- Steve Silberman
- David Crosby
In Episode 2 David opens up about the roots of his musical and political activism, and the urgent need for more of the same today. We also explore the power of harmony, and Crosby’s inspiration for some of the songs that defined his generation.
David and Steve candidly discuss the virtues and vices of a superstar ego, struggles with addiction and public downfall, and the strength of David’s lifelong partnership with his wife Jan.
Songs featured in this episode (with Spotify links where available):
Wooden Ships (demo)
Freak Flag Flying is brought to you by Osiris Media. Executive Produced by Adam Caplan and Tom Marshall. Interview, Narration, and Editing by Steve Silberman. Mixed and Mastered by Brendon Anderegg at Telescope Audio. Art by Mark Dowd. Production assistance from Christina Collins and RJ Bee. To see more shows that can help you connect more deeply with the music you love, check out osirispod.com.
For information regarding your data privacy, visit acast.com/privacy
Freak Flag Flying: In Conversation with David Crosby
Hosted by Steve Silberman
Episode 2: Ghost Prints on the Tape
Steve (narration): Welcome to the second installment of “Freak Flag Flying” with David Crosby. In this episode, we’ll talk about the folk music that inspired David to speak out publicly about issues that are important to him, which continues today with his fiery tweets about this dire moment in American history. We’ll also talk about David’s early years in the Byrds, songwriting as life advice, the struggles with addiction to hard drugs that robbed David of his songwriting abilities in the 1980s, and the very sweet life that he and his wife Jan have built together since then.
[“HOMEWARD THROUGH THE HAZE”]
Steve: The whole thing is, you were part of a generation where idiosyncratic, very individual voices were what they were looking for. They were you, James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne — you guys were all excellent songcrafters. You knew how to write good songs. You came from a tradition. One thing you didn’t mention as an influence on your early career was that your family would also have evenings where they would get together and sing folk songs out of the Fireside Book of Folk Songs. I grew up listening to the Weavers too, actually. My parents were Commies — I’m a “red-diaper baby” — so we would listen to Talking Union with Pete Seeger and all that shit. The Weavers. It was great. I do want to give a plug to a friend: Jesse Jarnow’s book about the Weavers, called Wasn’t That a Time? is an excellent history of the Weavers and America at that time. I would definitely check it out. And the Weavers was a huge influence on you. Is that correct?
David: Very, very big. They are where I started learning about having a set of values that you stuck up for. Now, I think Pete was wrong about picking communism because it doesn’t work. It never has. There’s never been a functioning communism on the planet, only dictatorships and oligarchies that call themselves communist states. But he was sticking up for what he believed in. That’s the important part for me. He had something he believed in, he wasn’t willing to shut up and sit down. Society tried to smack him down real hard and he wouldn’t go. He didn’t shut up. He didn’t sit down. Made me love him, made me love him dearly. You know, he was totally right about all the other stuff about racism and all that. He stuck up for the right stuff. He’s a good man. But I think the thing that made me fall in love with him was that he was willing to stick up for what he believed in.
[“MY COUNTRY TIS OF THEE”]
Steve: So you’ve definitely tried to carry forward that tradition of being activist musician who would piss off the authorities. That came natural to you.
David: Yeah. Well, I was always a punk. Always kind of rooting for the underdog.
Steve: You were an underdog, isn’t that true? like in high school.
David: Yeah, absolutely. So I always had that attitude and you got to remember the first. The first encounters I had with being anti-establishment. Were that the establishment was in the 50s, still fully racist. That was how it was. Hey, remember the phrase “that’s mighty white of you?”
Steve: Oh, I know. It’s horrible.
David: What a phrase. That’s where I came from. That was so egregiously wrong. And that thing happened that I described in the documentary with my mom and Josh White singing “Strange Fruit.”
Steve: It’s amazing. Billie Holiday’s version is so killer.
David: It’s fucking killer good. And that really got me because my mom totally believed that. She was a fully humanist, we’re all people, it doesn’t fucking matter what color you are — which is what the truth is. There’s bad black people and good black people, same as all kinds of people. They got it all. Can’t judge them by the skin. You’ve got to judge them by the person because they’re like fucking snowflakes. No two of the same. That’s how it is with everybody. Everybody. I don’t know why it’s so fucking hard for people to understand. But that is the truth. So that is a great way into having beliefs in the first place that are anti-establishment, and that you feel strongly enough about to be willing to stand up for, to put yourself at risk of harm for, make you stand up in the street. Racism — yeah, that one is so clear, so clear, wasn’t like a maybe, there wasn’t politics involved. To me, any six year old should have been able to figure that out. Well, you don’t have to teach six year olds! They’re not racist in the first place. They couldn’t care less. That was a good way into it, a good way into having beliefs and that you stuck up for. I gained others, you know, as life took me along. But the racism thing was so clear and so early and so unequivocal that it led me to being very staunchly willing to stand up for what I believed in and even put myself at risk.
