By Mike Greenblatt
When the news came that part of David Crosby’s solo tour in support of “Croz” (his first studio LP in 21 years) had to be postponed due to emergency heart surgery to deal with a coronary artery that doctors had discovered was 90 percent blocked, the music industry held its collective breath and waited for the all-clear.
“I am very glad that I listened to my doctors and my family,” Crosby later said.
Had Crosby chosen to ignore his doctor’s urgent recommendations, it most likely would have led to a heart attack. Crosby apologized for rescheduling the concerts, but promised ticket-holders “the music will be good when we do play them.”
Clearly, when Crosby promises that something is worth the wait, he is a man of his word. The final make-up dates in Chicago were sold out.
If you still have doubts, you need to listen to “Croz,” the Byrds and CSN(Y) alum’s first studio solo album in more than 20 years. Its 11 original songs were written by Crosby and his son, James Raymond, who, along with guitarist Shane Fontayne, lit a fire under the collective asses of Crosby, Stephen Stills and Graham Nash to make the venerable trio better than ever.
The renaissance started in 2012 and has yet to abate. Crosby is writing new material like a man possessed.
GOLDMINE: I saw you at Woodstock in 1969.
DAVID CROSBY: I was the guy on the left.
GM: All these years I thought it was just the three of you. Graham had to remind me Neil was there, too.
DC: He just didn’t want to be in the movie. Big mistake.
GM: You totally blew me away in 2012. I latched on to your “Radio” and Graham’s “In Your Name” practically to the point of singing along by song’s end to a tune I had never even heard before! It must be particularly satisfying to know that at this late juncture of your career, you’re still at the top of your game.
DC: I feel like I am, yeah. And I don’t fully understand why I’m that lucky, but, y’know, I’m certainly not going to question it! I’m just going to go with it.
GM: The voices of most singers lower with age. It gets harder to sing in the same key as the recorded versions. We’ve seen this with Robert Plant, Rod Stewart, Ian Anderson and so many more. You and Graham — man, you guys are freaks of nature! You have perfect pitch.
DC: [Laughs.] Thank you.
GM: “Croz” is mystical, trippy, spooky, hauntingly gorgeous, ethereal, jazzy, beautifully produced, with rockin’ lead guitar bursts and a Miles-like trumpet depending upon the track. Lyrically, you seem to have a knowing cynicism.
DC: It took a long time, because we didn’t have any money and had to do it in my son’s garage studio [laughs]. It was also the result of a lot of generous help from a lot of people. They were all people who really loved this music and came for the music, not the money. James [Raymond] and I had a really good writing run. Our friend Marcus [Eaton] helped us.
GM: It’s Wynton Marsalis with those Miles-like tones on “Holding On To Nothing,” a song you wrote with Sterling Price.
DC: Yeah, that’s my favorite vocal on the record. Crosby, Stills & Nash did two gigs with Wynton and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra in New York City. They went very well. Wynton is a gentleman, a scholar and an incredibly good musician. I just became friends with him. I really like the man. Tremendously. I think he’s brilliant. So, y’know, I had a song, it didn’t have a solo, and I thought, “Hmmm, what the f**k? I’ll ask him.” So I did, and he said, “Send me the song. Let me hear it.” ’Cause that’s how it is, y’know. If somebody asks Nash and I to come sing harmony on something, we ask to hear the song. We’re pretty sure, if, say, David Gilmour asks us, it’s gonna be a good song, but, generally, we always want to hear the song. So he wanted to hear the song, did, and liked it. So he plays something exquisitely pretty on it. And it was very generous of him, too.
GM: It’s guitarist Mark Knopfler on “What’s Broken,” my favorite track on the record and one that your son wrote.
