© 2005 by Spider Robinson; all rights reserved.
Let me tell you about the very first e-mail I received this year, quoted here with kind permission—and if the delay lag gives you an idea of how full this desk is, double it, because I made this diary entry a priority. (Now you know why I don’t blog.)
It was a helluva nice way to start a new year, because it was a fan letter, from someone whose work I’ve admired for…Jesus, forty friggin’ years, now. There is no warmer pleasure to be had, out of bed, than learning you are a mutual fan. And in this case, I’m a REAL fan.
Talkin’ ‘bout the man who wrote “Everybody’s Been Burned,” and “Triad,” and “Long Time Gone,” and “Almost Cut My Hair,” and what I think is the very first science fiction song ever to earn a dollar, “Wooden Ships,” and if I don’t stop listing his masterpieces this will go on for 10,000 words before I even get started--I’m talkin’ about Mr. David Crosby. The Croz--of the Byrds, and Crosby, Stills and Nash, and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, and CPR, and most recently of Crosby & Nash with CPR. The Cat With Eight More Lives To Go. Sweetest voice in the business, and quirkiest guitar tunings too. That David Crosby.
I was there for the Sixties, and I’m proud of it, okay? But David WAS the fucking Sixties. AND, God bless his heart and his second liver, still IS…
His letter begins:
HI Spider ......I actually just read "Very Bad Deaths " .....and it scared the living shit out of me thank you very much ......definitely one of the worst, baddest, most creatively awful villains ever, and wonderful heros and heroine as usual .....read it in one swell foop, and laughed out loud lying here in bed several times, and was transported up there to the San Juans and Victoria and such .....it was so good that I finally got off my ass and made the effort to communicate .....damn I love the net ......this could never have happened back in the old days ......
At this point I began sending gigawatts of prayer skyward for the welfare and well-being of everyone living who ever had anything to do with the creation of the internet. I sent back a message at once, saying, essentially, “It’s about time this damn karass got started!” I think I stopped short of listing every single track of his that I own, and every time one of them changed my life…but just barely. He replied:
........I am kind of stunned that you know about CPR and Just Like Gravity....that really brought a smile to my face .......I will gladly send you a copy of Stand and Be Counted and also the NEW double cd that Nash and I have just put out .....I think you will love it and I would love to hear your CD ......
....just so you know ....I read everything that R.A.H. ever wrote that made it to print ...most of them many , many times .....my intro to SF was Rocket Ship Galileo and Red Planet and The Rolling Stones and all the other Heinlein juveniles....I was a lonely kid and lived inside those books .....I wanted to BE Lazarus Long ...I have been an SF reader ever since .....
........it would be an honor and a great pleasure to sit down in front of the fire and talk with you and Jeanne ....maybe show you some odd tunings........anyway .....enough .....I hope you have the best year ever .....thanks for answering .....croz
Well, I filled a sack with my CD and some others I thought he’d dig and some of my books, and mailed it. And shortly there arrived in the post damn near everything the man has recorded that’s available on CD, plus both his books: his harrowing autobiography LONG TIME GONE and his more recent memoir about distant times when musicians actually stood for something and made a difference, STAND AND BE COUNTED. (Terrific book.)
You can see that this is musical treasure unimaginable. The guy’s been making records since Bob Dylan was a folksinger. I have to tell you the absolute standout of the lot---even better than finding the exquisitely rare track of CSN&Y, back when the Beatles were just recording the White Album, all harmonizing together on “Blackbird”--best of ALL was the new double-CD Crosby & Nash.[30-second excerpts of all tracks available at amazon.com]
I had thought that his most recent group CPR was as good as David Crosby was ever going to get. I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me to mentally add Graham Nash to that mix. Fortunately, it occurred to David and Graham, and as I write this, they’re on their way to Amsterdam to start a European tour behind the new double-album.
First, let me explain CPR to those of you who’ve been busy trying to find anything listenable in contemporary music (and how’s that going?). You start with the C, which is The Croz. Then you add the P, which is guitar legend Jeff Pevar--one of the very few pickers Ray Charles ever liked working with, who has also played with James Taylor, Donald Fagen, Rick Lee Jones, Marc Cohn, Joe Cocker, et al. Finally you throw in the miracle ingredient, the R: James Raymond--the grown son David only learned existed a few years ago, who happens to sing as sweet as his sire and play keyboards to die for, and is a gifted songwriter. (Go figure.) Take the resulting CPR, plug in a sinus rhythm section, start clapping your paddles together, and before you know it, all life signs are positive, Jack. They’ve produced two studio albums, one of them intriguingly titled Just Like Gravity, and a 2-CD live album with awesome guest stars.
Got it? Now add Graham Nash…
(Whose vocal range is officially designated as “Tony”--the highest Soprano.)
And while you’re at it, for this double-album, make the rhythm section be the great Lee Sklar (bassist for all of James Taylor’s hits; best beard ever) and legendary drummer Russ Kunkel (too many credits to summarize).