[“TIME I HAVE”]
Steve: I’m very grateful to Greta Thunberg, the young autistic girl from Scandinavia, who has really raised global awareness of climate change among her own generation. She has translated knowledge to street action, saying, “No, no, no” to the B.S. from the Republican Party and the oil companies. And they know it’s B.S. They’re all making business decisions behind the scenes so they’ll be hurt as little as possible as millions of climate refugees suddenly have to find new places to live as places go under the water. It’s unbelievable. But that generation is really waking up.
David: She is an absolute gift. I love her. You know, she’s a 16-year-old kid, she’s sitting there, she understands global warming, she understands climate change. OK. She can follow the science. She says “Well, my Parliament isn’t doing anything, so I’m gonna go down there every Friday, leave school, go down there, and I will sit outside and tell them to do something. Her attitude — “I’m sorry, I don’t mean to upset you by saying that the house is on fire, but the fucking house is on fire!” And she’s not kidding.
Steve: And you can’t blow smoke up her ass. She doesn’t want to hear it. She knows what the facts are. She knows that arguing against science is doom, and she tells it like it is.
David: I love her more than I can tell you. She’s a real gift from God, that girl.
Steve: You and I have been talking actually that, in part because you think about your son Django, that you worry his generation does not have a sense of much of a livable future. And they’re making real day-to-day decisions about relationships, about having children, about commitment to their career…
David: I don’t know if it’s decisions. I don’t know if it’s conscious. As conscious as I’ve seen it get is, “I’m not sure if we should bring a child into this world” — but they do anyway. That question has been asked for a while. I heard that question clear back in Vietnam times. Now there’s something going on, that I think if I was a person into trending and sociology and numbers, I’d really try to track this one. I think young people are — in much higher numbers than anybody has even suspected so far — not planning a future. They’re not planning a family. They’re not planning a career. And I don’t think many of them have made a conscious decision about it. They’re just not going that way. I don’t think any of them really want to look at why. But I bet you the numbers will show that there’s a sincere change, a sea change in young people’s priorities. Because a lot of them are not sure we’ll make it. You got to remember that if you want to get the human race to grow, you have to bootstrap everybody. You have to get the most ignorant motherfucker we got and lift him too. And that’s a very tough job. And also, if we lose this next one — this next election is going to be the biggest, bloodiest fight since the Civil War. Because if we lose this next one, then that puts us another four years before we even stand a chance of starting to deal with it. What we’re dealing with right now is that if we don’t gain control of Congress, we can’t start dealing with global warming. We can’t start dealing with climate change. That’s where it’s life and death. This is going to be the biggest, nastiest fight you ever saw, because those guys don’t play by the rules. And if a Koch brother tells you that he’s put 80 million into this election, which he did say that means he’s put 250 million in, and that means there are eight other guys behind him who have also done the same. They’re going to spend well over a billion dollars trying to get him reelected, and they’re going to try very hard. And if we don’t succeed in beating them, we can’t deal with climate change. And then I have to agree with my son. I don’t think the human race will make it. It’s that far. We will only have four or five generations more. And that’ll be drizzling out.
Steve: In under increasingly miserable and frightening conditions.
David: And losing millions of people a week.
Steve: Right. I mean, who could have expected that the new face of California would be wildfires, so quickly?
David: You know, I gotta tell you something. I think probably there’s some Trumpers out there throwing cigarettes out the windows. California has become a symbol to them, of us hippies challenging their…
Steve: He practiced on denying aid to Puerto Ricans after Hurricane Maria. And then he said he’s going to get the FEMA aid to California with the wildfires. He is sadistic! There’s something pathological there.
David: He’s only about eight years old, man. He’s a kid who’s never been allowed in his dad’s office, who’s broken in, and he’s running around peeing on all the papers saying, “I’ll show them!” That’s the little guy that he is. He’s a shit. There’s some other interesting things about him. Imagine this: He’s never, ever made anybody come. Ever, not in his life. He’s only ever been serviced. He has not ever made love to anyone. He doesn’t like dogs — that’s a dead giveaway.
