- David Crosby
In Episode 4, David reflects on the highs and lows of the relationships among CSNY, and considers whether they might ever play together again. Crosby also explains his deep friendship and musical connection with Jerry Garcia, and we’ll hear an unreleased track of David jamming with The Grateful Dead.
This episode concludes with David considering his own mortality and sharing a message of hope with future generations.
In the next and final episode, Episode 5, Steve Silberman will sit down with Osiris Media co-founder and Phish lyricist Tom Marshall to discuss his experience making this podcast, share more stories about David’s unbelievable life, and hint at a future project.
Songs featured in this episode (with Spotify links where available):
The Wall Song (unreleased master take)
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 4: “Time Is The Final Currency”
Steve (narration): Thanks for joining me for the end of my wide-ranging conversation with singer-songwriter David Crosby about his career, his inspirations, the challenges he’s faced over 50 years of making some of the most beautiful and original music of our time, what it would take for CSNY to reunite, and the message he’d like to send to future generations.
Steve: So you tell the story in Remember My Name, an amazing story about going to see a symphony orchestra when you were, what, about six years old and seeing all the little hands moving together. And it was the collective force of their community and their bonding around music that really reached you and touched you and inspired you.
David: It was that they were doing it together. They made a thing by moving together, by cooperative effort, they made a sound that was so big and so beautiful. It was… life changing. The first huge chords of a symphony orchestra. It was big, man. I was a little kid I’d never heard any amplified music. And this was big without amplification. This was in a park in the afternoon. And there were 90 of them. And they got big in those first chords. The whole string section hits you like a wave. And it was stunning. It’s not the first music I remember. The thing in our house was, every Sunday they put on the Philharmonic — the Sunday morning Philharmonic concert was part of the deal. It was on the radio. You listened to it back in the ‘50s. And then we had 78 RPM record albums. You know, stacks of 78s, like a Beethoven symphony would be eight discs, you know. And you’d have to stack them up, and they would stop and change the disc in the middle of a movement, breaking it up into sections. But we played that stuff all the time. There was classical music going on in our house maybe not every day, but certainly every week. And usually multiple days. Then they invented the LP record, the first long play records, 33 1/3 RPM records were ten inch LPs. The very first ones. And my mom got one of those changers. And she brought home from somewhere Josh White, the Weavers, a South African couple called Marais and Miranda, and Odetta.
Steve: Nice, nice. Odetta could create shapes in the air, in the room with her voice. She had the most powerful vocal chords.
David: What a singer. She taught me so much about singing, I loved her.
Steve: Did you used to play the same clubs that she did or whatever when you were starting out?
David: No, she was already an established folk artist when I was just a kid. And so no I would have been opening for her. I did open for Judy Collins.
Steve: Oh, nice. Where was that, do you remember?
David: The Exodus in Denver?
Steve: Oh, wow.
David: My first big club that I ever played.
Steve: What year was this? Probably like early 60s.
David: Nineteen hundred and frozen to death. It has to be in 60s early. Like around 1960.
Steve: Yeah. Oh yeah. That’s interesting. Wow. That must have been amazing. Did she blow your mind?
David: Judy? Oh yeah, that girl could sing!
Steve: Yeah. That’s for sure.
David: She’s kind of puzzling. You know, she’s sort of turned herself into a lounge singer. I probably shouldn’t say that, but it’s the truth. And I think it’s kind of a shame because she’s actually a really she was a good folk artist. She could sing really well and play really well.
Steve: Well, actually, my favorite album of hers is Who Knows Where The Time Goes. Because she was singing a song by Sandy Denny, who was a brilliant British folk singer songwriter who unfortunately had lots of problems and died falling down the stairs, which is horrible. But Who Knows Where the Time Goes is one of the most beautiful songs ever written, featuring in Judy’s version, a young Stephen Stills, right before CSN actually. And his electric guitar playing sends chills down my spine. It’s so beautiful.
David: He’s a good player, man. Really, really, really was. You know, he’s a problematical guy. I’m pretty sure that he was artistic and undiagnosed.
Steve: Autistic, you mean?
David: Yeah. That’s what I…it didn’t come out?
Steve: It came out as artistic, which is a very common slip.
David: Yeah. No, it was meant to be “autistic and undiagnosed.”
Steve: And well he cops to that too.
David: Yeah. He feels that too well and he’s got two autistic kids. Which leads me to think that’s what the story was. He will as he really could play man. When I encountered him he had a touch, a way with a melody, a way with the time that was just spectacular.
Steve: Plus micro control of tone. His tone was exquisite. It was like as good as a jazz player’s, it was as good as Bill Evans’ tone, really.
