DAVID CROSBY

David Corsby is on a roll – writ­ing well, singing great, record­ing fine solo al­bums, the lat­est, Here If You LIs­ten, due next month. it’s a cor­nu­copia of bless­ings he con­cedes he might not de­serve. if only he could re­mem­ber to play nice with gra­ham, with

Mojo (UK) - - Contents - por­trait by Henry Diltz

How the angel voice of CSNY is on a roll. If he can just keep it but­toned about his pals’ choice of girl­friends…

HERE ARE WAR STO­RIES AND then there are war sto­ries. “Let me swap with you,” says David Crosby as we choose our seats at the restaurant ta­ble, “because my left ear is my best one.” Mine too, I tell him, switch­ing seats. Fill­ing a car tyre with air in the ’90s, it ex­ploded, and there went my right ear, I ex­plain. “I know the deal,” says Crosby as we sit. “Mine’s Neil, Neil got me.” Feed­back? “Well, just 130dB.” He smiles, thinly. “Him and Stephen. ‘I can play louder than you can.’” We are hav­ing lunch at the Four Sea­sons Bilt­more Re­sort in Santa Bar­bara, Cal­i­for­nia, our ta­ble of­fer­ing a splen­did view of the Pa­cific at high noon: sun blazing, waves lazily rolling in. Crosby has learned to take the rough – shot ears, drug ad­dic­tion, jail time – with this kind of smooth. Be­sides, he may just be hav­ing the time of his life right now. The 76-year-old has re­leased four al­bums, each bet­ter than the last, in the last five years. He made them with two dis­tinct, youngish bands, re­spec­tively dubbed the Light­house and Sky Trails bands. His lat­est al­bum, Here If You Lis­ten, ar­rives in Oc­to­ber and is pol­ished, timely, and po­lit­i­cally chal­leng­ing. Most re­mark­able of all: his singing voice re­mains an ob­ject of won­der. “Look, man, I did ev­ery­thing wrong,” Crosby says. “I did it all wrong. So there’s no ex­cuse for me to be singing the way I am right now. I know that. My part­ners? My cur­rent part­ners that are so good I have to pad­dle faster to keep up? Those ones? They all tell me that I’m singing as good as I’ve ever sang in my life. And I don’t think they’re but­ter­ing my toast; they’re not that kind of peo­ple.” But doesn’t age take a toll on every singer? “Mostly what you hear, man, is hear­ing is­sues,” says Crosby. “Pitch is a feed­back mech­a­nism. In or­der to sing in pitch, you have to be able to hear your­self.” He starts war­bling, de­lib­er­ately off-key. “So when you can’t hear very well, you can’t sing in parts with other peo­ple very well.” He pauses for a beat. “Does that sound like any­body you know?” He smiles, a bit of mis­chief in the air. “I didn’t say any names.” No, Crosby did not men­tion Stephen Stills, a man whose re­liance on hear­ing aids is pub­lic knowl­edge, and, along with Gra­ham Nash and Neil Young, his part­ner in the as­tro­nom­i­cally suc­cess­ful Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. Nor did he men­tion Roger McGuinn, whose hear­ing – we will hope – re­mains just fine, and who with Crosby was a found­ing mem­ber of the cel­e­brated Byrds. But both per­form­ers and both groups came into David Crosby’s life early in his ca­reer, in the ’60s, when un­told ad­ven­ture, riches, fame and com­mer­cial suc­cess beck­oned, and every ar­row on every rel­e­vant graph was point­ing up­ward to the right at sharp an­gles. For al­most ev­ery­one. For David Crosby? Not so much. Not ev­ery­thing came to a pleas­ant end.