Because I know I’m excited about my new friendship with David, I want to be very careful to be calm, here, and avoid any trace of hyperbole. Deep breath. Simple accuracy, no embellishing, just the facts, man:
The double-CD Crosby & Nash is the best thing either of those two gentlemen has yet produced, separately or in any combination. I speak as an expert.
It is impeccable. In some places it had me doing an unconscious Ray Charles imitation: hugging myself, rocking back and forth, eyes shut, grinning like a fool--in other places it produced effects similar to deep meditation--and in other places it evoked grief insupportable. It left me with the overall sense that America is still well worth saving, and that we can still take it back if we have the heart and guts to try. It ends, magnificently, brilliantly, with the quietest, gentlest, most wistful, poignant, yearning version you’ve ever heard, just one acoustic guitar and two heartbroken voices, of the song, “My Country T’is Of Thee.”
Go get it. Crosby & Nash.
Anyway, after reading parts I've deleted from that second message, I consulted a map and determined that David lives all of 80 kilometers from my best bud John Varley. It was Herb who turned me on to the Janis Ian anthology project a few years ago; I owe him. I confirmed with Croz that he was, as expected, a major Varley fan, too--who among us is not?--and I cross-connected them, and recently Herb and Lee were able to visit with David and his wife of nearly 30 years, Jan, and his young son Django, just before the Croz split for the European tour. Here are a couple of shots Lee took (and if you don’t know Lee’s work, check out Herb’s website at www.varley.net), less than a week old:
Bear in mind in assessing these photos that David is actually of normal human height: Herb was a Viking chieftain in a previous incarnation and never got over it. Like Paulie’s Grandfather: he’s always actin’ taller than people, just to spite them. (Very clean, though.)
I look forward to meeting the Croz myself sometime after he gets back from the Auld Country…and after, deus volent, I finish VARIABLE STAR.
You know, I won’t deny that life sucks. But every once in a while, it sucks rather well…
Three days ago, as I write this, the Crosby & Nash album was of tremendous personal help to me, in a time of great trial. No shit.
At 2 AM, while working on VARIABLE STAR for the first time in several days, I experienced in my right eye symptoms I’ve had before, in the other eye. Small transient flashes of white light, flickering just at the edge of vision, for half an hour…followed by a blizzard of small sharp dark black dots, swarming in all directions like gnats. When that happens--I now knew from experience--it means that a tear has occurred in your retina (for no better reason than old age), and if you do not IMMEDIATELY have laser surgery, the retina will detach, leaving you blind in that eye.
The sooner you have the surgery, the better the vision you’ll be left with--and I mean, hours count. The last time it happened, I got bad advice in an Emergency Room and went to my opthamologist a few days later....and for the rest of my life, the vision in that left eye will be obscured from time to time by maddening “floaters,” precisely like tiny globs of chicken fat drifting in the soup of my eye, which must be blinked away.
So you will understand that as Jeanne drove me into the city later that morning to see my eye surgeon Dr. Michael Potter, MD, FRCSC, PCD, I was scared shitless, spitless, witless and titless. I know exactly how much fun laser eye surgery is--and how chancy the outcome, besides. And I was now many many hours past my normal bedtime, with no hope of rest anytime soon…
All the way in on the ferry, through North Van, over the Lion’s Gate Bridge, and into downtown Vancouver, I listened to Crosby & Nash. It was the only music I could find in the car (VERY well stocked with CDs) that did not make me want to bite myself on the small of the back and start screaming in Pashtun, which I do not speak. It helped. I can’t explain how. It just did.
All the weary way back home again, feeling almost exactly the same as if I’d been punched in the eye, relieved, but only tentatively relieved by the only preliminarily good news, feeling as though I had dodged a bullet by the grace of God and the hand of a very good surgeon, I listened to Crosby & Nash. Again, it helped.
That’s good music.
Today, three days later, I do seem to have a few floaters in the right eye as well. But they are much smaller, and fewer--less intrusive in the aggregate. The only problem comes when, occasionally, floaters chance to drift across the front of both eyes at the same time: furious blinking and eye-rolling is required. Might be fun on the highway sometime.
Still. I consider the alternative. I’m a lucky bastard, all things considered.
Dr. Potter is, like his famous nephew Harry, a wizard; I knew that when I met him. Mike writes himself; as he worked on me, we swapped writer war stories. He also spoke, with barely controlled rage, of the years he had spent practicing in America, where, he told me, he kept having to send away patient after patient who was irretrievably blind…simply and only because they had waited too long to come in, because a doctor visit for anything less than a broken bone or arterial bleeding cost money they plain didn’t have. Doc Potter is a big fan of the Canadian health care system…in case anyone had been telling you doctors up here hate it. Only the shitty ones do.
Anyway, I just wanted to round out my Consumer Report on David Crosby/Graham Nash/James Raymond/Jeff Pevar/Lee Sklar/Russ Kunkel music. It’s the balls. Even when you’re on the way to have a laser beam fired at your personal eyeballs.
Is there higher praise?