David: Yeah. Really good, really good. Yeah, I feel that, you know. Hmm. Of the three of them, he’s sort of the one I feel the warmest towards. He really gave it his all, you know. He’s totally egotistical and totally competitive and, you know, gnarly and…
Steve: So were all of you!
David: So were all of us. Every single one of us. And we all had our drug problems. And I, But I can’t help myself. Somewhere in there I love him still kind of because of how he played and sang.
Steve: Yeah, no, I know. No, you know, I took. Check this out. I took my mom to a CSN concert at the Fillmore in San Francisco. And Stephen. And this was not that long ago — like five years ago. Whatever. Stephen was unexpectedly mindblowingly amazing. Which, of course, excited you and Graham. And I found out later that it was because he had spent the day at Joel Bernstein’s house listening to tracks of his old self for his box set. And it fired him up and he fired up the whole band. And it was unbelievable, you know, but I hadn’t seen him play like that in a while, unfortunately, you know. Yeah.
Steve: I think a lot of people would be surprised to hear how early in CSN’s career white powders and hard drugs came on the scene. That was already going on for the first album, the so-called couch album. Am I correct?
David: You are correct.
Steve: How did they how did they come in to the scene?
David: This is what happens when you challenge a really smart guy to challenge you.
Steve You asked for it, baby.
David: I absolutely did. You know, people showed up with cocaine and said, “Hey, it’s not addictive or anything, it’s really great, you’ll love it, it makes you horny.” And of course, that ring my bell. And it does make you feel great, at first — and it’s the most addictive substance on the planet. And it destroyed my life, pretty much single-handedly until the Christine thing happened and then heroin and cocaine destroyed my life.
Steve: Did you have apprehension that you were pursuing a path that was going to wreck you eventually?
David: Yeah, I did.
Steve: Did people tell you to stop, early?
David: I was going to say I remember trying to start a relationship with a psychiatrist two or three times and saying, “I’m really worried. I think this thing taking me over.”
Steve: Right. But it didn’t work.
David: They’d go, “Well, how do you feel about that?” And I’d go, “Aw, Christ.”
Steve: Were your friends telling you? You have a big personality. This is not news. You have a big personality. You were probably able to dominate people’s concerns in a way about you: “I know what I’m doing! I like to have fun. Who are you to tell me not to have fun?” et cetera. Is that true?
David: They didn’t want to fuck with me too much. I was a part of their paycheck.
Steve: Right, right. When did you feel like you really started to lose control, like you couldn’t couldn’t titrate it.
David: As soon as I hit the pipe.
Steve: So that was what year approximately?
David: Don’t know In the ‘80s. As soon as I got introduced to the pipe, I went really right down the tubes.
Steve: Might have been the ‘70s, actually.
David: Well it might have been ‘70s. I don’t know.
Steve: Your backing band was called the Jitters, after all.
David: Well, that was snorting cocaine. Drugs were a mistake. Let’s leave it at that. We know that they were they nearly killed me and they did absolutely destroy my creative ability. There isn’t any question. The more I did, the less I created. That’s the important factor that we want to get out to human beings out there in the world. They nearly killed me. But more importantly, they absolutely, right in front of everybody, destroyed my ability to create art. Destroyed it — piece by piece until I was not making any art at all. So much for the drugs being an inspiration. Bullshit. They’re poison. Next?
Steve: Although, different drugs are different…
David: Different drugs are different drugs. Not trying to lump cocaine or heroin in with psychedelics or weed or any of that. That’s one of the biggest mistakes the government ever made. Those idiots in D.C. just say “drugs” as if they’re all the same.
Steve: Right. And conveniently leaving out alcohol as well.
David: Which is a drug. Only it’s their drug. Right. Their drugs are alcohol and adrenaline. And anger. Getting’ angry, being self-righteous, and they get that adrenaline rush going with the alcohol, it’s really good. They get real stupid. But that’s one of the main mistakes they make, is thinking that they are all the same, because they’re all totally different. Pot is like beer and wine. It’s okay. No real harm there.
Steve: If you did have another 30 years — just off the top of your head — what kinds of musical projects would you love to be working on?
David: I’d like to keep putting together chemistry. I’m very good at it. I have a sense of it. I can spot it. I know what it is when I see it. I do kind of know how to work it. I can contribute to it. It helps me extend my art out to levels and qualities and amounts that I could never reach by myself. But in working with another human being, I can achieve stuff that is glorious to me. I like that. I would continue to do that. Every chance I got.
Steve: Similarly, looking back at that wasted time, what are the things you could have done back then, that you wish you’d done instead of hitting the pipe all day?