Steve: Probably dogs don’t like him.
David: They don’t. Here’s a bigger one: he doesn’t listen to music at all. Doesn’t like music. So he’s not even human. He’s a disgusting piece of shit. That’s why I’m trying to get young people to vote. The idea of this gig that I’m trying to put together is simply to put that out there. We need you to vote. We need you to get your lazy ass out of bed, drag it down there, stand in line, have your I.D. and vote. Otherwise the motherfuckers are gonna kill us all. Your grandchildren won’t have a livable planet to live on, if you have grandchildren, which is what I was saying, a lot of kids don’t really plan on having grandchildren.
Steve: You know, I was at Roosevelt Stadium in Jersey City on August 8th, 1974, when Nixon resigned. Graham announced the resignation from the stage. If Trump resigned, what would you want to play?
David: “The Star Spangled Banner.” I’d want to play something joyous. I’ve been singing “What Are Their Names?” and I almost want to sing it again, right then, in honor of the song. If Trump resigned, oh I’d want to play something that rocked. “Carry On.” Like that. Something that just rocked out. Because that’s how I’d feel.
[“KINGS GET BROKEN”]
Steve: Well, one thing I was thinking was that when you were when you were joining the Byrds and coming through the ‘60s, your generation definitely had a sense of its own power, like you could change the world. And you became one of the spokespeople for that generation. I am not sure that your son’s generation has that same sense of itself as a potent agent of change. And that’s one of the things.
David: That may be changing because of Greta Thunberg.
Steve: Yeah, you’re right. It’s true.
David: She’s an agent of change of massive proportions. She’s sailing back to Europe. No print. No carbon print. Yeah. She’s sailing all the way back to Europe.
Steve: Yeah, that’s amazing. One of the things that was a huge force in your life, as much as music really, was sailing. So you learned to sail — was it that your parents offered to buy you half of a Seashell, was it, when you were a kid? And that was how you started sailing? And how quickly did you know it was for you, that it was your thing?
David: As soon as I tried it, man. That’s the weird thing. A kid took me out in the boat to show me how. He said, “Here, you take this.” And I said, “You mean like this?” and I sailed away from the dock. And he stopped talking. And he watched me for a while and he says, “Oh, you see, who showed you?” “Who showed me what?” “You’re sailing the boat.” “The wind’s coming from there, and it goes like this, and it does that — am I doing it wrong?” “No, you’re doing exactly right. That’s weird.” I already knew how. So that was when one of those déja vu things. That’s when I later wrote Déja Vu,” that’s what I was drawing on.
Steve: Really? For all the times that you’ve played that song, and for as much as people love it, I haven’t really heard you talk about how that song came about. Like, did you actually believe in reincarnation?
David: Yeah, I still do. Look, the law of conservation of energy — you can’t destroy it. Life’s force is energy. I don’t think it gets destroyed at the moment of death. I think it goes away and comes back. I think the Buddhists have got it right. I think it’s accidental probably, but however it worked out, I think they got a glimpse of something real. I can believe anything I want, fuck everybody else. I can believe any goddamn thing I please, and that’s what I like to believe. I like to think the energy doesn’t get destroyed. It comes around again as a new person. And I don’t think the identity print comes through, but there’s probably ghost prints on the tape. And that’s the déja vu experience. Leftover kind of scraps — ghost prints. Music’s that way for me, man. I started singing harmony when I was six. “Excuse me? You did what?”
David: It was the only thing I was any good at. I was not a happy camper in school. I was not a popular kid. I was a little chubby boy. And I was not one of the athletic kids. That was the only thing I was any good at, was singing. So thank heavens there was something.
Steve: And how did you go from sailing a Seashell to owning the Mayan? What was the chain of events?
David: I had this dream, right? And they’d just thrown me out of the Byrds. And I went back down to Florida because it was good. And I had friends, I went back down there and I saw her, I saw the boat. She was it, she was the one. So I did a couple of things. I cheated — I started a rumor that she had rot right under the mast, which is a place you have to extract the mast to find out. It costs a lot of money. And I also went and borrowed the money from Peter —
Steve: Peter Tork of the Monkees.
David: Yeah. Well, he had a job. I miss her so much.
Steve: You wrote a lot of music and it saved you a lot of mind space to have the Mayan.
David: Took me so many places, taught me so much, gave me so much joy. Unbelievable. Words fail me. Honest to God.
