's 4-Way Street. It's all there -- great Martin guitar-driven wooden music, emotional vocals, and rumbling electric jams. Most of the newer folk/rock bands are passionately lo-fi, so listening to CSN(&Y)live would be a way for a like-minded fan to immediately get the strength of Stephen, David and Graham's musicianship. Then I would put on the first CSN album. I would also provide a little history lesson centered around the bands CSN came from, selecting some key tracks ... Buffalo Springfield's "Bluebird," "Rock and Roll Woman," and "Four Days Gone," The Byrds' "Everybody's Been Burned," "Renaissance Fair," and "Eight Miles High," and, perhaps, the Hollies' "Bus Stop" and "King Midas In Reverse." These roots are deep and powerful. Younger fans should know that Neil Young isn't the only "godfather." They should also check out some key solo projects ... Crosby's "If I Could Only Remember My Name" (particularly "Cowboy Movie," "Laughing" and "Music Is Love"), Stills' Manassas double album ("So Begins the Task," "The Treasure," "Blues Man")and Nash's "Wild Tales" ("And So It Goes," "On the Line" and "Another Sleep Song"). A must listen would also be Crosby & Nash live -- the acoustic Another Stoney Evening and the ABC live album with The Mighty Jitters (David Lindley, Danny Kortchmar, etc.). Of further importance would be to illustrate what Croz, Nash and Stills are doing today. The CPR albums would be front and center. I've not met anyone yet who has not been completely blown away by Croz's work with Pevar, Raymond & Co. The messages are contemporary and the performances are stunning. Nash's new Songs For Survivors solo album would also be a must play. Again, the relevance is there. As for Stills ... if he wasn't playing live somewhere, demonstrating his current state would be tougher. To be honest, I don't think Stephen has recorded a truly great song since the early '80s. But he can still burn it up on stage -- most recently on the CSNY 2K2 tour. A live recording from a May 2002 CSNY show would attest to that fact. Finally, if a person was still skeptical about taking the time to explore the music of CSN, I would explain that all music has roots and the payoff for exploring those roots is a greater appreciation for the "sprouts" that stem from them. In addition, they just might discover that the genuine articles are best of all.
Mary Eisenhart (marye) Fri 14 Jun 02 09:06
An excellent response! And now, since the doors are about to open--welcome, folks, and feel free to ask Dave your own questions!
tambourine verde (barb-albq) Fri 14 Jun 02 11:48
Hi folks: I was wondering what Dave thinks about the new bio of Neil Young written by Jimmy McDonough. Mr. McDonough often injects his personal views on CSN music and they are very dismissive for the most part. In contrast, he is almost idolic (is that a word?) about Neil's work with Crazy Horse. How does this play into the idea of writing a bio as a friend or fan of the subject(s)? And on the view critics about CSN music? (PS Loved your book, Dave.)
David Gans (tnf) Fri 14 Jun 02 11:59
From Ernie Osborne: Hi D. Ernest! I hope everything is going super for you! Your pal, Ernest O.