David: Create those chemistries. Look, CSN, CSNY — that’s not bad. CPR. It’s really pretty fucking good. That’s four really good chemistries that produced — not talk, produced evidence. That’s not an accident. I’m good at it.
Steve: You’re a bandleader, even though you’re never referred to as that.
David: I don’t want to lead, I want to create the chemistry.
Steve: That’s what Miles Davis did on Kind of Blue!
David: I get in a band with Mike League, I want him to be the leader, because he’s naturally gifted at being the leader. I wanted Roger McGuinn to be the leader because Roger McGuinn is naturally gifted at being a leader. He’s good at it. He’s a genius at it. There was nobody in CSNY that I wanted to be a leader over me. It was fully competition, fully, all the time.
Steve: Except that — I’m going to slightly disagree with you, because in footage of CSNY, like from ‘74, you can see you standing in front of Neil, goading him to really rip in his solos. Like I feel like you’ve always been supportive of lead players.
David: Supportive, absolutely. Generative, yes. A catalyst, always. A leader, never.
Steve: Right. You were never the leader in CSNY.
David: And nobody else was allowed to be either. They all tried.
Steve: That was the deal, right?
David: They were all trying, all the time.
Steve: Did you feel like Stephen was the leader of CSN?
David: No, I thought he was the most talented singer — he was the best singer and the best songwriter, hands down. Didn’t you think? Certainly the best guitar player.
Steve: Well, I liked “Guinevere,” but yeah —
David: I like “Guinevere” too. But stack it up against “Carry On” and “Love the One You’re With”…
Steve: I do stack it! I think it’s better myself.
David: He was a really brilliant writer man, and he was a really great singer. He was certainly the best singer in the band and probably still is the best guitar player in the band.
Steve: One interesting thing is that — we were talking before about “Déja Vu,” and you wrote that in a group of songs, right when you’d been kicked out of the Byrds more or less — a group of songs that contained “Tamalpais High”, “The Wall Song,” “Kids and Dogs,” and probably “Guinevere” too, really. It’s like your best stuff in a way. Stephen Barncard, the producer, calls it a “sky drop.” It really is striking. In fact, someday — I’ve been sort of annoying to you at various points in your career by advocating for things to be released, like the song “Kids and Dogs” that you recorded with Jerry for If I Could Only Remember My Name.
David: I love that song.
Steve: Oh, it’s unbelievable! It’s amazing. But all of those songs you did demos of at Hollywood Recorders, including “Wooden Ships” with you doing — oh I’m sorry, including “Laughing,” with you doing vocal percussion on “Laughing,” and they’re all fantastic performances.
Steve: What a great batch of songs. What was going on? Had you just met Joni? What was going on with you?
David: I don’t know. What was going on with me was that’s who I was becoming. The lesson here is, that’s who I was before I started to do hard drugs. That’s who I was. That guy. All that, that you saw, that was just the natural flow of things. That’s who I was and who I am trying to be. And it got derailed. There should’ve been another record that good, right after that record, two years later. There should have been another one. And there wasn’t. If they hired me to be a spokesman of anti-hard drug speeches I’d be really good. They can’t afford me though.
Steve: But even when you were really wasted, unfortunately, I mean you were making — you made those nice records with Graham, Wind on the Water. That stuff is good.
David: Yeah. I thought there was a genuine friendship there. And, you know, I had always been looking to have a brother anyway — a comrade in arms. And that’s how it felt. I felt like I was — had a real friend and I was in a great situation, and that I didn’t have to worry about. Neil and Stephen. And that instead of competing with them, I had somebody who was on my side. I’m not sure I was right.
Steve: Yeah, I know it makes me really sad to even talk to you about it —
David: Me too.
Steve: Yeah, for sure, absolutely. But you and Graham’s friendship — especially because I’m gay — your visible devotion to each other was a very powerful role model for me. Like when you guys sing together on the BBC 1970 broadcast, you had recently met each other, you sing beautiful things like ”Traction in the Rain” and “Song with No Words.”
[“SONG WITH NO WORDS”]
Steve: The love between you is very visible and very palpable. And I know you both, and I’ve spoken to you both, including in latter days, and it breaks my heart to — you know, but I also want to give you guys space to work it out. You know what I mean?
David: I don’t think it’s going to happen. But you know, I think the thing to do is to be grateful for what there was. There was there was a period of time there where we really did make some very good music, and I’m grateful for it. You gotta deal with life as it comes to you. If those guys are stuck where they are, then they’re stuck where they are. I’m trying real hard not to be.
Steve: Right. Something that Neil said recently that became public on Twitter pissed me off a bit when he sort of dismissed your recent records. They’re amazing. And they’re very you.
