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Monday, December 11, 2023
Dec. 11, 2023

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Remembering David Crosby: A Hall of Fame voice, interview

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He had a sweet voice when he sang and a candid voice when he talked. Brutally honest. Sometimes too much so.

David Crosby was a Rock & Roll Hall of Fame performer in two different harmony-loving groups, the Byrds and Crosby, Stills & Nash. He was a Hall of Fame jerk, too, even by his own account.

“I was not easy. Big ego. No brains,” he said in the 2019 documentary “David Crosby: Remember My Name,” the most unvarnished, unflattering and revealing portrait of a rock star. “I don’t think I was a good lover. I think I was selfish.”

But his candidness, even if he sometimes put his foot in his mustachioed mouth, made Croz a Hall of Fame interview, one of the music world’s great talkers. Unfiltered to a fault. Stephen Stills, Graham Nash and Neil Young might complain. But not music writers or rock journalist-turned-filmmaker Cameron Crowe.

He produced the aforementioned documentary and filmed interviews with the subject. Having known Crosby since first interrogating him in the early 1970s, Crowe thought the cantankerous contrarian was ready to open up in his 70s.

“He’s at a point in his life where he’s found a state of grace with himself,” Crowe told the Star Tribune in discussing the movie. “You can talk about anything with him. There’s some bravery there.”

Bravery? Stupidity? Self-awareness? Guilt? Whatever the motivation, he was an overflowing fountain of truth.

Over the years, I interviewed Crosby, who died Wednesday at age 81, several times. He was friendly, chatty and direct. He didn’t dodge questions, spin or sugarcoat his answers. He enjoyed conversing so much, he invited me to call anytime — no publicist necessary. Our most recent exchange was in 2019.

What would it take for Crosby, Stills & Nash — and possibly Young — to get back together?

“I don’t think that’s doable, man,” he said in a rapid-fire phone interview. “All three of them are pissed at me and think I’m just horrible. I think that’s probably done with.”

In 2015, Crosby dissed Daryl Hannah, Young’s new lady friend and now wife. He apologized later but the damage was done.

“I shot my mouth off and I shouldn’t have,” Crosby bluntly told me back then. “And Neil is pissed about it, and I don’t blame him.”

Who is the most difficult in CSNY?

“All four of us. We’ve done horrible things to each other many times. We were fully competitive. We made good music anyway. I don’t have a beef with any of them. I think they’re all nice guys and do good work.”

Do you go onstage stoned?

“Definitely not. Even though I have a lot of fun if I’m stoned, I do better with the audience if I’m straight. So I smoke afterward. I like smoking pot. I don’t do it in the daytime because I’ve got [things] to do. It relaxes me. It really helps me sleep.”

Ask this hippie icon anything, the response might be far out but always honest.

Regrets? He probably had too many to mention.

There was a prison stint in the 1980s for drugs and guns during which the singer kicked heroin and cocaine and the final CSN performance — a painfully off-key rendition of “Silent Night” at the White House Christmas tree lighting ceremony in 2015 with President Barack Obama visibly wincing at the disharmony.

While Stills, Nash and Young gave up on Crosby, he didn’t give up on himself. His body parts may have been rehabbed — eight heart stents, a liver transplant and diabetes, among other health issues — but his singing voice remained angelic and true. Working with two groups of younger musicians, Sky Trails and Lighthouse, he created new music — six albums in seven years, starting in 2014 — and hit the road.

“I don’t have a lot of time. I need to make all the music I possibly can,” he said before his final concert in Minneapolis in 2019. “Let me be clear, man. Music is the only thing I can do to make anything better. It’s the only real contribution I can make.”

In recent years, Croz contributed an advice column in Rolling Stone, and he became an uncrowned king of Twitter, posting frequently, often in the middle of a sleepless night, responding to questions from fans and foes alike, or just musing to the world.

“What’s the best Beatles song for a rainy day?” @BeatlesEarth asked.

“Rigby” replied Crosby. That was on Wednesday.

Earlier that day from rainy California, he posted one of his typically humorous riffs, about heaven: “I heard the place is overrated…cloudy.”

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