DC: Again, generosity. Mark didn’t have to do that. I have a promoter friend in Italy, Adolfo Galli, who works with Mark. He had said to Mark’s manager, [speaking in an exaggerated—and quite funny—Italian accent], “You know, David Crosby, he’s a good! Maybe he coulda do sometheeng with Mark. Maybe they coulda write a song together.” And Mark’s manager told him, “Well, uh, Mark doesn’t really do that. But he might play guitar on a song.” When I heard that, I went, “Wow.” So now I’m talking to Mark’s manager and I asked him if I could send Mark a song. “Have Mark listen to it and see if he thinks he might want to play on it,” I asked him. “Absolutely,” he answered. So he did [listen], and he did [play]. I sent him my son’s song. He loved it and he wound up playing so beautifully. Really great.
GM: Yeah, I guess there’s a reason you started off the album with that particular song. It’s a grabber.
DC: It’s so good; I know. I’m telling you, that James Raymond is one helluva songwriter!
GM: I want to go back to the Wynton track for a moment, if I may. There’s a well-deserved serenity on “Holding On To Nothing” with a knowing cynicism. I mean, the lyrics are wise, indeed: “Sunny days can fool you.” No doubt about it. Do you find that your lyrics these days have taken on a more of a cynical edge because of all you’ve been through?
DC: I wouldn’t say cynical. I try to be realistic. I don’t want to be cynical. I want to be hopeful. But it’s very tough in this world. There’s things out there that are pretty scary. Sure, there are things on the album that are sad or difficult to deal with. “If She Called,” for one.
GM: “If She Called” taps into the kind of sentiment that gives me the chills. “She remembers a time,” you write, “when love was alive. Somehow it gets lost in the sound of the city’s morning drive.” Earlier in the song you sing, “Then she’s sitting on the floor with her head hung down listening to another language on TV, unaware, hair unbound, wondering where her mother and father might be if she called … if she called.”
DC: Do you know the story behind that song?
GM: You reportedly wrote it after you looked out your hotel window and saw some hookers.
DC: I was in Belgium. So I see them down below in the street, doing what they do, and after I watched them a long while, I started thinking. These girls didn’t look local. They’re probably from Sarajevo or somewhere where things had been really awful, and this might be all they could do to survive. But, of course, it could have just been my imagination. I did start to wonder, though, where they hide their heart when they’re doing it. Where do they hide their soul? Where do they put it when they are, uh …
DC: Yeah. I mean, that’s a pretty awful kind of work. They don’t love. They approximate it, thus sublimate their own feelings. And the guys don’t love them, either. In fact, they’re probably treated like sh*t. That’s when I grabbed a piece of hotel stationery. The song just leapt out of me. “Morning Falling” is another one. Hell, that’s about a drone strike where an innocent family gets killed. This is hard stuff to deal with. But then there’s “Radio,” which is one of the most positive songs I’ve ever written. It’s couched in nautical terms, but that’s just a metaphor for what it’s really about: You can help some other human being. You can. You can reach out into their life and make a difference. You can pull them out of the sea. So it’s kinda all over the map. Truthfully, I’m really happy about the writing on this record.
GM: You mention Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in “Time I Have,” but in typical Crosby fashion, you lay a sucker punch on the listener. “‘I have a dream,’ a great man said. Another man came and shot him in the head.”
DC: But the rest of the line is “yet the dream floats out there visible, still alive, still alive.”
GM: Yes, and there’s no question mark after that “still alive.” Because I was wondering if that’s what you meant, but, apparently, you didn’t mean it as a question. You meant it as a statement.
DC: I definitely meant it as a statement, no doubt. The dream is still alive.
GM: But the fact that Dr. King’s vision is still a dream at all at this point is a bit disheartening, no?
DC: Things are different than they were. Yeah, there’s still racism in America, but back then, a black person couldn’t even vote in their own damn country! Hello? I mean, they’re still trying to do everything they can to screw with it, but gerrymandering is just dirty politics.
GM: “Time I Have” is an exquisite meditation on mortality.