DE­SPITE HIS IN­VALU­ABLE CON­TRI­BU­TIONS TO that golden stretch of Byrds al­bums from 1965’s Mr. Tam­bourine Man to 1968’s The No­to­ri­ous Byrd Broth­ers, Crosby was booted from the band by McGuinn and Chris Hill­man mid­way through the mak­ing of the lat­ter – os­ten­si­bly for his in­sis­tence that the al­bum in­clude his song Triad rather than the Gof­fin-King penned Goin’ Back. It didn’t make it, and nei­ther did he. That was close to 50 years ago. Does it still dis­turb him? “No, I gave up on that a long time ago,” he says. “It’s just egos. I was a very ego­tis­ti­cal kid, and I was trying to get all the at­ten­tion I pos­si­bly could, and I wanted to be more than just the rhythm gui­tar player and har­mony singer, I wanted to sing lead, I wanted to play my songs. And there was ego fric­tion, between me and Chris, me and Roger, and me and Gene [Clark]. It’s just the same thing that hap­pens in all the bands.” If Crosby was look­ing for a smoother ride or more in­dul­gence of his song­writ­ing, he could barely have cho­sen a more prob­lem­atic ve­hi­cle than CSN or CSNY. Although the in­ter­nal ri­valry fu­eled some of Crosby’s great­est songs: Guin­n­e­vere (later cov­ered by Miles Davis, no less), Long Time Gone, Al­most Cut My Hair…

“It was an in­tensely com­pet­i­tive en­vi­ron­ment,” Crosby re­calls. “In­tensely com­pet­i­tive. When it got to CSNY, fully com­pet­i­tive, all the time. We liked each other a lot at first, we tran­scended our egos for quite a while there, and made some very good art. But like all bands, it goes down­hill af­ter a while.” Crosby is thank­ful for those early days, but it’s in­ter­est­ing that he de­scribes them in terms of an ap­pren­tice­ship rather than a pin­na­cle. “They gave me a plat­form to get good,” he says. “The Byrds and CSN and CSNY gave me a shot at hav­ing the tools to work with. And in Nash, an in­cred­i­ble har­mony singer; in Stills and Young, in­cred­i­ble writ­ers and in­cred­i­ble gui­tar play­ers. They had a lot to give. Roger McGuinn was at least half of what hap­pened with The Byrds. Credit where it’s due, man. Those guys gave me mu­sic to work on that was spec­tac­u­lar. Stills’s songs? Are you kid­ding me? Those rock‘n’roll hits that we had? A great plat­form to learn on, great bands to be in.” So is there any­thing he wished he’d done dif­fer­ently? “What could we do bet­ter? Lose our egos. The same thing hap­pens to all bands – if you’re in a mar­riage with some­body and you’re not in love with them, they ir­ri­tate you. And I’m sure I ir­ri­tated the shit out of them. I be­came a junkie. That let them down pretty badly. But we’ve all done hor­ri­ble stuff to each other – Neil leav­ing Stephen on tours, like three times, in the mid­dle of a tour, that’s pretty grim. You don’t do that. We’ve all done hor­ri­ble stuff to each other. Re­ally hor­ri­ble stuff.”

THE HOR­RI­BLE STUFF WOULD GET worse, not bet­ter, for David Crosby in the years that fol­lowed. Most, but not all, was drug re­lated, In 1982, he spent nine months in a Texas state prison for pos­ses­sion of heroin and co­caine; in 1985, he drove into a fence in Marin County and was ar­rested for drunk driv­ing, pos­ses­sion of co­caine, drug para­pher­na­lia and a con­cealed pis­tol; in 2004, ho­tel em­ploy­ees search­ing his suit­case for iden­ti­fi­ca­tion found pot, rolling pa­pers, two knives and a gun, for which he spent 12 hours in jail be­fore being bailed out and, ul­ti­mately, fined $5,000. To­day, Crosby har­bours no ro­man­tic il­lu­sions about this part of his life, and re­counts it mat­ter-of-factly. “I made every mis­take pos­si­ble, all of it,” he says. “I went right down the tubes un­til I was a junkie. It doesn’t get any worse. Free­baser and junkie. I was as bad as it gets.” Was there any­thing he might have done to avoid go­ing down that route? “No,” he says em­phat­i­cally. “It only goes four ways. You die, you go to prison, you go crazy and you’re in­car­cer­ated, or you quit. Those are the four op­tions. There are no other op­tions. So I lucked out. I went to prison. That changed it all. All of a sud­den I was no longer de­stroy­ing my­self, I was re­build­ing my­self.” So jail was a pos­i­tive? “Ab­so­lutely. If I had the choice of go­ing on as a junkie or go­ing back to prison, I’d go back to prison in a sec­ond.” Did you have a hard time in there? He nods.