Dave Zimmer (zimmerdave) Fri 14 Jun 02 14:35
Hi Barb ... thanks for joining the discussion, and I'm happy you enjoyed my book. Regarding Jimmy McDonough's book Shakey ... Jimmy is a friend, and I was in touch with him periodically during the years he spent conducting interviews, doing research, and writing the text. He literally poured his life into this thing, and it shows. That Jimmy praised everything David Briggs and Crazy Horse touched and dismissed anything connected to CSN was not a surprise. Jimmy never made a secret about his musical prejudices. Even though I often didn't agree with his critial slant, I still enjoyed reading his book. Neil's speaking voice and views on everything from his parents to his career moves shined through pretty well -- along side Jimmy's off-beat running commentary. Regarding the treatment of CSN and Stills in Shakey, Neil himself offered some very personal, mostly affectionate comments (particularly about Stills). Jimmy frequently set up quotes from others (including Joel Bernstein and Graham Nash) to talk down Stills. CSN, as you said, was mostly treated with disdain throughout. Early in the book, Neil told Jimmy he didn't want to hurt anyone in the course of telling the tale of his life. In the end, a number of people were bruised in Shakey's pages. It's been suggested that perhaps that is why this book almost wasn't published. Earlier in this Inkwell conversation, in response to a question from Mary, I talked about how being a friend and fan of an artist can only help a biographer in his or her quest to present an honest and complete portrait. This also allowed me to gain access to such band friends as Joni Mitchell, John Sebastian, Grace Slick, Elliot Roberts, Paul Rothchild ... people who were able to personalize and add perspective to the story behind CSN. That said, my book did not shy away from the conflicts and ups and downs that Croz, Nash and Stills have experienced. As a biographer, I also never lost sight of the magic. People who read my book I hope get the full-screen picture; that was my goal. Mary earlier asked me what critics of CSN are missing. To reprise that response, I'm convinced most of them haven't taken the time to really listen. If they do listen and still don't like the music ... fine. CSN have never tried to adapt their music to the critical winds that come and go. And I'm thankful they haven't. P.S. It's nice to get a personal note from my online bro, Ernest O.
Mary Eisenhart (marye) Fri 14 Jun 02 16:35
So tell us a little about your collaborator, Henry Diltz, and how the process of choosing the right words and text came about.
Mary Eisenhart (marye) Fri 14 Jun 02 17:15
That should be right pictures and words.
Mary Eisenhart (marye) Fri 14 Jun 02 17:16
And also, if you were starting this book today, what would you do differently?
Dave Zimmer (zimmerdave) Fri 14 Jun 02 18:03
Henry Diltz is talented photographer/musician/singer. He started in the music business as part of the Modern Folk Quartet and met both Stills and Crosby in the mid '60s when he was in that seminal group. His hobby of taking photos of friends became a profession when friends such as John Sebastian, Stills and Crosby became successful musicians and needed album cover shots. In addition to the first Crosby, Stills & Nash cover, Henry's photography has graced albums by the likes of Jackson Browne, The Lovin' Spoonful, The Eagles, The Doors, Linda Ronstadt, America and the Souther Hillman Furay Band. His photos have usually been part of album covers designed by Gary Burden. A new DVD called "Under the Covers" chronicles Henry and Gary's adventures as a team and reveals the stories behind the creation of many of their album covers. I was fortunate to meet Henry in 1979 the same day that I interviewed Stephen Stills for the first time. We became good friends and our decision to collaborate on the biography of Crosby, Stills & Nash came about over beers at the Cat & the Fiddle in Los Angeles in 1981. As related in an earlier post, CSN was supportive and we quickly landed a publishing deal. In addition to his candid and personal photos -- from his "fly on the wall" perspective -- Henry also opened his personal phone book to me, leading to, most significantly, my interview with Joni Mitchell. She was rehearsing at A&M Studios in L.A. and consented to chat for 15 minutes. Every word Joni spoke was golden and most were used in the book. Two years of interviews and research, all transcribed onto 4 x 6 note cards, were in piles on the floor of my old apartment in L.A. in the Spring of 1983. By June of that year, I'd organized everything into an order and outline that seemed to flow together and featured as many anecdotes as possible. Six weeks later, a complete first draft was finished -- in long-hand. I still have the binder containing that first draft. Finding the right words was not hard when I had such rich material and a fascinating story to work with -- filled with love, tragedy, conflict and, ultimately, triumph and survival. Henry took the first typed draft and made notes in the margin such as "Stills in Hawaii," "Joni and Graham on the way to Big Bear," "Crosby rolling joints." I helped him with the final selection -- which ended up being more than 275 photographs. We wanted to tell the tale as dramatically as possible. When Graham talks about Joni writing the song "Willy" about him, there is photo adjacent to that paragraph that shows Joni writing a draft of the song. When Stills talks about his 1971 Madison Square Garden concert, three shots of Stephen on stage playing guitar are in view. To be able to have Henry's photos flow throughout the text I wrote was a dream come true for me. Mary, in answer to your last question ... I can't think of anything I would have done differently. The text flowed so quickly, it was like all of the pieces were there and I just had to fit them together. That's the truth.
something named (stdale) Sat 15 Jun 02 03:58
It's way past my bedtime, so I'll weigh in later with a clearer mind, but I'm excited to find this topic underway and want to thank you, Dave, for writing the book. It was a treat to read and it's a treat to get your further insights here.
