Classic Rock Magazine Interview: Heavy Load
Heavy questions for heavy rockers
David Crosby on highs, lows, life and love.
Interview by Rob Hughes - courtesy of Classic Rock Magazine
David Crosby is more qualified than most to tackle the big questions. Apart from his dazzling career, first with the 60s folk-rock avatars The Byrds and later with mercurial supergroup Crosby, Stills & Nash (and sometimes Young), the 71 year-old has survived prison time, drug addiction, alcoholism, bankruptcy, motorbike smashes and a heart attack. Throw in a liver transplant - paid for by Phil Collins, no less - and you have a pretty eventful backstory.
Free of drugs and booze for the past quarter-century, recent years have found Crosby charging onward with SCN. Their latest release is CSN 2012, a glorious live DVD/CD from the band's current swing around the US.
Judging from the new DVD, CSN seem to be really getting along now.
Yeah, it's funny how that works. You'd think we'd get more irritated by each other the more time went on, but in fact we've gotten closer. We're extremely lucky, man. We're singing and playing well, and that night was wonderful.
What would you sayt is the biggest misconception about you?
The biggest misconception about musicians is that we're rock stars. There's no such thing as a 'star'. It's a bullshit invention of marketing people. I'm a musician, but I still put my pants on one leg at a time. Even Bruce Springsteen has to go to the bathroom.
What were you like at school?
An absolute hellion. I got thrown out of school repeatedly, from almost every school I ever went to. I was a total rebel.
What was the most difficult decision you've ever had to make?
To turn myself in and know that my life as a druggie was over, to take my lumps and go to prison. Did I have second thoughts about doing it? No. You have a point where you hit bottom, then you have what we call a moment of clarity. And in that moment of clarity I made the right choice. I'd reached a very grubby, dangerous, close-to-dying bottom, and it was very clear to me.
Do you believe in God?
No. Although when you look in a child's eyes, sometimes you think 'maybe'. Especially if you're kind of mushy like I am. But otherwise, no. I believe in science - provable, establishable, factual data. I think that religion, even though the original intentions were good, has been used as a way to manipulate people. It's a tragedy and shows a flaw in the human character that's unfortunate.
What's the best feeling in the world?
Watching all of my children grow up; they're all nice people. Seeing the love in my wife's eyes. The feeling I get when I finish a new piece of music. Finishing a song, singing it and having it affect somebody. That's as good as it gets with your clothes on. Sailing my boat on a good afternoon. Listening to a John Coltrane tune. Sitting in an audience and listening to Bonnie Raitt or Alison Krauss or Peter Gabriel and wishing I could be that good. Life is full of joy and opportunities for elevation.
Will the Byrds ever get back together?
I'm extremely proud of The Byrds and would do it in a second if Roger [McGuinn] wanted to. Chris [Hillman] and I both would, but Roger doesn't. It's not any badness on his part, he's just very happy doing what he's doing as a folk singer. I could make up a bake band and call it The Byrds, but it would be bullshit. I will never put a band on the road called The Byrds that doesn't have Roger in it.
You seem pretty prolific these days.
Oh yeah. James [Raymond, Crosby's son and band member] and I are writing a lot right now. I have a solo album that we're about two-thirds of the way through finishing and the songs are some of the best that I've done. Plus Graham [Nash] and I have been thinking seriously about doing an album of Joni Mitchell's stuff. And I think the covers album we started to make as Crosby, Stills & Nash will probably come out next year.
What would you like to be written on your tombstone?
[Long pause] I could say something funny, but if you're after a serious answer I just don't know. Maybe something about love being the great elevating force, and that I worshipped at that altar. Love is very central to my life. It's pretty much always been that way, though there was a long stretch there where I was lost, ending with a period where I was pretty much psychotic. But we all lose our way and some of us are lucky enough to find a route back.
What advice would the David Crosby of today give to his younger self?
Don't waste your time doing hard drugs. The pot's okay, but the coke and heroin are a complete waste of time. It nearly killed me, and I would have loved not to have wasted all that time doing the hard stuff. Time, it turns out, is the final currency. To waste it is a sin. And I wasted a lot of it. But you can't do anything but learn and move on. There's an argument that says you have to go through a lot to become who you are, but I have to think I had to go through that to become me.