“My bands are such a joy to work with. These are peo­ple who are young, and thrilled, still, with mu­sic.”

Being the rock star? “It’s not a va­ca­tion spot, man. They mean it to be hard. And they’re ass­holes. And it was Texas.” Did you reach the point, when you were at your worst, where you thought, I’ve lost it, I can’t make mu­sic any more – that’s it? “It’s a plot­table curve.” He draws an imag­i­nary graph in the air. “You take my drug use – as it in­creased, writ­ing went down. Same rate, same curve. Ovu­lar. Drug use peaked, stopped writ­ing. You can only draw one con­clu­sion from that. When I quit, when I went to prison and was forced to quit, the writ­ing came back.” He looks out at the Pa­cific in front of us. “I lucked out, man. I just lucked out.”

IN MANY WAYS, DAVID CROSBY DID IN­DEED LUCK OUT. First and fore­most, there has been a con­stant in his per­sonal life for an un­usu­ally long time: his wife, Jan Dance. “We’re very close,” he says. “We’ve been to­gether 41 years. She’s very pa­tient and very strong, and our love for each other is very strong. We are, nei­ther of us, per­fect at all. But she’s a won­der­ful girl and I wouldn’t be alive with­out her. I would not have made it through the junkie part of it if I did not have what the French call a rai­son d’être, a rea­son for being. And for a time there, she was my rea­son for being.” If a life can in­deed be plot­ted like a curve on a graph, let’s ac­knowl­edge that Crosby’s has been on the rise since the mid-’90s. In fact, pen­cil in Fe­bru­ary of 1995 as one es­pe­cially note­wor­thy co-or­di­nate; that’s when Crosby, for the first time, met his son James Ray­mond, who’d been given up for adop­tion by his mother in the early ’60s. Ray­mond had heard Crosby was re­cu­per­at­ing from liver fail­ure, and had re­ceived a trans­plant months ear­lier. So son came in to meet fa­ther at the UCLA Med­i­cal Cen­ter. “Nor­mally,” Crosby says, “when you meet up with a kid that was put up for adop­tion by his mom like that – that you’ve never met – it doesn’t go well. Nor­mally, ev­ery­body com­ing to that meet­ing brings too much bag­gage. Too much, Why did you leave me and mom? We weren’t good enough for you? At­ti­tude, bag­gage. He didn’t do that.” That ini­tial meet­ing took root and af­fected both Crosby and Ray­mond pro­foundly. Ray­mond, then 35, was al­ready a skilled mu­si­cian – he played key­boards and favoured funk then – and with the ad­di­tion of ses­sion gui­tarist Jeff Pe­var they would become Crosby, Pe­var & Ray­mond, or CPR. In 1998, CPR re­leased the first of four al­bums. The mu­sic was strong, the new band­mates im­pres­sive, and David Crosby’s ca­reer was on the up­swing. “James gave me a chance to earn my way in, be his friend, and I’ve writ­ten a lot of the best mu­sic of my life with him,” says Crosby. “He’s a much bet­ter mu­si­cian than I am. But when we butt heads mu­si­cally, I sub­mit to him – because he knows way more than I do. We have a good re­la­tion­ship here. We’re work­ing on the next record. There’s go­ing to be five in five years. We are writ­ing an­other one as we speak.” Crosby’s musical en­thu­si­asm doesn’t stop with his son. A 2015 ap­pear­ance on Fam­ily Din­ner Vol­ume Two, a ben­e­fit record put to­gether by US jazz rock band Snarky Puppy, led him to a pro­duc­tive union with an en­tire cast of skilled play­ers and friends, in which sev­eral mem­bers of his two cur­rent bands have roots. Among them, pro­ducer/player Michael League, key­boardist Michelle Wil­lis and gui­tarist Becca Stevens com­prise the Light­house Band, who recorded the up­com­ing Here If You Lis­ten; Wil­lis, Ray­mond, Pe­var, bassist Mai Leisz and drum­mer Steve DiS­tanis­lao are among those in the Sky Trails Band, who ac­com­pany Crosby on his Euro­pean Tour this month. “These peo­ple got me so ex­cited,” Crosby notes.