Steve: That’s actually one regret I have about our friendship is that I didn’t get to know you soon enough to ever see you sailing.
David: Yeah, it’s fucked up. You would’ve loved it.
Steve: I know I would’ve.
David: It’s really good, man. It’s really, really delicious. And the more offshore you get, the better it gets. And the warmer it gets, the better it gets. It gets absurdly good.
[“WOODEN SHIPS” DEMO]
Steve: Oh let me ask you a question. It occurs to me it would be nice to play “Vagrants of Venice” here in the actual podcast. How did that song come together?
David: Ooooh boy, I had a vision, you know, a daydream. My head wanders around when I’m stoned and I imagined these people, a hundred years from now, living in what was left of Venice, Italy, when it’s only just towers sticking up out of the sea. Living in the towers. Fishing. Sitting in the Doge’s Palace. Fishing. Homemade fishing gear. Fishing for their dinner out the window. I envisioned them and they’re scruffy and their survivor types, you know, and I just started writing it. I couldn’t. It was such a great vision. You know, that I couldn’t not go there. So I wrote the words. And once I wrote all the words, I sent them to Becca and I said, “What do you think it is? And she said, Oh, God, sometimes I love you. And wrote that crazy music for it.
Steve: Amazing, and in a way, it’s like an outgrowth of “Wooden Ships,” actually, because it’s like a post-apocalyptic…
David: Science fiction song.
David: Yeah, I’ve written a number of science fiction songs, but I think those two are the two best ones, “Wooden Ships” and “Vagrants of Venice.”
Steve: Yeah. And do you know about the news today from Venice?
David: I do. I’ve seen the picture.
Steve: Yeah. So it’s like the central committee of Venice or whatever voted to reject the science of climate change — and this morning, the office was flooded for the first time in recorded history. Yeah. The karma is quick.
[“VAGRANTS OF VENICE”]
David: You know, as soon as I became a folk singer and I was on the road by myself, these things — I was evolving a personality. Did I ever tell you the story that I used to tell about the. Did they call the. Baby thieves, child thieves,..
Steve: Oh, no, no. Egg snatchers,.
David: Egg snatchers! Yeah, you genius. God, you are as smart as I tell people you are.
Steve: Paul Kantner used that in a song.
David: Well, it’s a great story. I used to tell this story. I imagined myself as being an egg thief. And this was a story I would tell when I was singing in the coffeehouses.
Steve: You actually wrote a song about it? Because Paul Kantner must have heard that.
David: Not a song, I would tell a story… Of course he did, I told it to him… If you offered, you know, a young person another set of values that had to do with love and compassion and growth and change and good stuff, you would steal those young people, I said. And that’s what I’m out here doing, right? I said I’m out here stealing their children…
David: …ideologically. And when I said that, when I heard those words coming out of my mouth, I said, “Oh, that’s who I am.” And it always has been part of who I am. And it’s one of those things that evolved, you know. But once you recognize that it’s there, you’re kind of OK with that. I’m OK with that. I know it’s made me piss off some people, you know — it certainly didn’t help my relationship with the Byrds. But it is me, and it’s genuine, and I am not ashamed of it. I understand that it’s caused me problems. You know, me saying what I said about Kennedy and stuff and me being political definitely exacerbated my relationship with the Byrds. No question. Definitely fucked things up. It’s also who I am. And I’m not ashamed of it. I understand that it caused me problems. I understand that it’s not always the easiest path and I understand that that’s not always a moral choice. It’s just how I am.
Steve: You even wrote a book about it called Stand and Be Counted.
David: I did, but that has a lot to do with activism, too. There’s a difference between believing things and being willing to advocate for them in public. Again, some shit is so clear — racism’s so clear. The same way when people are like that about gay people. Gay people aren’t different — you’re not!
Steve: Well, I had to figure that out. The big moment for me was figuring out that the fact that I fell in love with guys was not one of the weirdest, most disgusting things about me — it was actually one of the most beautiful things about me. To go with it. I’m almost grateful for the fact that I had to figure out that it was OK to be gay because it made me figure out that it was OK to be black, and it was OK to be a woman, And, you know, that whole apparatus.
David: You had to go through it. You had to process the entire thing and say, “OK, what matters to me here? What’s valuable here?” That’s the real question, man. In a backhanded way,, it was a gift to you because it made you examine it in the first place.
Steve: That’s exactly true.