David: He hasn’t heard ‘em! And he hasn’t seen the documentary either.
Steve: The documentary is excellent. A.J. Eaton and Cameron Crowe did a really good job.
David: They did a wonderful job. This thing with Neil listening to other people’s music — 20 years ago, I remember sending Neil something really good that I had done, and I said “Hey, listen to this.” And he said, “I don’t listen to other people’s music.” I said “Bullshit, you listen to lots of people’s music. Who are you trying to kid? I know you.” It was just so ivory tower. I want to listen to all the fucking music I possibly can!
Steve: You were berating me last night for not sending you something i mentioned. But you said, that’s what friends do for each other.
David: I think so. You have opened doors for me and stuff, and hopefully I’ve done it for you. And that’s exactly what friends are supposed to do for each other. I didn’t understand that when he said it. I didn’t understand his attitude. I think it was just him trying to be mysterious again — he’s always telling you something different than what you think you’re going to hear because that’ll make him seem mysterious. He loves to be mysterious. He’s trying to be Bob, who does it all the time. “Where you live. Bob?” “You’re lookin’ at a man that has no home. But what is a home?” Poor Neil, he should be happy being Neil. Graham wants to be Neil. Neil wants to be Bob. It’s funny shit.
Steve: I recently heard that Bob and Allen Ginsberg had gone trick or treating in Malibu wearing masks, and no one had recognized them. That is a wonderful story. That is pretty hilarious. So one of the people who really became one of your main collaborators early on was Jerry Garcia. How did you meet those guys?
David: I’m pretty sure. Kantner introduced me to him — Kantner or Frieberg. Paul and David and I were roommates, right? We lived together in Venice.
Steve: And when was that?
David: Just before we started all those groups. Just before it. So it’d have to be ‘63. ’62, ’63, in there.
Steve: And you were really inventing some of the forms of the counterculture, like collective ownership of money.
David: Well, you know, yeah. I mean, we didn’t formalize it. But if you had any serious cash, you put it in the bowl, and then we could buy groceries. It was great.
Steve: And were you all playing in coffeehouses and whatnot?
David: We were trying to. We were trying to do whatever. But I’m pretty sure it was Kantner who must have done it. The thing about Jerry, which you know, is that there was serious magic there. Garcia was like a consummate musician. He worshipped music. He ate it for breakfast. He rubbed it in his hair. He fucked it. It fucked him. He loved it with his whole entire being. He wanted the music to come out. He knew it was hiding all around him all the time. Wanted to coax it out of the walls, “Come out, music, come and play.” He was a magical cat that way. He was as flawed and normal a human being as everybody else in every other way. Made all the same mistakes. Totally human guy, and I’d seen all of it. But when it came to the music, it was holy, and he was the priest. He was just marvelous that way, with an instinctive, natural bent. If he could touch a guitar, he’d play something, and it would be right. It would be just right as shit. And it would almost always be right as shit, and something you never would have thought of.
Steve: He was also able to tell stories instrumentally, without vocals —
David: He took you someplace!
Steve: Right, he took you somewhere. And one of the things that I want to play for people listening — you can even object and I’ll still play it! — is, there’s a version of “The Wall Song” that you guys recorded with basically the Dead, minus Weir. And Jerry’s jam keeps going for 10 minutes after the master take fades out.
David: It’s so good.
Steve: It’s amazing. It’s unbelievable. And it’s a very rare thing because the Dead were not jamming like that the studio much.
[“THE WALL SONG,” UNRELEASED MASTER TAKE]
Steve: You must have had fun working with those guys.
David: Holy shit. Yes. I wanted to do it more. If I’d had my way, we would have co-opted them. It would have been Crosby and Nash were the two singers and they would have been the band. Because it was the antithesis of Hollywood, because they came for the music, because they were guys who were totally fucking dedicated to it, and alive, and into it, and wanted to push the envelope. And I was pretty sure I could drag Nash in that direction. Didn’t turn out to be possible, Grateful Dead took off on its own. Everybody loved them because of that spirit that was there, because they were so completely free, and so completely brand new way of doing stuff. You know, I’ve tried to describe it to people over and over again. I’ll say this again, and if you’ve never heard me say it before, then this will be a revelation for you. What they were doing was four main melodic streams improvising together all at the same time, which is — this is going to piss off some people — it’s Dixieland! Only they were doing it with much better changes and they could play a lot better. But it’s that four running streams — the bass, the lead guitar, the keyboard, and the second guitar — man, that’s Dixieland. That’s what it is, that’s how it works.
