Stephen Stills’ 1970 classic “Love the One You’re With” implies a casual attitude toward sexual relationships perfectly emblematic of the times.
But the men in his superstar group, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, lived in a whirlwind of tortured romance that was anything but casual, according to two new books out now — 50 years after the release of their debut album.
Stills developed a crush on popular folkie Judy Collins after seeing her perform in Greenwich Village in the early ’60s, writes Peter Doggett in “CSNY: Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young” (Atria Books). Through his band Buffalo Springfield, he released a song about her, “Bluebird,” before he even met her.
That came the following year when Collins saw Stills at a party.
She later wrote that he was “possibly the most attractive man I had ever seen.” Soon, the two were “making music all day and making love all night,” Collins once said, according to Doggett.
Later, Stills penned his song “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,” describing their intimacies. His famous line “Thursdays and Saturdays” even refers to the days of Collins’ regular therapy appointments, writes David Browne in “Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young: The Wild, Definitive Saga of Rock’s Greatest Supergroup” (Da Capo Press).
But by then the pair had flamed out, and Collins was ready to move on.
So Stills used his song to try and woo her back.
“Visiting her Holiday Inn hotel room, Stills, still lovestruck, gifted her with a Martin guitar and sang and played ‘Suite: Judy Blue Eyes’ for her in its entirety,” writes Browne.
“Collins, who hadn’t yet heard the song, was stunned and touched, recognizing the subtle reference to her therapy appointments in the lyrics. ‘He must have been reading my diaries,’ she says wryly. She told him it was a wonderful song but that it wouldn’t win her back.”
Joni Mitchell also left a significant mark on the band. She started dating David Crosby around 1967, and he produced her debut album. But in Mitchell’s eyes, Crosby would “revel in presenting her to his friends, treating her like a prized, talented possession,” Browne writes.
It was fun for Crosby but not for Mitchell, who would later tell biographer David Yaffe, “It was kind of embarrassing … as if I were his discovery.”
As the relationship deteriorated, Crosby took up with an old girlfriend, Christine Hinton. When Mitchell found out, she was incensed and made her displeasure known to Crosby and others at a party at Monkee Peter Tork’s house.
“Joni was very angry and said, ‘I’ve got a new song,’” Crosby reveals in Browne’s book.
Mitchell then played “That Song About the Midway,” which had “references to a man’s sky-high harmonies and the way she had caught him cheating on her more than once . . . there was no question about the subject of the song,” Browne writes.
“It was a very ‘Goodbye David’ song,” said Crosby. “She sang it while looking right at me, like, ‘Did you get it? I’m really mad at you.’ And then she sang it again. Just to make sure.”
Soon after their breakup, Mitchell hooked up with the married Graham Nash, then in the Hollies. Nash fell hard for Mitchell, but since both were touring, opportunities to connect were scarce.
Traveling to New York in June, Nash intentionally left his wife behind so he could meet up with Mitchell, Doggett writes, but was crushed when he discovered she was “sharing an apartment in Chelsea with Leonard Cohen.”
Nash expressed his heartbreak in an emotionally naked song called “Letter to a Cactus Tree,” where he wrote about “competing with a poet for your favors,” his hopes “fading day by day.”
Nash and Mitchell eventually lived together for several years — Nash’s CSNY hit “Our House” was written about their home life. But the relationship had curdled by 1970, with Mitchell even calling Nash a “woman-hater,” Doggett writes.
She was far more poetic in letting him go, bringing her lyrical genius to play.
“Graham Nash was laying down a new kitchen floor when a telegram arrived from Greece,” Doggett writes. “It read: ‘If you hold sand too tightly, it will run through your fingers.’ It was, Nash realized, Mitchell’s ‘Dear Graham’ letter.”
Meanwhile, Rita Coolidge also got caught in the band’s orbit when Stills invited her to sing background on “Love the One You’re With.” Nash was staying with Stills at the time and was enraptured by Coolidge. He asked her to join him as his guest when CSNY played the Forum in LA, telling her to phone him at Stills’ house.
But when she did, Stills lied to her, telling her that Nash had changed his mind and that she should go with him instead. When Coolidge arrived with Stills, Nash was crushed.
Coolidge learned the truth soon after and began dating Nash.
Later, when Nash broke the news of his love affair with Coolidge, Stills “just came out swinging,” Coolidge says in Doggett’s book.
“And Graham, of course, is not a fighter; somebody separated them and pulled him off.”
The relationship between the two men was strained for several years, leading to Nash writing some vengeful lyrics about the incident in his song “Frozen Smiles”:
And if you carry on the way you did today
All the music in my veins will turn to stone
Does it get you off to act so all alone
It’ll chill you to the bone
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