David: Well, it made me examine it, too. I just wasn’t confronted with it quite as closely as you were.
Steve: But you met Allen Ginsberg, the poet, and Peter Orlovsky, his lover, when they were really first going out. They used to come to the Byrds’ shows, correct?
David: Oh, yeah. They were the most out gay people I had ever met. They were so much fun. They would come and they would dance, and they were so silly when they danced. They were so wide open and having so much fun, they were like children dancing. They danced like children! That’s Peter Orlovsky and Allen Ginsberg. They danced like children and it made everybody love them. Everybody else is trying to do the Shuggalooba or the Whamma-Damma or the Humma-Humma. “Well, the dance this week is…. Wiggle your hips this way and put your left foot….” You know. These guys were just blazingly high, and full of joy, and obviously in love with each other, and having fun. Completely. They danced like children. Man, that’s a good quote.
Steve: There’s even pictures of Allen dancing like that to the Grateful Dead, playing “Viola Lee Blues” at the Human Be-In in like ‘66. He loved it.
David: Exactly. How you saw him in that picture? That’s how he was. That’s exactly the guy that I loved.
Steve: That is awesome.
David: And I know Allen was a complex guy. And there were things about him that weren’t so great. But he was a pretty good poet.
Steve: He was a great poet! “Kaddish” is the height of 20th century poetry.
David: Yeah, but he was a difficult guy in some ways, like everybody is. But that joy that you saw in him when you played music — that was an Allen anybody could love, because he loved music and it transported him. They were fully happy.
Steve: He was very present, actually — which, as you and I were talking about, is the heart of Buddhist practice: mindfulness of the present moment, mindfulness of now. Being here now.
David: “Be here now” — it’s no bullshit. It’s the key. It’s the center of the deal.
Steve: Right. And you and your wife, Jan, actually said something interesting earlier where she referred to your songs as “maps,” as tools of navigation. It seems like all of you guys — you know, and Stephen back in the day — would write songs that gave you advice about basically how to live and how to treat other people. Was that a very conscious decision on your part?
David: It was a completely unconscious thing in both of us. Stephen’s talking to himself, and so was I. We try and figure it out. We’re not pontiffs. We’re not pontificating. We’re really here going, “I think this is it. I think if I do this or I say this, this is what I think might be right.” We were pretty much lost — we were looking for it, you know, anywhere we could find anything. And every time we would find a scrap that we thought was true, we’d write it down and hand it to you, see what you thought, you people out there. If a thing resonated with the best minds you could send it to — well then you were probably into the paydirt, where you wanted to be. It really all depends on how well the thing communicates at all.
[“MAP TO BURIED TREASURE”]
Steve: When you look back over the peaks and valleys of your career, what songs do you think most purely expressed your message, you might say — the core of your message.
David: Wow, what a question. Ok, well what is the core of my message? Love. I have more than one message. Some of my message is “Page 43.” That’s probably as positive as you… Some of my message is “Wooden Ships.” Some is “Guinevere.” Some is “Rusty and Blue.” Some is “At the Edge.” “At the Edge” is one of the biggies. I don’t want to pull the curtain back too far on my soul. But if you are looking for a glimpse, there’s one.
[“AT THE EDGE”]
David: A person’s art reveals them to you, right? I read a book that you write, I know a lot about you, man, by how you deal with it. Because you’re art — if it’s any good — is an expression of you. Your print is on it. Well, in songs even more than in books — which are very purpose driven — songs, a lot of the purpose is self expression. Self-everything: self-fascination, self-immolation, self-aggrandizement.
Steve: Self discovery.
David: Self discovery, very often. “Wow, what did I just say?” Exactly. That’s the thing that cracks me up — I will say something in a song and realize that that’s what I think. But it’s a secondary realization. I didn’t know that until I heard myself say it.
Steve: The poet Gary Snyder, who was a friend of Allen Ginsberg’s, once said, “I don’t write to say what I think. I write to find out what I’m thinking.”
David: Exactly. Yeah, he’s a good wordsmith. No shit. That’s a really fine way to put it. It’s fascinating being me, man [laughing] — it’s really a voyage of discovery.
Steve: I think I’m supposed to say, “OK boomer” now.
David: You know, I didn’t plan any of this. You know that, Steve. I had no fucking idea. I didn’t have a map. I’ve been bouncing from — what are those called? The ones with the flippers?
David: Pinball. I’ve been like a guy coming down a pinball, just bouncing off shit my whole life. I don’t have a plan. Right. I didn’t come in here extra smart. I didn’t come in here knowing what the fuck was going on.