Steve: Garcia, in the documentary by Amir Bar-Lev called Long Strange Trip, describes it as the musicians talking to each other. He said the instruments can talk to each other. It’s conversational. And he learned that from bluegrass.
David: It’s absolutely true. He did learn it there and it is absolutely what was going on. It was a long conversation. And if you listened to it that way, it would take you. On a good night. I’ve also heard the Grateful Dead be just plunderingly dumb.
Steve: What were they like to play with? You played “Dark Star” with them.
David: It was almost impossible, stepping into their thing. You would have had to have been there for six months. It was a delicate balance. When I tried to do it, it upset things and didn’t work. They were kind about it and everything, but there was no room in there. Extract Bob, and then I’ve got a place. Bob’s the second guitar in that band. And they didn’t need anybody else playing anything, except keyboard. It’s a strange thing. It went through a number of different characters. Each keyboard player changed the character of the band. Pigpen was like — that was a different band. There wasn’t much keyboard.
Steve: Yeah, a little organ.
David: And what there was, was very simple, but very right, OK? Each guy. Brent. Whole other ball of wax.
Steve: I actually loved him.
David: Me too. The other people that sat in with them. Hornsby!
Steve: Hornsby was amazing.
David: Astounding. He’s such an egotistical motherfucker, he’s got to prove it to you — and he can. Holy shit! And then he just blazes his way through.
Steve: And when Brent died, Bruce’s engagement kept Jerry’s musical interest up, which can hear on the latter day recordings with Bruce sitting in.
David: Bruce is good, man. He’s just difficult. Marsalis.
Steve: Yeah. The “Eyes of the World” with Branford Marsalis from Nassau Coliseum 1990 is the last, highest Himalayan peak of Grateful Dead music for me.
David: Stunning. Stunning.
David: Branford, man, is a killer fuckin’ player.
Steve: Killer. And they all have big ears, and their big ears were really open that night.
David: Really on. So that’s what it evolved to. I think, you know, a lot of the people that that love the Dead really probably never really understood what the hell was going on.
Steve: We were all trying. We were all working our way towards understanding it. That’s why it took 20 years to do it.. It was an ongoing musical education.
David: Really, It’s wonderful that those cats are still playing, and they are still evolving, and they still do shit. I like John, a lot, and I think he and Bobby, what they’re doing is excellent music. I mean, have you listened to that band?
Steve: Yeah, sure.
David: That’s really good, man. And what’s his name? The bass player.
Steve: Oteil Burbridge. He’s unbelievable. He’s a really sweet guy, too.
David: Good singer too, man. Nice cat.
Steve: Yeah, beautiful. He can sing Garcia’s songs and it breaks your heart. It’s lovely.
David: Yes, he’s good. I like John a lot. I like John’s solo work. I think he’s excellent. So it’s fun to see the story continue to evolve. And each time that they keep going on, you think, “Oh, well, that was it.” And then it’s not yet — they go for another healthy chemistry of its own, and it makes a new “it.” I love that. I got to tell Bobby that.
Steve: Well, you guys should also do some project together sometime.
David: Oh, fuck. What I want is for them to do “Cowboy Movie.”
Steve: Oh, that would be good.
David: Let me sit in.
Steve: Do that! “Attention bandmembers, please listen to this podcast!” Yes, they should play “Cowboy Movie.” The Dead and Company should play “Cowboy Movie” with David sitting in.
David: They could spend half an hour there pretty easily.
Steve: “David just sat in with Steely Dan and played ‘Wooden Ships.’ Who do you think you are? Play ‘Cowboy Movie!’”
David: Cause we could kill it. We could spend half an hour there, no problem. And frankly, I would love to see what would happen. Because John isn’t Jerry. John is John, and he brings his own thing to the party, and it’s good. And I like it. And I’d be fascinated to see what happened. Absolutely fascinated. If we went in low, went in easy, just telling this tale, slowly let it go where it wound up, I think it would be amazing. I would love to do it. I would do it in a heartbeat.
Steve: I wanted to, in part because I want to play some of it, I want to talk about some of the stuff that you did with Paul Kantner and Grace Slick and those people, the so-called Planet Earth Rock and Roll Orchestra, which was just a name that Paul came up with probably in the studio at Wally Heider’s. Are you aware of how amazing the album Blows Against the Empire is, with the song “Have You Seen the Stars Tonight”? How did that song happen?