“They’re such a joy to work with – these are peo­ple who are young, and thrilled, still, with mu­sic. They’re not jaded at all. It’s en­cour­aged me so much. That’s the only ex­pla­na­tion I can come up with for four records in five years.”

OF COURSE, DAVID CROSBY’S VIS­I­BIL­ITY HAS BEEN fur­ther en­hanced lately by his pres­ence on Twit­ter – which is bit­ing, hi­lar­i­ous and can­did. The cliché is that as peo­ple get older, they don’t care so much about what peo­ple think about them. Crosby ap­pears to have passed that point long ago. “A long time ago, yeah. Well, if you have to live your life in front of the en­tire world, and then you fuck up a bunch, in front of the en­tire world, and then you have to put it back to­gether again, in front of the en­tire world, you become de­sen­si­tised to the ap­proval factor of the en­tire world. It no longer has the same punch.” There would ap­pear to be few sa­cred cows in David Crosby’s world. He’s crit­i­cised his CSNY band­mates Neil Young and Gra­ham Nash when both left their wives of many years for younger women, lead­ing to se­ri­ous fall­out. Then there was Kanye West. “He did that re­ally aw­ful Bo­hemian Rhap­sody [at Glas­ton­bury, 2015] and came off af­ter­ward and said he was the ‘great­est liv­ing rock star’. So I said, ‘Lis­ten, if he thinks he’s the great­est liv­ing rock star, would some­body please drive him over to Ste­vie Won­der’s house so he can see what the great­est liv­ing rock star ac­tu­ally looks like?’ And while you’re at it, could you buy him some Ray Charles records so he can learn how to fuck­ing sing, because he can’t sing, write or play. He’s a fuck­ing poser.” Peo­ple are some­times too care­ful; they don’t want to say the wrong thing, I note. “I don’t buy that. I talk about peo­ple who can re­ally do it. I ap­plaud Joni Mitchell – I know she’s crazy, I know bet­ter than any­body else, she was my old lady. But man, she was the best – she was the best of us. And I’m not go­ing to shut up when some­body says… some­body was trying to say that Yoko Ono was a le­git­i­mate artist, and I said, ‘You’re out of your fuck­ing mind – I’ve heard bet­ter mu­sic out of an air raid siren.’ “I do go off on peo­ple some­times when it’s an ex­treme case. What I try not to do is for some kid who’s say­ing, ‘Will you lis­ten to my brother’s band?’ or, ‘I just wrote this song, it’s re­ally emo­tional for me. Could you, like, tell me if it’s any good?’ Well, I try not to rip their heart out, because you need to be a lit­tle gen­tle there. But I don’t see any need to be gen­tle with, what’s his name, the re­ally right-wing gui­tar player?” Ted Nu­gent? “Ted Nu­gent. I don’t see any need to be gen­tle with Ted Nu­gent.” He laughs. “He’s an ass­hole! It’s a slip­pery slope.”

