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Music, memories, and the death of David Crosby

If you’re like me, songs from your youth take you back to a particular time or a certain experience – a happily remembered place. . .an important person.

When I hear the Beatles’ “Yesterday,” I am immediately transported to my first slow dance at a party when I was a callow eighth grader. A group of us were dancing to “Yesterday” about a half hour before our parents would be picking us up. It took us that long to muster up the courage to pair off. Every time the 45 on the record player ended, one of us reset the needle and played it again. (Sing it again, Paul!) I have never forgotten my classmate who was my dancing partner that night. I love the memory of her and that first experience of dancing close to a girl over and over again.

When I hear a song by the Young Rascals, I am sixteen once again, feeling on top of the world as I drive my brother’s Corvair with the windows rolled down while playing the Rascals’ greatest hits in our 8-track tape player.

Songs from my youth do that to me. I’ll bet you know what I mean.

I remember recently reading about a scientific theory that says when we love hearing a song, the brain’s pleasure circuits get activated and release dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, and other neurochemicals that make us feel good. Our prefrontal cortex retains the personal memory music evokes. Dancing to the music and singing along helps it to stick.

Mark Joseph Stern, writing in Slate.com (“Neural Nostalgia - Why do we love the music we heard as teenagers?”) says, “Between the ages of 12 and 22, our brains undergo rapid neurological development—and the music we love during that decade seems to get wired into our lobes for good. When we make neural connections to a song, we also create a strong memory trace that becomes laden with heightened emotion. . .These hormones tell our brains that everything is incredibly important—especially the songs that form the soundtrack to our teenage dreams. . .”

It makes sense to me!

Crosby, Stills & Nash (and sometimes Young) was my favorite band when I was in high school and college. Sorry, Paul and Ringo, your band may have been the most important, but your music was my second favorite!

The music of CSN(&Y) is one of many factors that bonded me to my closest and oldest friend, Jack. He and I spent countless hours listening to their music and talking about it. We still do! As adults, we've attended at least four of their concerts through the years.

I have always loved the tight harmonies of CSN(&Y), and I am generally a big fan of acoustic music, which they did so very well. Even their electric music is my favorite. “Deja Vu” is my all-time favorite album – and the song “Deja Vu,” a Crosby creation, moves me to this day as does Crosby’s “Guinnevere.” “Almost Cut my Hair,” another Crosby tune, is probably my all-time favorite electric guitar song. I could go on and on!

The thing is, the deaths of celebrities don’t usually impact me in a profound way. Over the course of the last year or more, I was sorry, certainly, to hear of the deaths of people I had respect for -- Sidney Poitier, Angela Lansbury, and Barbara Walters, to name a few -- but we all die.

David Crosby’s death feels different. For me, his passing signals the end of an era. The music of CSN(&Y) represents the revolutionary decade of the 1960s/early 1970s in which I came of age -- this critical era that I wrote about in my first novel, Exit 14, and which I don’t suppose I’m done with yet in my writing.

Their artistry and their message played a vital role in the person I would become -- influencing how I think and what I believe. Their songs are imprinted in my heart and soul and woven into the fabric of my memories. It is because of artists like CSN(&Y) that, to this day, I stand in strong opposition to all wars and why I will always support every citizen’s right to protest peacefully. When I hear “Ohio” (Neil Young), “Chicago” (Graham Nash), “Find the Cost of Freedom” (Stephen Stills), and “Wooden Ships” (Crosby), I feel that, yes, artists should use (must use!) their influential and creative voices to speak (and sing) out against injustice.

If I live another decade or more, I will no doubt see the deaths of other favorite creators and musicians -- the remaining members of CSN(&Y) and the likes of Paul McCartney, Joni Mitchell, Carole King, and James Taylor. When these artists (and certain others) are gone, I will be as saddened as I was, recently, by the passing of David Crosby.


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