David: Paul and I are both science-fiction heads or were. I still am, he was too. We’ were both Heinlein kids. Read ‘em all. So the space dream is very real for us. We wanted to write a science-fiction song. So we said, let’s write a science fiction song. So I think I came up with most of the words, I think I came up with all the words. We just wrote it. The thing about writing about space is, it’s like trying to write about the Eiffel Tower. You can’t go right at it. You can’t go, “It’s big and it’s tall, and it’s made out of iron!” because that doesn’t communicate for shit. You have to look at it… A guy looking in his lover’s eyes with Eiffel Tower behind her in the foggy night, the moon is coming down through the fog. You have to see the Eiffel Tower through somebody’s eyes. Then you can start to relate to the Eiffel Tower. Well, that’s how space is. So instead of trying to write about, “The glorious sun was shining, and the rings were terrific!,” I said, “Hey, you wanna come up on A deck? There’s some really great stuff to look at tonight.”
[“HAVE YOU SEEN THE STARS TONIGHT?”]
Steve: And Paul and Grace ended up sort of writing a whole plot behind the second side of that album, of hippies taking over a starship. Hijacking the starship.
David: Well that came out of Heinlein too.
Steve: Oh did it? Paul actually told me that he wrote Heinlein a letter thanking him for his ideas. And Heinlein apparently wrote back and said, “Gee, thanks, nobody’s ever thanked me for using my ideas before.”
David: I wrote one to him too.
Steve: Oh, that’s cool. That’s great.
David: He was a big deal to us.
Steve: Another great track on that album is called “A Child Is Coming,” and the heart of it is just a three-way vocal improvisation between you, Paul, and Grace. Do you remember doing that at all? It’s like you, Paul, Grace, and Jack Casady on bass.
David: I don’t remember the day, but I remember that we did it. That’s what Grace wanted me to do.
Steve: Oh, she asked you to do that? It’s really beautiful.
[“A CHILD IS COMING”]
David: They were both taken with that style of recording that they had seen me do in If I Could Only… and that rang their bell, as completely open and unorganized and you know, free as they were in their approach to everything. So it was exactly how they wanted to go about making records, it was how they were already going about making records. It was a natural thing. Is it?
Steve: Do you know if there’s a lot of material that was not used on both of —
David: [Laughing] You guys. Yeah, there’s reams of secret shit. It’s in my garage. You can never see it.
Steve: Do you know, I actually convinced you — it took me 10 years! — to release one golden chunk of that secret shit, which was called “Kids and Dogs.” You and Jerry. You’d written “Kids and Dogs” as part of that skydrop group of songs. But it’s just you and Jerry. And what’s hilarious is that the track starts out with you guys obviously stoned, trying to blow each other’s minds with weird chords. And you can actually hear Jerry laugh.
David It was a game that we used to play. We’d get a pulse going and you’d go. 2… 3… 4… and you’d play a note. He’d play note 2. Neither one of us knew which note the other guy was gonna play. So it would make a chord, and we didn’t know which chord we were going to make. Right away, you’re in Jerry’s territory.
[“KIDS AND DOGS”]
Steve: When we’re not sitting in here being stoned — and I’m not even high today, actually — one of the things we’re talking about is your fear of death. It’s practically the theme of the movie, Remember My Name.
David: It is not.
Steve: Well, it is actually.
David: No, it just catches people attention because nobody talks about death. Everybody’s chicken to talk about it. And it caught your attention, catches everybody’s attention, because I’m not chicken to talk about it. I’m not obsessed with it. I don’t spend my time thinking about death.
Steve: Yes you do!
David: No, I do not. I brought it up with you because you’re one of the only people that I know who’s not afraid to talk about anything, So I’m willing to go there with you because you’re not a chickenshit. You’re willing to talk to me about anything. And that’s a gift, and I’m grateful for it. I want you to know that.
Steve: Thank you. So am I.
David: That’s a bitch, man — the real bitch is that we don’t have enough time. We don’t have anywhere near enough time. I didn’t start figuring out who I was until I was in my 50s, for God’s sakes. Yeah. And here I am, just now finally having adjusted my life to where I’m happy most of the time — and I’m gonna die. Where the fuck is that at? It sucks. You know, it’s very tough. I got a dozen things that I still want to learn. There’s like three languages, two sections of history, at least five sciences, and I’ve got a wish list of places I want to see, experiences that I want to have, that’s as long as your goddamned arm. And no time. And it’s worse than that — I wasted years of time that I could have now to use, if I hadn’t wasted them. Regret’s a bitch when it’s real. When you have regrets about stuff that doesn’t matter, it’s silly. But wasted time — boy, that’s a bitch. So here I am looking at death. You have a feeling about your own mortality. Everybody does. My feeling is that it’s probably imminent. I am not likely to live too much longer. And so what does that do? Well, it makes you want to get a whole lot of shit done. I’m singing every day.
Steve: So is that one of the driving forces behind your last four albums?