IF THERE IS ONE AREA WHERE SOME sen­si­tiv­ity is no­tice­able on Crosby’s part, it might be the event which took place in nearby Los An­ge­les the pre­vi­ous night and will again later tonight: The Sweet­heart Of The Rodeo 50th An­niver­sary per­for­mance star­ring Roger McGuinn and Chris Hill­man. Re­leased in 1968, Sweet­heart… was the first Byrds al­bum on which David Crosby did not ap­pear. And he wasn’t in­vited to this event, ei­ther. I as­sume he felt a twinge? “Yeah, of course. I’ve been tr ying to get Roger to get The Byrds to­gether for years. I ask him about once a year, and he still says no.” It seems like you have a friendly re­la­tion­ship with him on Twit­ter. “We are friendly,” he says. “But he doesn’t want to work with me, so that’s a shame. I think Roger is an amaz­ingly tal­ented hu­man being. He seems on the face of it to be kind of stuck in a folk singer thing, but when it came to trans­lat­ing Bob Dy­lan’s songs into records, he was a freakin’ ge­nius. And I would work with him again in a minute, if he would.” From which an in­evitable ques­tion arises. With McGuinn, with The Byrds, with his band­mates in CSNY, does he no­tice a pat­tern in his be­hav­iour? In their be­hav­iour? Has it been a process of peo­ple com­ing back and apol­o­gis­ing? Of ask­ing to be for­given? “We all have, many times,” he says. “And I have apol­o­gised to Neil for slag­ging his girl­friend [Daryl Han­nah]. I don’t think that’s what’s re­ally go­ing on. Neil has only re­ally worked with us when he thought he needed us. We’re part of a plan. Neil has a plan. And when he needs us, he’ll call us up. Now, he doesn’t need us. He’s fill­ing big places by him­self. He’s got a band that he’s got on salary. That’s a good band. I’ve seen a tape of him play­ing with that band where he’s play­ing as good as I’ve ever seen him play, ever. Do­ing Cortez The Killer and fuck­ing nail­ing it. Put all those things to­gether man in your head and ask your­self is he go­ing to call us up and get into a bun­dle of… I mean, it’s like a fuck­ing… ther­apy ses­sion, trying to get us to talk to each other. Why would he bother?” That said, how things worked out with Gra­ham Nash – “I don’t want any­thing to do with Crosby at all,” Nash told a Dutch mag­a­zine in 2016 – did seem un­imag­in­able, con­sid­er­ing the pair’s long friend­ship. I felt bad about that, I tell Crosby. “Me too,” is his only re­ply. But David Crosby doesn’t want to wait. “If they’re mad at me, they’re mad at me – I’m sorry,” he says. “But I still can’t sit around pray­ing for them to change their mind. I have to make mu­sic now, while I can. I don’t have any bad feel­ings in my heart about any of those guys. I would work with any of them at any point. Roger McGuinn, Neil Young, Stephen Stills, Gra­ham Nash, I would work with any of them.” Mean­while, Crosby’s cur­rent run of solo al­bums re­veal him as the one – of all the icons of the Wood­stock gen­er­a­tion – who’s near­est the top of his game. How un­likely is that? “I was sup­posed to be dead 20 years ago, and I’m not,” he says. “I was sup­posed to be dead from being a junkie. I was sup­posed to be dead from Hep­ati­tis C. All that stuff was sup­posed to kill me I was sup­posed to die in prison. And I’m here. So I’ve got this op­por­tu­nity. I have this thing I can do where I can ac­tu­ally make a con­tri­bu­tion. I’m not just sit­ting on my butt, I can ac­tu­ally make things a lit­tle bit bet­ter by mak­ing mu­sic. It’s the only thing I can do that does that. “And it mat­ters to me, a lot. Because I’ve spent a lot of my life just being a wastrel, just trying to see how much plea­sure I can cram in. So to now feel that I can make a con­tri­bu­tion? If I feel I can, I think I ab­so­lutely should. So that’s what I’m do­ing.”

“I have apol­o­gised to Neil for slag­ging his girl­friend. I don’t think that’s what’s re­ally go­ing on.”

A thou­sand roads: Crosby, Cal­i­for­nia, 2018; (op­po­site page, bot­tom) Miles Davis does David’s Guin­n­e­vere.

Mu­sic is love: Crosby with ex­am­our Joni Mitchell, Lau­rel Canyon, Cal­i­for­nia, 1968, and (be­low) with Jan Dance, now his wife of 41 years, Los An­ge­les, 1982.

“I was sup­posed to be dead 20 years ago”: Crosby with band­mates (from left) Jeff Pe­var, Michelle Wil­lis, Mai Leisz, James Ray­mond, Steve DiS­tanis­lao, Red Rocks, Colorado, June 2018.

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