DC: You get along in life and you start thinking, “Geez, that went by pretty fast.” I wrote another song about it once called “Time Is The Final Currency,” and damn, it really is! It’s so much more valuable than money. Whatever time I’ve got left, I do not want to spend it angry — or sad. Either one. And I’ve been both, believe me. I want to be as fully engaged and as happy and as creative as I possibly can be, not going around being a grump and wasting the time I’ve got left. That’s the key to it right there: I do not want to waste any more time. I wasted a lot of time in my life. Pure waste. And don’t want to do it. I can’t. I just can’t.
GM: Graham introduced his “Wasted On The Way” at the Sands by saying, “We’ve written a lot of great songs in our lives, but the truth is we could have written a lot more.”
DC: That’s very definitely true. We could have written a lot more. We should have written a lot more.
GM: Like you said onstage when I saw you in 2012, the muse doesn’t leave you; it just lingers. You could easily rest on your considerable past accomplishments and tour the rest of your life. You’d still be giving the people what they want. But you refuse to do that.
DC: Where’s the fun in that? [Laughs.]
GM: You wrote “Set That Baggage Down” with CSN touring guitarist Shane Fontayne. It’s damn good advice.
DC: I had those words for a while, long before Shane wrote the music for it.
GM: “That trunk is filled with dusty air/Ghosts that lived and still don’t care/Resist the urge to turn around and set it down/Set that baggage down, brother! Set that baggage down/Throw it in the river/Let that baggage drown!”
DC: Yeah, how ’bout it? That’s another piece of truth. I mean, sure, you need to look at the baggage. You need to look at all your mistakes and say, “How the hell did I ever get there?” Then you learn from it. And, finally, you need to leave it behind and get on with your life and look forward.
GM: That’s what you had to do, isn’t it?
GM: Did you read Graham’s book, “Wild Tales?”
GM: What did you think of how he represented you?
DC: I didn’t like it.
GM: You didn’t like it? Really?
GM: Why not?
DC: It was painful for me. He didn’t lie about anything, but the last thing in the world I wanted to read was somebody raking over those coals again. Hey, I made a lot of mistakes. I had to look at them very closely, and I had a lot of time to think about them. There’s not much to do in a prison cell. I felt that I had successfully climbed — rung by rung — back up the ladder. Slowly but surely. Very slowly, actually. But I kept my sanity and became, in the process, a productive human again. So I certainly didn’t want to have to go over it all again in such detail. I didn’t want to see it all rehashed. Again, it’s not like he lied. But was I happy that he wrote all that? No, not really.
GM: Did you talk to him about it?
GM: What’s upcoming for Crosby, Stills & Nash — or, dare I say, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young?
DC: Could be either one. I don’t know. One way or another, we’ll be working, because we need to and we want to, so we will. I know CSN will be working, that’s for sure.
Put it this way: You know we have that 1974 CSNY live album coming out, right? We’ll probably tour behind it this summer.
GM: Yeah, I heard it’s amazing.
[Editor’s note: The album was originally due for release in August, but has been pushed back to spring 2015.]
DC: It’s an astounding piece of work. It never came out for some reason or another. It’ll be three CDs and a DVD taken from eight shows. It’s killer sh*t, man.
GM: There was a lot of all-out debauchery on that notorious tour.
DC: Yes, there was.
GM: Rock star excess, eh?
DC: A lot of that, yeah.
GM: All us guys who write about music who used to be in bands wonder what it’s like to be in your position. I honestly cannot imagine being a bona-fide rock star for so many decades. How did you deal with it all?
DC: How did I deal with it? I try not to look at myself the way they do. You see, I know what a bozo I really am.
GM: Yeah, but a talented motherf**ker!
DC: [Laughs.] Yet still a f**king bozo! So that keeps my feet on the ground. They can write all they want about how great we are and they can shove suitcases full of money at us if they want, but I still put my pants on one leg at a time, same as you. But, I will admit it did take me way too long to figure that out. That’s how it is. I sing good. So? It doesn’t make me smart.
GM: But was there a time — and be honest here — maybe at the beginning, where you thought of yourself as a f**king god among men and totally invincible? The old rock-star trip? I’ve heard stories of you arrogantly walking into airports with a lit joint and an entourage surrounding you so that when authorities smelled it, it was gone.
