The first time David Crosby, Stephen Stills and Graham Nash joined in three-part harmony, they were ... well .. . at least two of them aren't really sure where they were.
"We all remember the moment, we just don't remember the surroundings. We were too high," Nash says of their 1969 meeting of the mouths.
"It was either Cass' or Joni's, we're sure of that," recalls Crosby, referring to the homes of Joni Mitchell and the late Cass Elliot.
"I insist that it was Cass' - I can see it, in her dining room, which looked out over the pool, and John Sebastian was swimming in the pool while we were singing," says Stills.
Crosby's reply: "Just because you remember doesn't mean it happened. You were as high as the rest of us. We're not sure."
Nash is willing to defer to Stills, but Crosby remains combative until the Englishman cuts him off: "We would smoke so much ... dope, Crosby, I'm amazed you even remember who I am."
Those days are long gone, but CS&N endures. Crosby's voice and spirit survived a nightmarish tour of crack-induced hell; Nash and Stills (in a far less public fashion) have cleaned up their acts.
The three are now middle-aged pals, a far cry from their days as Woodstock icons and ferocious infighters.
They're also the latest rockers to release a boxed set of their music: "CSN," a 77-song retrospective of their work together and apart, featuring more than 20 previously unreleased tracks from the last 22 years.
Plenty has changed about the band, but much remains the same: they still believe in music as a tool for social change, still remain friends after umpteen breakups and blowouts, still swear their best days lie ahead.
"I really don't think that we have yet peaked. I don't think we've yet done it," says Crosby.
"Oh, God, give him some more acid. C'mon," interjects Nash.
"I'm telling you the truth. I think we haven't yet done our best work," the mustachioed Crosby shoots back.
That's a large order from a band with CSN's track record. Their first album contained "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes," "Marrakesh Express" and "Wooden Ships;" the followup, done with Neil Young, included "Teach Your Children," "Our House" and the title track "Deja Vu."
One of the most virulent of protest songs, "Ohio," followed before the musicians went their separate ways for most of the '70s. A CSN reunion in 1977 produced "Just A Song Before I Go"; the years since included "Wasted on the Way, " "Southern Cross" and "Chippin' Away."
Of course, there have always been a variety of alternate lineups: Stills and Young, Stills and Nash, Crosby and Nash, solo Stills, solo Nash, solo Crosby, a 1988 CSNY reunion for "American Dream."
Where does Young fit in the band these days?
"He doesn't fit at all," says Nash. "Sometimes when we come together and play music, it's delightful, and we love playing with Neil. But Neil has his own agenda, and so do we. Consequently, sometimes it fits and sometimes it doesn't."
Stills, who first teamed with Young in the Buffalo Springfield, interrupts.
"Put it this way: Neil, I don't think, ever played a team sport in his life," he croaks, prompting Crosby to get up and slap him a high-five. "So when we say, 'What about the greater good?,' he gets this glazed look. It's absolutely foreign to him."
The trio is seated on two couches in a hotel suite, looking relaxed and relatively fit: Crosby turned 50 this year, Nash is 49, Stills is 46. The task of going through two decades of tapes for the boxed set was left to Nash, and with good reason.
"When Cros and I saw the stack of tapes and the size of it, we went, 'Graham. You're so GOOD at this. Whittle away,"' Stills says with a laugh.
And what did Nash get out of slogging through all the material?
"I began to realize just who my friends were, and how wonderful they were as musicians, and what it was that I loved about their music," says Nash. "It's so easy to take them for granted: 'Oh, that's Stephen. We'll call over, go to dinner,' or, 'That's David. I'll walk 'round to his house, have coffee.'
"But then I began to realize who I was dealing with. Listening to 20-odd years of tapes, it was fascinating."
Stills says the collection is a reminder of what's kept the band together through the years.
"There's a specific physical thing when his (Nash's) razor and my gravel mix with that (Crosby's) honey," says Stills, referring to their voices.
"Anyone that can sing at all can sing the same notes we sing, but nobody sounds like the three of us. Nobody," agrees Nash. "Sometimes, not even us."
The sound of their voices is not the only constant for the band. They still play a lot of benefit shows - UNICEF and Greenpeace were recent charity gigs - and still carry the same values.
"The stuff that really matters to us hasn't changed, you know? The Constitution is still there, the Bill of Rights is still there, civil rights is still an issue," says Crosby. "We don't like war. We think peace is better. We believe in equal justice under the law. We believe in trying to save the environment. Those things haven't changed."
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