Musician David Crosby, of the Byrds and CSNY, dies
LOS ANGELES — David Crosby, who helped found two supergroups that broadened and deepened the reach of rock music, and who, with his outspoken political pronouncements and famously outsized appetites came to symbolize the Woodstock generation’s exuberance and excesses, has died, according to a source close to the musician.
Bedeviled by drug and alcohol addictions early in life and then corresponding medical problems as he grew old, Crosby was 81.
A guitarist who sang in a crystal-clear middle tenor, Crosby had a voice sometimes described as angelic. He wrote or cowrote songs with evocative lyrics and unusual tunings, and many of them — “Eight Miles High,” “Guinnevere,” “Wooden Ships,” “Long Time Gone” — continue stirring the hearts of fans who had long since traded their mescaline for Medicare. He was twice inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
For some, Crosby took his place in rock history on Aug. 18, 1969, when he performed at Woodstock with Stephen Stills, Graham Nash and the fledgling group’s recent addition, Neil Young.
At 3 a.m. on the festival’s final night, they played for about an hour. When they launched into “Long Time Gone,” an elegy inspired by Robert F. Kennedy’s assassination the previous year, Rolling Stone critic Greil Marcus wrote of Crosby that he had “never seen a musician more involved in his music.” At one point, Crosby aimed his twelve-string guitar over the stage’s edge and, belting out the powerful lyrics he had written, nearly fell off.
“Their performance was a scary brilliant proof of the magnificence of music,” Marcus wrote, “and I don’t believe it could have happened with such power anywhere else.”
Born in Los Angeles on Aug. 14, 1941, David Van Cortlandt Crosby came from parents with old-money New York City roots in the Van Cortlandt and Van Rensselaer families. An early Van Cortlandt was the city’s first native-born mayor, from 1710 to 1719. Crosby’s paternal grandfather was treasurer of the Union Pacific railroad.
Breaking with family traditions, Crosby’s father, Floyd, and mother, Aliph, headed for Hollywood. Floyd, a cinematographer, received a 1931 Oscar for his work on “Tabu: A Story of the South Seas.” Aliph, a poet and a singer, stayed home to raise young David and his older brother, Ethan. She took the boys to symphony performances and organized family singalongs that profoundly influenced her younger son.
“Music kind of snuck up and kissed me on the ear,” he said.
When he was 6, Crosby started singing harmonies as his dad played mandolin and the family sang from “The Fireside Book of Folk Songs.” At 14, he was given his first guitar — his brother’s old Silvertone acoustic.
An itinerant rocker, Crosby played clubs and slept on couches across the country. In 1964, he returned to L.A., where he hooked up with a band that called itself the Jet Set, then the Beefeaters, and, finally, the Byrds.
The Byrds quickly became a phenomenal success. Their songs — with lush vocal harmonies supplied by Crosby, Roger McGuinn and guitarist Gene Clark — broke into the Top 40 lists seven times.