DC: No, I never thought of myself like that.
GM: C’mon. There’s always that small window in a legend’s career when they think they’re infallible. I’ve spoken to your peers about this, and they all admit to it. You’re telling me there was no time when you ever looked in the mirror and said, “Oh yeah! Look at f**king me!”?
DC: OK, yeah. I mean, you want to; your ego tells you to. I guess there were certain moments when I felt like that, like I was sitting on top of the world and could do no wrong. It’s only human. But life has provided me with plenty of evidence that I’m really not all that terrific. God, I’ve made so many mistakes. I can’t begin to tell you.
GM: Please do.
DC: Well, it’s like we mentioned before. Wasted opportunities. So much time down the drain. That’s easily my biggest mistake, and it’s the thing I regret the most. Time wasted when I could have been making music.
GM: You probably deprived me, as a fan, of three or four or five or six great albums I could have been listening to for years.
DC: Yes, exactly. And I regret that. And I apologize to you for that.
GM: I gotta ask you about being in a band with your son. Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t this the son you gave up for adoption and hadn’t seen in 20 years?
DC: Yeah, but I didn’t give him up. His mom did. That’s an important point. But once we joined up, we started a band called CPR, where we wrote and I saw his genius. I tell you this in all honesty. He’s as good a songwriter as I am and, in some ways, probably better. He’s matured as a writer during the time I got to know him. He’s just become a better and better poet. He’s also become a better musician than he was, and he was already fantastic. He’s a pretty amazing guy. He not only wrote and sang and played on “Croz,” but he produced and engineered. He did everything to help this record happen. I slept on his couch while we recorded it at his house. It took three years with no budget, but damned if we didn’t wind up making a really good record together.
GM: Talk, if you will, about this special musical relationship you have with Graham Nash where you seem to be able to anticipate each other’s moves. Graham told me that even when you’re about to make a mistake on a lyric, he can feel it and sing the wrong line right there with you.
DC: I know that sounds impossible.
GM: It is impossible. He couldn’t possibly know what mistake you’re going to make!
DC: [Laughs] Yet I’ve heard him do it.
GM: Really? I’ve never heard of that exact kind of mental acuity which borders on the paranormal. You don’t have it with Stills. And neither does Nash. Stills brings that rough edge to you two that counter-balances your almost celestial vibe with Graham. To see him play those guitar licks … I still say he’s the most underrated and overlooked lead guitarist in rock. He’s like an old bluesman. He’s Mississippi Fred McDowell. He’s Hubert Sumlin. It’s in him. But when he sings, he ain’t you guys. It’s like hearing an old friend in all his ragged humanity. Vocally, he’s fallible, though, as opposed to the vocal freak show of you and Graham.
DC: Well, it’s different. He’s him. And it’s authentically him. And he did write some of the best rock ’n’ roll songs ever; let’s not forget that.
GM: And should he dare make a mistake, I’ve been told, you will upbraid him on stage in front of everybody with a dirty look in his direction.
DC: I used to do that. I don’t do that anymore. We called it giving the stink-eye. I realized somewhere along the line that that was a very unkind way of dealing with it. The thing to do is encourage Stephen when he does it great.
GM: How do you keep on touring at this age? It’s such a physically demanding profession. You have to be a damn athlete to tour on the kind of level you do.
DC: It’s very tough. I don’t like being away from home. I especially don’t like being away from my family. I really do not like being alone in hotel rooms. I really, really do not like eating in restaurants all the time. I don’t like it. I don’t like any of it. The only reason I do it is for the time that I’m onstage playing. That makes it all worth it, because it is the closest thing to heaven for me when I’m up there. All that road bullsh*t is meaningless once I get up there. To be able to do what I do for a couple of hours in front of people who really love it is a real and total joy to me. I’m pretty damn sure that this is exactly what I’m supposed to be doing. GM