Graded on a Curve:
David Crosby,
If I Could Only Remember My Name

Cosmic flapdoodle. That’s really all I have to say about this execrable 1971 David Crosby solo LP, which you will likely love or hate depending on how much you love or hate the heavenly harmonies of Crosby, Stills & Nash. Me, I hate Crosby, Stills & Nash. I consider them the most overrated supergroup of all time, and that’s saying something. And If I Could Only Remember My Name takes Crosby’s overheated psychedelic folk-rock jazz schlock to its logical conclusion, aka total hippie horseshit.

David Crosby, ex-Byrd and the fellow whose head explodes in Bob Dylan’s “Day of the Locusts,” recorded this debut LP in the wake of CSN&Y’s hugely successful Déjà Vu, and he dragged his band mates (as well as the better parts of the Grateful Dead and the Jefferson Airplane and the whole part of Joni Mitchell) into the studio with him. The resulting LP is every bit as self-indulgent as it is insufferable, although (believe it or not, but it’s true!) the Vatican likes it, to the extent that in 2010 the Holy See’s official newspaper L’Osservatore Romano listed it second on the Vatican’s list of the top ten pop albums of all time. Evidently the pope really does smoke dope, and extremely potent dope at that.

The LP memorably inspired a horrified Robert Christgau (who wrote it off as a “disgraceful performance”) to launch a “rename David Crosby (he won’t know the difference)” competition; his rebrands included Rocky Muzak and Roger Crosby, while I prefer Bong Crosby or The Great Crapsby. But I digress. The point I wish to make about If I Could Only Remember My Name is that it should be entitled If I Could Only Forget This Album, because once you have suffered the indignity of hearing it there’s no unhearing it.

But I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking enough with the slander—give me some proof! Very well. I turn my attention with sincere regret to “Music Is Love,” perhaps the dumbest song Neil Young ever had a hand in writing. It’s pretty hippie dreck, and every bit as empty-headed as “Song With No Words (Tree With No Leaves),” a vapid six-minute sing-along during which Jerry Garcia plays tasteful guitar but nothing else of merit happens. “Orleans” is lush proof that the Gregorian chant still lives, and will until somebody puts a stake in its heart. No wonder the Vatican loves this album. “I’d Swear There Was Somebody Here” is more pure vocalization and sounds like a mess of monks ululating in an echo chamber. Its only upside is that it lasts only 80 seconds, and personally I want my 80 seconds back.

“Traction in the Rain” features a “deep” Crosby emoting all over the place and enough lovingly strummed guitars to put you off lovingly strummed guitars forever. Meanwhile, Laura Allen’s autoharp rains down o’er your ears like so much skunk piss, and if you’re smart you’ll find some traction and head for the dry indoors, pronto. “What Are Their Names” features more Crosby scatting and is all moody and shit, proving to me that Crosby was the real culprit and war criminal behind that lush CS&N sound. I order the immediate release of Graham Nash and even Stephen Stills, about whom lots of bad things can be said except this—he declined to be a part of this debacle. Both Garcia and Young play some sweet guitar, but otherwise this cut is, to utilize a nifty German word, Scheiss.

“Tamalpais High (At About 3)” boasts those trademark CS&N harmonies but no more real words than “Song With No Words (Trees With No Leaves),” and is only barely bearable if you pay attention solely to the guitars. “Laughing” is a decent cut thanks largely to the pedal steel guitar of Garcia, but if like me you’re no fan of Crosby and Nash harmonizing this song will still irk. Which leaves us with the LP’s only triumph, “Cowboy Movie,” which features the stinging guitar work of Young and actually sounds both mean and truly felt. Garcia plays guitar as well while Crosby contributes passion and paranoia, the latter of which is about all I’ll grant him for having given us in his heyday. Crosby had nothing original to say about peace and love, just like everybody else during the Age of Aquarius, but load his head up with some really potent pot and on a really paranoid day he might, just might, give you a bum trip as badassed and hard jamming as this one. A true contribution to the musical canon is our “Cowboy Movie,” and if it’s not nearly enough to redeem If I Could Only Remember My Name it keeps it from being written off as a flat-out waste of good vinyl.

David Crosby was easily the most annoying of the foursome that was supposed to replace the Beatles, and to those who bemoan the fact that he laid waste to his talents with hard drugs I can only submit that the loss wasn’t all that great. “I was mistaken,” he sings on “Laughing,” and I can only nod my head in solemn agreement. It can easily be argued that I simply lack an appreciation for the Croz’s particular skill set. I’m guilty, to quote Randy Newman. But D. Crosby took both hippie self-absorption and self-indulgence to extremes on If I Could Only Remember My Name, and the results are appalling. To my ears. Perhaps your ears say different. To which I can only say I’m glad I don’t have your ears.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
D

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  • Michael Little

    I can’t believe you wrote such a nasty review. You should be ashamed of yourself. Signed, Jerry Blatwood, A&R representative for David Crosby

  • Narbo Wabo

    I think you were too easy on this festering mound of hippy scheiss

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