‘It’s not supposed to be ballot by bullet': Inside one of Crosby Stills and Nash’s most emotional tracks

“Long Time Gone,” a standout track from Crosby Stills and Nash’s debut, remains this fiery indictment of dreams lost — and a central emotional moment of any CSN concert. David Crosby, who composed the song, says his inspiration came in the immediate aftermath of Robert Kennedy’s assassination — though it immediately came to represent a much larger theme involving the loss of Kennedy’s older brother Jack and, in particular, that of Martin Luther King.

“I think I was angry about Dr. King as I was anything,” Crosby said during a recent talk at the Paley Center. “But we’d lost both of the Kennedys, and King. At a certain point, we really believed we could change things. We believed. We were people who really loved our country. We wanted it to be right, and we wanted it to be something we could be proud of. And we thought we had people you could believe in. Dr. King was a guy you could believe in. The Kennedys were guys that we idolized. It’s not supposed to be ballot by bullet.”

“Long Time Gone” was perhaps most famously performed by Crosby Stills Nash and Young at Woodstock in 1969, later being used during the opening of the concert film as workers prepared the festival grounds. By then, all three of these heroes were dead. King was murdered in April 1968, while RFK was killed in June of 1968. His older brother Jack was killed in 1963.

“It was a terribly discouraging thing to us,” Crosby adds, “and, of course, we reacted to it. That’s the troubadour part of what we do. We see stuff, we try to look at it honestly, and respond to it and carry the news. Part of the job is that, and we wrote some angry songs. We did — because that really got to us, to lose leaders of that quality. People we could believe in.”

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