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David Crosby: The Golden Years of Rock's Unlikeliest Survivor

At home with the 72-year-old Rock and Roll Hall of Famer

David Crosby
James Minchin III
February 19, 2014 12:50 PM ET

David Crosby now lives an idyllic American life. This is not taken for granted by a former junkie who once had sores covering parts of his body and pondered starting a new life in a non-extraditable foreign country. A neighbor is exercising a horse in the dying winter light when Crosby meets me in the driveway of his Santa Ynez Valley home in California. There's a gaggle of happy dogs, the distinct whiff of weed and a giant smile tilting Crosby's trademark walrus mustache upward. He looks like Yosemite Sam, as Joni Mitchell once described him, but better-adjusted.

David Crosby Returns From 20-Year Hiatus With 'Croz' - Album Premiere

His wife, Jan Dance, putters in the kitchen while their 18-year-old son, Django, buzzes a toy drone around the house. There's a quick tour with stops at a table that holds a 1931 Oscar – Crosby's father, Floyd, was a noted cinematographer in that era – and a Grammy Crosby won in 1970 with Stephen Stills and Graham Nash back when CSN, for a brief moment, rivaled the Beatles' popularity. A picture of the trio in the White House with Jimmy Carter hangs on a wall. A couple of hangers-on linger on the edge of the photo. Crosby points to one of them. "That guy wanted to light up a joint in the Oval Office," he says. "Even I thought that was a stupid idea."

Before long, I'm following Crosby's mane of silver hair into the living room, where the stereo is located. I had suggested we listen to a couple of tracks from Croz, his first solo album in more than 20 years. Crosby has other ideas. "Let's listen to the whole thing!"

Crosby spends the next hour blasting Croz's 11 songs and alternately singing along, playing air drums and strumming along with his guitar. The album is a pleasant collision of rock, jazz and star cameos – Mark Knopfler and Wynton Marsalis make appearances – and easy-does-it philosophy. But there are also classic Crosby shots at the political establishment, from the Chinese treatment of the Dalai Lama to Crosby's disappointment with President Obama. One song depicts, with a reporter's eye for detail, an Afghan shepherd's family being killed by a drone strike. "We looked at it like a movie, writing out a script," says James Raymond, who wrote or co-wrote seven of the album's songs and also happens to be Crosby's given-up-at-birth son.

The singer is releasing Croz independently and has joked that he expects it to sell 19 copies. But his clownish mood goes away when he talks about how important the album is to him. "Do I care whether you've heard it, do I care whether you understand it, do I care whether you care about it?" asks Crosby in a soft voice. "Yeah, I really do. If this album bombed, I would be a broken spirit. It would leave me on the floor. It's the best I can do."

Crosby is now 72. Like an actor in his twilight, he has played many roles. There's the man with the golden voice inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of both the Byrds and CSN. There's the political activist of the 1979 No Nukes Concert who dropped by Occupy Wall Street in 2011.

That's the Good Crosby, the one with the mischievous smile and on-loan-from-God harmonies. But then there's Crosby the Dark, an unreliable singer-satyr who abandoned women and wasn't there for his children. That Croz was disowned at times by everyone from David Geffen to Nash, who split with Crosby after he stopped a recording session because his crack pipe broke. That's the Crosby who, according to his memoir, freebased under his coat while flying first-class, gave his drug dealer a job on his management team, and spent a year in a Texas prison for gun and drug possession. (While incarcerated, he had to shave off his mustache, a hippie parody of Samson losing his locks.) An intervention by Nash and Jackson Browne failed. One day, Crosby got a call from out of the blue. He remembers it with a sad chuckle.

"'Crosby!' I said, 'Yes, who is this?' He says, 'Pete Townshend! Listen! Get the fuck off that shit. Stop fuckin' up. Get your fuckin' act together, you hear me?'"

In the end it wasn't Townshend, whom he'd never met, or rehab that saved him. It was prison. He came out clean. Remarkably, his fellow addict and now wife Jan – who was once legally ordered not to see Crosby for five years because they were such a corrosive influence on each other – also survived. Now, she's a sweet woman who anticipates the precise moment when my audio recorder will need new AAA batteries.

"I don't know why I'm alive and Jimi isn't and Janis isn't and Mama Cass isn't and all my other friends," says Crosby. "I have no idea why me, but I got lucky."

He sips chocolate milk that he has lovingly crafted in a blender. "It's made with Splenda," whispers Crosby. "I can't have sugar because of my diabetes." It's one of the three things besides drugs that haven't managed to kill Crosby, the others being multiple heart attacks, and a liver transplant in 1994.

On the new album, there's a song called "Set That Baggage Down," something Crosby did once he got straight. He sought out the people he let down, especially his ex-girlfriends. He confessed to them he'd been going out of his mind, which he now says started after the 1969 death of his girlfriend Christine Hinton in a car accident.

"I told them I was psychotic, my behavior was completely out of line, and I know I hurt you," says Crosby, his smile gone. "The guy that you're talking to now doesn't even resemble the guy who was in the Byrds. I'm a different human being, 'cause I've nearly died a couple of times." He pauses and looks toward the kitchen, where Jan and Django are hanging out. "And I've been loved."

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