Music, Memory and Madeleines: Crosby Still a NASH-ional Treasure

For Proust, memory was all about the madeleine. If you had a bite, remembrances would rush forth faster than you could spell Marcel.

For me, it's all about the music. If I hear Carole King singing "up on the roof," it's April, 1971, and I'm in my freshman dorm all over again. I played Tapestry on my record player so many times that the needle was ready to disintegrate. If I hear the Bee Gees singing "nobody gets too much heaven no more," it's October, 1976, and I'm back on the Santa Monica Pier carousel. If I hear Diana Ross singing "ain't no mountain high enough," it's July, 1983, and I'm drenched in the Central Park downpour.

When I hear I Saw Her Standing There, it's a Sunday night in February, 1964, and I'm 10 years old, lying under my parents' blonde mahogany dining room table in Queens, hands under my chin, watching the Beatles' premiere on The Ed Sullivan Show.

When I hear Van Morrison's Brown Eyed Girl, I'm walking to junior high school. It's 1967, I'm 13, and Alan Levy is carrying my books.

So when I heard David Crosby sing the first haunting harmonies of Guinevere on a live stage at City Winery on a frigid night in New York City, I was catapulted back to the hot summer of '69, the heat of high school crushes. I felt suddenly more swoony, more philosophical. I emerged from my 9:00-5:00 humdrum haze and morphed right into my artistic, activist self.

It was 1969. I was walking in a local high school anti-Vietnam War march. I kissed a boy named Alex. I was "helplessly hoping" along with Crosby Stills & Nash. And then I watched Neil Armstrong land on the moon.

The long-haired, wild-flying silver-maned, mustached David Crosby appears on stage as an angular, open-hearted, gentle, glinty-eyed, pensive cross between Arlo Guthrie and Albert Einstein. A mysterious blend of Sean Connery and the Wizard of Oz.

Memories, more than politics, are strange bedfellows. The mind grabs onto a lyric, a melody or a strum and you've come undone.

I'm someone who clings to music to cope with angst, exams, office politics, and death. After my father died, my Mom and I would turn the radio dial all night long to hear the jazz my dad used to play. After my Mother died, I stayed up all night turning the same radio dial to soothe the savage beast.

I am extremely associative. So when I hear Moon River I flash on Audrey Hepburn, which leads me to Truman Capote, which leads me to Philip Seymour Hoffman, which leads me to Lester Bangs, which leads me back to David Crosby.

Music evokes. Sometimes I come out of a movie hearing the soundtrack, forgetting the dialogue. The first time I saw The Graduate I emerged from the theater humming Sounds of Silence and all I remembered of the movie was "Plastics."

When I heard Peter Seeger croon We Shall Overcome, I felt simple bliss. I was back in Provincetown in 1963, marching down Commercial Street with my parents and sister in a civil rights march for jobs and freedom.

Along the road of remembrance of things past, David Crosby invoked the memory of Pete Seeger, whispering to the intimate Soho club audience the story of CSN taking Seeger's simple, evocative melody Turn! Turn! Turn! and turning it into rockin' ecstasy. When Crosby admitted that he still has the letter Pete sent him, it was as if all our national songwriting treasures from Woody Guthrie to Pete Seeger to David Crosby were connecting-the-American-musical-legend-dots.

Amidst the launch of his new album CROZ, Crosby sketches charcoal images about the grit of life, questioning the unanswerable. When he depicts the melancholy of seeing Belgian prostitutes from his hotel window in If She Called, I am back on the streets of Brussels in 1972, looking for Belgian lace and love. Time past and present merge in Crosby's universal questions: "don't we all dream...she remembers a time when love was alive...somehow it gets lost in the sound of the city's morning drive." In Radio, Crosby believes we can affect each other, touching people by reaching out: "look out..look can pull someone out of the sea." He is a musical sea captain, relaying profound messages to his "shipmate" listeners, along with his "crew": son James Raymond; guitarist/vocalist Marcus Eaton; electric guitarist Shayne Fontayne; bass player Kevin McCormick; and drummer/percussionist Steve DiStanislao on their four-week national tour.

Normally I won't stand for any musical art. I prefer to focus on flatted fifths than on my flattened feet. But standing amidst a pindrop room for two and a half hours, time melted away as fast as the Wicked Witch.

Maybe David Crosby is the wizard after all. Standing for 2 1/2 hours was a piece of cake (or should I say madeleine). Crosby's musical melodic lines are like squiggly icing lines on a cupcake, lines of cocaine he's let go of, nylon smooth like the strings on his guitar.

I was as entranced with CROZ as I'd been in remembrances past with Seals 'n Crofts or Simon and Garfunkel, or as I am today with Rihanna and Macklemore.

Like Proust, Crosby is intrigued by time ("pluck out a day, a week, an hour...hold it up to the light... freeze the frame..") On this erratic ship we call Earth, Crosby is a time magician; for the listener, time stands still. His persistence pierces the negative with hope ("send me someone who won't give up in the frozen rain"), solving the puzzle of life, as he "tries to make all these pieces fit right."

Whether pieces of a madeleine or pieces of a melody, Crosby touches that sacred piece of the brain that makes our memories infinite.

Listening to Crosby "set that baggage down" is as uplifting as the rush of a hallucinogenic. It's the timeless ecstasy of Mozart... the simple joy of a melody, a martini, or a madeleine.