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Happiness is the secret to songwriting

Crosby cites proximity to youth for his own vitality

Steve Penhollow

Steve Penhollow

Whatzup Features Writer

Published August 15, 2019

David Crosby admits that he wasn’t exactly a prolific songwriter prior to 2014.

Then a dam burst or seemed to from the perspective of his fans. Crosby put out four well-reviewed albums in five years.

Crosby cited several factors to explain this.

“I think I’m happy,” he said in a phone interview with Whatzup. “That’s one thing.”

Freedom of Going Solo

For another thing, Crosby feels freer now that Crosby Stills and Nash (aka CSN), the supergroup he was part of and may be part of again some day (when donkeys fly), is on an indefinite hiatus.

“At the end, probably the last ten years I was with CSN, we weren’t really friends and I didn’t really enjoy that and I didn’t feel I could take a song there,” he said.

Crosby’s true secret of creative vitality is proximity to youth. About 12 years ago, Crosby was reunited with James Raymond, a son who had been put up for adoption in 1962.

“I meet him and he’s a better musician than I am,” he said. “And he’s a fantastic writer. That’s a ridiculous piece of luck. I start writing with him and it was like opening a floodgate of unbelievably good songs.”

Collaborations with other young and youngish musicians followed: Michael League of the band Snarky Puppy, singer-songwriter Becca Stevens, singer-songwriter Michelle Willis, and Estonian bass player Mai Leisz and her husband, guitarist Greg Leisz.

“I am very (expletive) picky,” Crosby said. “I mean, really picky. But these people are friends of mine like Michael McDonald, a great person to write with. … I am so lucky to have these relationships. The result is that there’s a steady flow of really good material. It’s immodest for me to say it but it’s the truth.”

These songwriters have very little in common except that they’re all (according to Crosby) better than Crosby.

“That’s the healthiest possible thing because they’re stretching me in all directions,” he said. “They’re all younger than me, so I have to paddle faster to keep up.”

Young at heart

In his salad days, Crosby did everything in his power (or everything in his lack of willpower) to become part of a dubious club: famous musicians who leave us too soon via recreational misadventure and self-annihilative shenanigans.

When I ask him why he thinks he is still standing at 77, he tells me that answering that question takes up a goodly portion of a new documentary about him called Remember My Name.

The movie was directed by an unknown, A.J. Eaton. But it was produced by the well-known Cameron Crowe (Say Anything…, Almost Famous). Crowe, who was a prominent music journalist before turning to directing, conducts the interviews in the film.

Crosby has never been known for pulling his punches and he gave the filmmakers unrestricted access to his life. Watching the finished film was a multifarious experience.

“It’s strange to be naked in public,” Crosby said. “It’s odd, but it’s also very freeing. If you know that everybody already knows all about you, you don’t have to hide anything.”

Crosby told me I would have to see the movie to get an answer (or some semblance of an answer) to my longevity question.

But a clue might be found in something Willis told Rolling Stone magazine: “David is a 20-year-old at heart, if not a 10-year-old. He’s got this childlike excitement. I think we all relate to that part of him.”

“Did she say that?” Crosby asked. “That’s wonderful. That’s in the Stone some place? I’ll be damned. I think that’s fair.

“I am frequently child-like,” he said, laughing. “I can’t help it, man. I am who I am. And she’s pretty right. She sees me pretty clearly.”

Crowe told the Los Angeles Times that he hoped the documentary would serve as a “healing bridge” between Crosby and the other members of CSN and (on those rare occasions when Neil Young is involved) CSNY.

Burning Bridges

Crosby’s outspokenness has alienated most of his former bandmates.

Both Young and Graham Nash have publicly vowed never to have anything to do with Crosby again.

Crosby said he would love to get the band back together, but he doesn’t think it likely.

“I want to have a ‘never say never’ attitude about it,” Crosby said. “But truthfully, man? I think it’s history. I have to make music right now. Not later. Because there isn’t going to be a later. All I’ve got is right now.”

Crosby doesn’t carry any grudges and he hopes that is true of the others.

“I don’t really have a bad thing about any of those guys,” he said. “I wish them all well. I hope they work it out in their heads not to carry any anger toward me or anyone else because it really is debilitating.”

Touring is what pays the bills these days and it becomes harder for Crosby to do it every year.

“Touring in a bus beats the crap out of you,” he said. “You never get more than two or three hours of sleep in a row. And you eat kibble and drink horse (expletive).

“But then you get three hours of heaven,” Crosby said. “When we go on stage, man, we have fun. We’re good at it. We can kick it pretty hard. That’s a gift of such massive proportions that it makes up for the rest of it.”

Crosby has survived drug addiction and related incarceration, alcoholism, and a probably related liver transplant, diabetes, hepatitis C, and heart surgery.

He knows he is living on borrowed time and he gives it little thought.

“I don’t think it serves you well to worry about it,” he said. “The answer is this: You don’t know how much time you’ve got. You could have two weeks. You could have ten years. The only thing you can do about it is decide what you do with that time. That’s the sum total decision that’s open to you.

“You don’t get to decide when you die or how you die,” Crosby said. “You do get to decide what happens here and now. So that’s the choice I am making.”


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