Sunday, June 2, 2019

Re-Remembering David Crosby

              We recently saw the film David Crosby: Remember My Name at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque and as I write, I’m listening to his hauntingly beautiful music on Spotify. Sitting close to us in the audience was the multitalented American-Israeli guitarist/songwriter Danny Sanderson (Kaveret, Gazoz etc.)  and next to him, wearting sunglasses, was the actress Anat Atzmon, perhaps the sex symbol of Ashkenazi 1970s Israel (Dizengoff 99). But times have changed and Anat is currently appearing in the Yiddishspiel Theater production of Bistu Shein – a “sweeping musical drama interlaced with the best hits of the Barry Sisters.” Danny has also mellowed with the years. He recently played his classic hits with the Israel Philharmonic. Danny and Anat, like much of the audience, like us, were over 60 and looking it. 

             Soon, we all plunged together with the white-maned Crosby- surprised as anyone to still be alive – through his glorious, tragic, manic life. Completely candid, Crosby was clearly in the mood to repent and used the film as his confession box. Sorrowfully, he mentioned that none of the major artists he had worked with (e.g Neil Young, Roger McGuinn, Graham Nash, Steven Stills) would talk to him today. Amazingly he can still hit the top notes like no other and is performing a recording with cool young artists less than half his age.

             When the lights went up the audience applauded, weakly. I wondered how many of them felt any real connection to his story of rebellion, rock’n’roll and self-abuse set against turbulent America in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Beyond the fringes of the Israeli left and the Tel Aviv bohema, that brand of smash -the-system-and-let’s-get-stoned counter culture  never really caught on in an Israel already high from winning the Six Day War. Legend has it that in the early 1960s, Golda Meir prevented the Beatles from performing in Israel since she was afraid that would “corrupt the youth.”

             I only came across Crosby myself (as well as CNY and CSNY) after I arrived in Israel in 1972. Teach Your Children, Helpless, Our House could be heard wafting over many a kibbutz swimming pool from a cassette tape imported by a long haired American volunteer. Of course, I knew Graham Nash, Crosby’s partner in sublime harmony, from the British pop group, the Hollies.

             Later I would play Crosby’s first solo album If I Could Only Remember My Name over and over in the echoing space of our living room in Baka’a in Jerusalem, the glorious harmonies rising to the tall ceiling along with the hash smoke. The album would then be replaced with the other LPs in a long wooden ammunition box I had lugged home from the army. That’s how it is in Israel: the liberal, freedom-seeking culture of the west smacks up against the local reality. An uncomfortable co-existence.

             To this day, although almost bald, I sometimes involuntarily belt out the first few dramatic bars of “Almost Cut My Hair”.

             Playing guitar in an open tunings is always a joy. Apart from creating a pleasant drone, open tunings seem to change the whole playing environment, encouraging you to seek out undiscovered new chords. Crosby has his own open tuning – EBDGAD. Play that open chord and you are instantly transported to Crosby mode. I happened to discover this tuning a few months ago and after a few days of playing around with it wrote and recorded an instrumental that I named Crosby.

             Thanks to Wetransfer I sent my recording to Itai Kriss in New York who added a flute part that I think Crosby would approve of.

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