Steve: I do think you came in extra curious. You’re curious about stuff. You’re very curious.
David: Very. That’s one of the things that made me and Jan fall for each other. We’re both insanely curious about everything. We want to know, why did it do that?
Steve: Also “What makes knives sharp?” and “What makes knotwork on Swedish bottles…” You’re fascinated by craft.
David: I’m fascinated by craft. I’m fascinated by art. I’m fascinated by life. I’m fascinated by chemistry. I’m deeply fascinated by history. History is some big mojo. These are all such obvious platitudes — “History repeats itself “ and all that shit, but it totally fucking does. If you read history, you will see the patterns. They are clear. It is not tough to see: human beings behave in certain ways, and they evolve. And some of those ways get better and some don’t. History is a wonderful teacher. Brutal, but really good. You know, people ask me, “What would you do if you didn’t do what you do?”
Steve: Yes, I did want to ask you that, actually. What would you want to do?
David: History teacher. There’s a moment in teaching — you’ve probably done this — when you’re explaining something to somebody, and their face lights up, and it’s like the wire touched, and there was a little spark, and all of a sudden the signal goes across, and they go, “Oh, you mean — ?” It’s a great moment. I could live for that moment.
Steve: I believe my husband — @WardQNormal on Twitter, who is a high school chemistry teacher — does live for that moment. He loves seeing that moment in kids’ faces.
David: It is a joy. I totally get it. I could do that, I could live that life and feel, you know, that the school was a problem, that the rules were a problem, that the paperwork was a problem, that the stiffness and stuffiness and stupidness was a problem. But the kids and seeing that light go off — fucking worth it. Just a joy. I totally get it. I really think one of the things I like best about him is, he’s a teacher because he loves it. As near as I can tell, he and I need to sit down and talk, without you there, because you take up so much goddamn air. Well, he’s a wonderful guy, but he’s quiet. You have to give him space. You have to ask him.
Steve: He’s an introvert. I am, too. But he’s much more introverted than I am.
David: Much. He’s a gentle guy. Yes. I think that’s one of the things you fell in love with.
Steve: Well, absolutely. He’s very egoless too. You’re one of my very few friends who have an enormous ego. I don’t trust it anymore.
David: Well, you know, it’s a funny thing. I’ve had to learn to deal with it, but I have found a wonderful mechanism. If you have a gigantic ego, which I absolutely fucking do, make fun of the motherfucker. — that’s the healthiest possible thing. That’s why I’m all the time poking fun at myself, because that’s the way I deal with my gigantic ego: I make fun of myself. “Ah, the sheer magnificence of me!” It makes you laugh, right? You can’t help but laugh. But it also makes fun of that ego. And I think that’s the healthiest thing I can do.
Steve: I will tell you this. Last night I was about to compliment you on a song called “Tamalpais High (At About 3)” on your first solo album If I Could Only Remember My Name, which is a highwater mark of human art to me and my friends. I was about to say, something like that, and you said, “You know, it’s better to just call me an idiot. It’s more comfortable.” So I can see how you actually have learned. You’ve bruised people that you love with your ego over the years.
David: Yeah. And I don’t want to. Also the bigger your ego is, the more you feed it, the less growing you can do. The more you suppress the ego thing — the “oh, I’m terrific” — the more open you are to new shit, the more you can learn and grow. I would like sincerely like to be growing the day before they bury me. Right? I’d like to learn some new shit on my last day, and have been doing it the day before too. That’s a moral and philosophical point that I’m not really willing to compromise on. I like that. I want that. And I don’t think having your ego be entrenched and nurtured and defended and the main authority leaves room to grow. It doesn’t it doesn’t make you the kind of human being that I imagine I want to be. It doesn’t feed compassion, which I think is the surpassing wonderful aim. It doesn’t feed growth. I think you need to have an ego. There has to be somebody in me that says, “You can’t say that to me.” Or “Don’t touch my wife.” Or “Did you just try to kick my dog? I’m going to beat you senseless.” There has to be somebody in there that has some of that, I think, for me. If somebody came up to your old man, and punched him from behind, you’d deck the son of a bitch, and you’ve never hit anybody in your life. You’d crush him. You’d put him in the hospital for weeks. Because there has to be some of that in you, somewhere, at some level. You’ve got to be able to defend your child or your lover or your life or the principles that you are willing to defend. Are there things in your life you’re willing to lay down your life for?