Dave Zimmer (zimmerdave) Sat 15 Jun 02 06:20
Thanks very much for your kind words "st." Feel free to fire away with any questions, at any time ... just waking up here in the Eastern U.S. time zone. Will check in again later.
Mary Eisenhart (marye) Sat 15 Jun 02 11:37
Meanwhile, apropos of Henry, I've got to say that the photos in the book, especially the ones from the Laurel Canyon period, are a hell of an argument for a trusted relationship with your subject. They are just lovely. Can you talk about the Laurel Canyon period a bit--from the descriptions in the book, it sounds like this incredibly rich, golden, intense time-- that came and went in the blink of an eye. From what you've learned in your travels, what was going on at the time that made the whole scene happen, and why didn't it last?
David Gans (tnf) Sat 15 Jun 02 12:28
> Stills paused at the door as I was leaving and said, You did your home > work. I like that. That is such a great feeling! I had a smilar moment n my first interview with Phil Lesh in 1981.
David Gans (tnf) Sat 15 Jun 02 12:29
> I know, from experience, that its possible for a journalist to be an art- > ists friend without becoming a sycophant. It is possible, but sometimes difficult.
Dave Zimmer (zimmerdave) Sat 15 Jun 02 13:37
I agree on both counts, David. It feels good to know the artists appreciate and understand the preparation involved before the interview starts. As for your other point ... when you get caught up in the magic ... Speaking of magic ... yes, Mary, the Laurel Canyon scene was rich and golden -- particularly in 1968 and 1969. Even though I didn't experience it first hand, I felt like I was there after talking to Joni, Nash, Croz, Stills, Henry, Sebastian, Elliot Roberts and Ron Stone -- who was living in Joni's old house when I interviewed him in 1982. I actually got to walk through Joni's old house on Lookout Mountain Road and see, with my own eyes, what she had described as being "like a treehouse ... it had a kind of soulfulness and was full of knotty pine, which was kind of our interior anthem at the time. That was hippie heaven, with a rustic fire place and a good feeling ... Sometimes people would drop in singularly, or sometimes a group would congregate. There would be nights when everyone sat up and played acoustic music and swapped songs. Everyone was particularly fertile." With its hill homes, flowing green foliage and "free agent" musicians at the peak of their creative powers, Laurel Canyon was like a mecca for everyone looking to experience the blossoming spirit of folk-rock. Glenn Frey once told me, "The first day I was in California, I saw David Crosby on the porch of the Canyon Store in Laurel Canyon. He had on his brimmed hat and cape. I was struck by how small he was. Because in my mind, David Crosby was this giant!" I still get chills remembering the first time Nash told me how CSN, acoustic guitars in hand, went from house and house in Laurel Canyon in early 1969: "We would sit people down and say, 'Listen.' And we would sit right down and play 'Suite: Judy Blue Eyes' right in front of them, great. And we would follow it with 'Helplessly Hoping,' 'You Don't Have to Cry,' 'Marrakesh Express,' 'Right Between the Eyes,' 'Guinnevere,' 'Long Time Gone.' By the time they'd sat down and listened to this hour of music, they were on the floor! We used to play deliberately to blow people away." Why didn't the Laurel Canyon scene last? Success, for one thing. A lot of the musicians moved out, into bigger houses. The communal spirit didn't sustain. Nash once told me, "When competition and ego moved in, it was over." Also, from what I learned in talking to people, the Manson murders sent a lingering chill through the area. By 1970, Laurel Canyon was a different place. But strong memories, Henry Diltz's magical photographs, and the music hatched there live on.
David Gans (tnf) Sat 15 Jun 02 13:59
My God, to have CS&N troop in and perform in your living room like that. Amazing!!
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