David: No, it’s the driving force between now and –. Back when I started these last four records, I didn’t have this feeling. Now I have the feeling strongly, and it’s pervasive it. It’s not grim. I don’t go home and weep at night, “Oh God, I’m gonna die!” I just feel the need to get shit done, because I don’t have a lot of time. I’m working all the time, because I can still sing, and if I can still sing, if I still have the scalpel, I should be doing the surgery. I am not as distressed by the death part as I am by the lack of time. The death part — I don’t do it in a regular enough fashion to claim to be a Buddhist, but I think the Buddhists got it right. I always have thought that. So I think I’m gonna recycle. I think that my life energy is gonna come around again.
Steve: “We have all been here before.”
David: I’ve believed it ever since I wrote that, and I still believe it, and I think that’s how it is. I don’t think we necessarily will know. I don’t think your identity pattern comes back. I think there’s ghost prints on the tape, and that’s what the déja vu experiences are. I knew how to sail a boat when I got in it. I think I must have done it before.
Steve And you knew how to play guitar.
David: I didn’t exactly, but I did start singing harmony when I was six, which is kind of not reasonable. I think I was a musician before, because it’s instinctively there. I kind of know where I want to go, and I can’t read or write music, either one. Have no musical education at all. So, Death — yeah, I wish you weren’t coming at me. Yeah, but it’s not terror of the thing death, as much as frustration with I wish I had not wasted that time because I am now down to inches of time, seconds of time, that are hugely precious for me. My value on time has changed drastically from how it was back then. I thought I had time forever. You think when you’re young that you’re going to live forever, and you’re bulletproof. Both. And they’re not true! Hello, kids. Pay attention. It’s not true. You are not bulletproof and you are not going to live forever. And it came as a shock to me because I certainly behaved as if I was, you know? That’s the thing about death to me. I’m perfectly willing to deal with it the same way everybody does. I’ll deal with it when I have to deal with it. But I’m pretty sure I’m right about what to do with now. The thing about it that is truly… If you have a certain amount of time, however much it is — 10 days, 10 years — it’s not the amount that counts, it’s what you’re doing with that time. You know, I’m trying to be as “busy being born” as I possibly can.
[“TIME IS THE FINAL CURRENCY”]
Steve: If there was a message that you would want to transmit to future generations, what would it be?
David: Let’s limit it more. About music or life?
David: Don’t lose hope. It can seem very grim. It seemed very grim to us when we were being ignored, and the country was roaring to war in Vietnam, where we should not have been, and there was no excuse for us to be. And every day, hundreds of Americans were getting killed in a war that… It seemed very grim to us. We didn’t give up. You’re facing a situation, you young people. You’re looking at a broken democracy and we’re asking you to believe in democracy. And you’re looking at a broken one. Yes, it is broken. Citizens United broke it. There it is. That gave the corporations legitimacy in buying Congress, and that’s what they’ve done. And that means that our Congress does not represent the people who elected it, which is what it’s supposed to do. It instead represents the corporations who give it the big money, which is not what it’s supposed to do. It’s very tough. Very tough for me to tell you democracy works, only it does. I beg you to give it another shot. I beg you to vote. You young people hold the key. Young people are not voting in the numbers that we expect them to, or hope for them to. If you did, if you got off your butts and went out and voted, we could fix this. If we get control of Congress, we can start trying to deal with global warming, which is a real threat. If we don’t deal with it, if we do not start now and deal with it, your great-grandchildren might not have any place to live. So we have to deal with it. I have children. That means I have to deal with it. I’m going to fight. We need you young people to do that. We need you, desperately, to vote. We need you to believe, even though you’re seeing a broken democracy, we need you to believe in the idea of democracy and come make it work by participating. That’s the thing I would tell you the most. Second thing I would tell you is, there is still a tremendous number of people of conscience, people of good conscience, people who are trying consciously to be decent human beings. Lots of them, all over the country, every color, every kind, every race, every original country that they came from, every kind of people. And we got them all over the country, and they’re good human beings. They are still out there. Do not despair because you’ve got this orange-headed clown making a mockery of decency and intelligence. There are lots of decent, intelligent people out there still. Lots. And you can be one of them.
Steve: Do you wish you could write a song that would have the same rallying power as “Ohio” did when Neil wrote it?