[“DREAM FOR HIM”]
Steve: Yeah. I wanted to say that probably something that only someone who knows you really well would observe — you have this famously huge ego, and everybody talks about how you’re a Leo, and you have this…
David: Well, you know, it’s the truth.
Steve: But I wanted to suggest the opposite as well, which is I feel like you’ve been very humble before the Muse. You have followed the Muse in many different directions. You are grateful for whatever she’s giving at the moment. You really listen hard to something that is not easy to hear. You follow stray winds of improvisation in beautiful directions towards melodies that are uncannily beautiful…
David: I did something better than that.
Steve: What’s that?
David: I made it be more important than anything else. And that saved me over and over again — kept me aimed at the higher end of the spectrum. Over and over again. I’d be wallowing in being a fucking junkie, and the music, and the desire to follow it, and the desire to learn from it, and have it grow, and have it be more magical even than it was yesterday, would pull me out of the mire and up into the creative space again. I just wish I hadn’t wasted all that time. God, it bugs me when they say that to you, when they interview you and say, “Do you have any regrets?” “Oh, Christ, you got an hour?” Yeah. My biggest regret — even more than the people I hurt, and I hurt people — is the time I wasted. I could have been writing goddamn symphonies. I could have made three times as much music as I made, if I had not wasted years of time just getting smashed. “How smashed can we get?” “Well, I don’t know, Dave, let’s try.” Oh, good, I drooled on myself and nodded out.
Steve: Let me ask you a question. God knows this has been talked about way too much, I think, but: When you were getting high that way, did you enjoy it? Was it hellish? Was it good?
David: Not really man. Once you’re addicted, then you’re just feeding the monster. You’re just trying to keep from coming down, that’s it. Your life turns into that. It cancels higher consciousness pretty much, and your behavior gets really grubby, and you’re willing to do whatever. Those drugs are painkillers. Cocaine is too. They used it as a painkiller, as a local anesthetic, because it also shrinks the capillaries, so it would cut down on bleeding for eye surgery. But that’s technology, that’s not what I’m talking about. The reason people become junkies Is to shut out the pain. They do not want to be here — they want to be somewhere where it doesn’t hurt, and I’m totally familiar. And it works; it’s just that you’re killing yourself while you do it.
Steve: You were introduced to painkillers at a time when you were at your most pain of living, really, after the death of Christine in a car accident. Is that not correct? I mean, you might have been introduced to it before that, but…
David: Yeah, I just didn’t have any way to deal with it. I didn’t have any equipment. Nobody teaches you about death, your own or anybody else’s. Nobody tries to make sense out of it for you. All the ways that they tell you they’re telling you about it are fairy tales that are utter, complete bullshit. Religion is nonsense, utter nonsense. And there you’re loving somebody, and you think you’re starting to fall in love with them, and it’s like a brand new experience, and you’ve never actually really done that, and it’s getting kind of magical. And she takes the cat to the vet and never comes home. And I just wasn’t equipped. I didn’t have anything — like being a little swimmer, big wave. I took some junk.
Steve: Plus, you had just been through the weird experience also of being the bee’s knees and having the biggest hit record — you won a Grammy for the first CSN album, so you were like enduring this rapid rise to superstardom. And then this most horrible thing that ever happened to you, ever, ended her life. It must have been so much to process.
David: Yeah. The success stuff this is all just disorienting, People want you to feel like it’s a real world, but it’s not. It’s just bullshit. But this was real, and it was more than I could handle. I totally don’t recommend it. You know, you deal with shit however you have to deal with shit. And that’s how I dealt with it. I think if I could have avoided that, I could have made a whole shitload more music. To return to my original beef, which was that I wasted the time. Whatever the cause was, the time got wasted, and that’s a really shameful thing.
Steve: It’s so profound, to real fans of your music, that the last song you wrote before your Muse really got so pissed off she split for a while was “Delta.” And then one of the first songs — I know you wrote a couple of others in prison — but one of the first songs you wrote in prison was “Compass.” And they bookend an experience of being lost in a really profound way.
David: Don’t they! Lyrically particularly. Yeah, they do. I had noticed that actually, somebody else pointed it out to me. And yes, you’re absolutely right, and those were the two songs. I tried to describe it to people that they were plottable curves: the increase of drug use and the decrease of writing were almost matching curves in opposite directions. The more drugs I did, the less I wrote, until I stopped writing. Didn’t write anything. And “Delta” was the last thing I wrote. And then I woke up in prison, remembered who I was, and wrote “Compass.” Which is not bad.