David: Desperately. I’ve been trying. I’m convinced there is a really brilliant song in between the person standing there risking their life actually, standing in the street for what they believe in — taking it to the streets, confronted for the first time in their life probably, with somebody who’s looking at them as a problem. Somebody who is angry at him. Somebody who’s got a club in their hand, and a mask over their face, and they’re big, and they’ve got a helmet on, and they’re telling you to “Shut the fuck up and back up, or I’ll hit you!” Well, that’s a new experience. I know there’s a song in there, in between those two people. There’s a really wonderful song in there, about the souls of those human beings. I’ve been trying to write that for a long time. I don’t have it. I wish to God I did. I did write a pretty good song in “Capitol.” “Capitol” is pretty good and has some meaning.
David: It went down and nobody seemed even notice it. I haven’t gotten hardly anything back on it.
Steve: What’s funny is that, you wrote that song while Obama was still President.
David: Well, it wasn’t about Obama. It was about Congress.
Steve: No, I know that. But what I’m saying is, that was then and I remember listening to it thinking, “Well, that’s you know, a fairly dark view.” Oh, boy, did I ever — it was prophetic.
David: It was true already. Congress was already being shits. Let’s get this straight on record. When Obama got elected, Mitch McConnell sent out a message to the Republican Party saying, “Whatever he proposes, you say no. Whatever it is, I don’t care if it’s something you agree with. You say no. Or we will run somebody against you for your seat in the next election and the party will back the other person. I guarantee it. I am the Republican Party and I guarantee you will get pushed out if you say yes to anything he says. Do you understand me?” That’s what a shit he is. He did that to Obama. Obama’s one of the most decent presidents we ever had. A standup guy. He’s very intelligent. He’s a good human being. He’s a family guy. Decent man. Got a good sense of humor, and he can dance. He’s a nice guy. He’s a guy that I had tremendous respect for. One of the main reasons that that Rump is constantly trying to tear him down is that he doesn’t want to look bad compared to him. He fucking hates Obama. Why? Because Obama was a decent man. Was everything that he is not. People respect Obama. Nobody will ever respect Donald Trump.
Steve: Even the people protecting him from prosecution.
David: They don’t respect him. They know he’s a slimebag. They’re just getting paid. It’s all transactional relationships on that side of the board. With Obama, there was belief.
Steve: Now, the story of CSNY can end with you guys all just trailing off into the sunset and never talking to each other again or whatever. But: Is there any way it could go better than that?
David: I don’t think so. I think two of the guys are stuck, and one of the guys I don’t think I can physically do it. And I think for me — it’s a totally different kind of work. It is fully competitive and it did produce some wonderful music. There are songs in there that I wish we were singing right now.
Steve: Like what?
David: “Mother Nature on the run in the 1970s…”
David: I wish we were singing that song. “Let’s Impeach the President for Lying” wouldn’t be bad. We just wrote it too soon, sang it to soon, for the wrong guy. But it’s kind of actually exactly true right now, and I would love to sing it, loud. Neil — you dipswitch, every day man, I get messages…
Steve: Every day…
David: Every fucking day. “Please, you’re our voice, will you please do your goddamned job?” And I understand that. And I understand we’re flawed human beings, and that’s why we can’t put it together with each other. But the cause célèbre is certainly there. We. Could. Do. Something. Important. If we were together enough to do it. I don’t think we are. I can’t wait around.
Steve: And you’ve pursued your own vision so far for the last few years.
David: As hard as I can. Yeah, I’m working as hard as I can, man. And yes, if Neil calls me up and says, “Listen, we got to do some gigs for — now that Elizabeth Warren is our candidate, we’ve got to do some gigs for her in battleground states. What do you think?” I say, “What time does the bus leave?” I’d work it out. I don’t care if Nash likes me or not. The purpose would exceed all of that.
Steve: Given that your son Django could listen to this recording in even 30 or 40 years, what would you want him to know that’s sometimes hard for you to say in day to day life?
David: I love him. I love him dearly. I have great respect for him. I think he’s a wonderful cat. He’s brilliant. He’s compassionate. If you want to understand Django, watch him with the dogs. When he’s on his knees rubbing a dog’s belly, you will see a guy that you would love. There is a wonderful human being in there. I love him dearly. I will love him all my life. I’m very proud of him. That’s what I want him to know.
Steve (narration): “Love.” That seems like a perfect note to end on in my conversation with David Crosby, which was a dream come true for me. Deep gratitude to David and Jan Crosby for inviting me to become a part of their daily lives for a few days in the glorious Santa Ynez Valley while we recorded this conversation.
Freak Flag Flying is Executive Produced by Adam Caplan and Tom Marshall. Interview, Narration, and Editing by me, Steve Silberman. Mixed and mastered by Brendon at Telescope Audio. Promotions by Christina Collins and RJ Bee
And thank you all for listening.
Welcome back!#1—John Heilemann and Bob Crawford talk politics and music. This podcast is just getting going, and it’s really cool…