Steve: Oh no, it’s good, actually. And dare I say — it’s not the best CSNY record of all time, but on the CSNY record, Neil’s harmonica part is really bone chilling.
David: It’s good, isn’t it?
Steve: As it should be.
David: We at that point we were calling him the Jimi Hendrix of the harmonica. He is such a puzzling guy, man. He’s a wonderful musician. He has, innately in him, the ability to create wonderful music.
Steve Let me ask you a question. And this is a tough one. As a guy with a big ego, you went through one of the most spectacular public denigrations and humiliations of anyone in pop culture, basically.
David I did?
Steve You did. You went from being, the spokesperson for a generation to… My favorite David Crosby joke of all time is from The Simpsons, when you were playing yourself, and Homer meets you and says, “David Crosby, you’re my hero!” And you say, “I’m glad you like my music, man.” And he says, “You’re a musician?” So that got to that — a picture of you in People magazine, sitting in a jail cell. How was that? It must have hurt.
David It’s awful, but that’s not the significant part. The significant part is the part we’ve been saying — the significant part is it nearly destroyed the art. The significant part is that it definitely almost killed me. Those are the really salient facts. That’s the stuff we can learn from this. Wallowing in how awful it got doesn’t help. It was awful, and I remember all of it, and I don’t want to go through it again for anybody. But I picked out what’s significant to learn from it, and that I want people to know very badly.
Steve Yeah. Can we also talk? Jan went through all that with you and stayed loyal to you. You guys have a love that has been tested, and endured through the biggest shit storms that life can throw at you…
David Life and death. Nothing less.
Steve What is it about your relationship that has made it last for so long?
David I know this is going to sound corny, okay? We actually fell in love with each other. And we are both flawed human beings. She’s nowhere near as crazy as I am, you know, but we are both flawed human beings. But we have learned to love the whole person. I love the whole girl, mistakes and all. And she loves me, all the mistakes and all. Because I’ve been honest with her, and we’ve seen each other over the years down to the toenails. We know exactly who the other person is and we love them anyway, deeply. Because we’ve seen the heart. She has a good heart. That is a treasure. You don’t find it hardly at all. You know, because you found one.
Steve Yeah, I know.
David It’s a rare thing to have somebody when you see it. You fall for it. You fell for him. You know you did. You love the guy, man. I feel that way about her. I fell for her because of that heart — that spontaneous, warm, generous, loving human being that is there, when she’s happy. When she’s not happy, it’s a whole other ball of wax, and you don’t want to be there. But when she’s happy, you fall in love with her. That’s what happened. I did, and I really am glad I did. It has been a rough and rocky road, and I’m stunned that she stuck with me, because I put her through Hell. Absolutely. And I treasure her cause of how she has dealt with it. She’s a good human being and oh, man, is she a good mom. Django had the most joyful childhood of any kid in the world because her sense of play is so strong. She’s like Blue is…
Steve Your dog.
David …when he puts his forepaws on your lap — “Wanna play?” That’s Jan. Oh, man, Django was so happy.. It was unending joyous whoopee!! all his whole childhood. It was really great. She was very talented. She’s a really good mom now, too. She’s a really good family center. She loves our family and she treasures it and she makes it be worthy. Yeah.
Steve Not an easy job being her either, because you cast a big penumbra.
David There’s that, too. And also, you know, there were other times in our life when we were together and people tried to bust us up. They thought, well, if they could get me away from her, they would somehow get me away from the drugs. I was giving them to her, not the other way around. She’s a joy, man. She’s a joy, and I’m a lucky fucker. That’s really basically the deal.
Steve You’re being generous enough to let me sleep in the guest cottage on your place. I carry incense with me because I’m a Buddhist and I meditate every day. So I have this little travel crappy incense burner I bought in a head shop somewhere. I noticed that yesterday without saying anything, she put a beautiful cup filled with rice, which is the traditional way that millions of Zen students all over the world burn their incense. She just put it in between my crappy little travel incense burner and this Buddha in the room that I’m sleeping in.
David That’s her.
Steve She didn’t say anything. She just knew that tomorrow when I lit the incense to meditate, I would find this convenient, beautiful Japanese cup right there.
David She does stuff like that all the time — she calls it “leaving crumbs.” A trail of crumbs.
[“THINGS WE DO FOR LOVE”]