For the first time in 50 years, David Crosby is a man without a band. CSN/CSNY have completely dissolved, and Roger McGuinn refuses to even consider a Byrds reunion. It’s given Crosby time to finally focus 100 percent of his attention on his solo career. The forthcoming Lighthouse is the singer-songwriter’s second album in two years, and another is on the way next year. He called into Rolling Stone during downtime from his recent tour to share his thoughts on Donald Trump, Kanye West, Twitter and a certain unnamed friend that surrounds himself with yes men and refused to listen to his last album.
What music moves you the most?
God, there’s so much. It moves me to hear Alison Krauss sing because she has the most wonderful voice in the world. It moves me to hear Joni Mitchell, who’s probably the best singer-songwriter who’s ever lived. It still moves me to hear Miles Davis playing Sketches of Spain.
What advice do you wish you’d received early in life?
It’s simple: Don’t do any hard drugs, ever. Don’t do any cocaine, don’t do speed, don’t do junk.
Do you mourn the years you lost addicted to hard drugs?
All the time. How many books do you want to read? How many subjects would you love to go back to school and learn if you had the time? You don’t have enough time here! And to waste that time being smashed? I regret the hell out of it.
How did spending nine months in a Texas prison [in 1986, for drug and gun charges] change your life?
Prison is a very effective tool for getting your attention. When I went in, I was a junkie and a freebaser – as far down the drug totem pole as you can go. And I was psychotic. But what happens is, it’s no longer a matter of choice: You’re there and you can’t get any drugs. Eventually, you wake up from that nightmare you put yourself in and remember who you are. I don’t regret going to prison a bit, man. Later I wrote a letter to the judge saying, “I understand how much the system fails, but I wanted you to know that this time, it worked. Thank you.”
What’s the most indulgent purchase you ever made?
A Tesla. I can’t afford it, but it’s the best car there is. I wanted it really badly for about three years, and I hadn’t bought a new car in 20 years. I figured, at my age, this is probably the last car I’m going to get, so I indulged myself. It’s the best car there is. Drive one, you’ll see.
What’s your fitness regimen?
I used to go to the gym, but after a couple of heart attacks they told me I should tone it down. I try mostly not to eat sweets, because I’m diabetic. I walk and swim because I love how my life is right now and I want to keep it going. The last couple of years have been the densest writing surge I’ve ever had. The only thing I can nail it down to is that I’m at one of the happiest points in my life.
“Prison is a very effective tool for getting your attention.”
Who are your heroes?
Most of my heroes are musicians, but every once in a while, somebody does something really brave out in the real world. Muhammad Ali stood up to the American government and said, “You can’t make me kill a bunch of farmers in Southeast Asia that did nothing to me.” That’s bravery. That’s the real shit.
What’s your favorite city in the world?
San Francisco, for the people, the memories and the great food. I was born in L.A., but you could never get me to live there now. It’s terrible. It’s not habitable by human beings.
What’s the worst part of success?
Success has been very dangerous for me. You take a young kid, like I was in the Byrds, and give him a million dollars, they’re gonna screw up. What’s the kid’s name with the tattoos that keeps getting in trouble?
Yeah. That’s what happens with success with young, ignorant kids. Also, success eventually eats up bands. You start out and you’re all excited and it’s really good and it’s wonderful. But after a while, it devolves into a thing where you just turn on the smoke machine and play your hits. And that’s a success thing. That’s what makes you do that, since it’s a path of least resistance to the money. Not my thing, man. Doesn’t do it for me.
You also surround yourself with people that never say the word “no.”
Yes. I could name a couple of my friends who do exactly that. They exist in a world where the only people that talk to them are the people that work for them. All they hear is, “Oh, sweetie baby, everything you say is deathless prose.” Well, that doesn’t help! You need somebody to say, “You’re on the right track, but you’re not there yet.” Or “No, that’s not your best work.” Too often artists just hear, “Oh, sweetie, you’re fantastic!”
They think those people are their friends, but they’re on the payroll.
Yeah, they’re not your friends. They’re just kissing your butt. There’s a perfect example of that, a person we both know. I’m not gonna say whose name it is, but it really fits. [Laughs]
I think I know what friend you’re talking about here. …
Yeah. There’s probably been three or four bad records in a row.
With people around him that don’t tell him that.
That’s a big part of it.
He used to have someone around him that would help with that, but that person died and …
Yes! That person! Oh, so you know exactly who I’m talking about! [Laughs]
“The day isn’t a complete day if I don’t get Steely Dan in it.”
The moment that person died his albums started to go downhill, but we don’t need to say any names.
No, we don’t. But I sent that person my last album, Croz. He said, “Well, I don’t listen to other people’s stuff.” What the fuck? What planet do you live on? I listen to other people’s stuff all day long! The day isn’t a complete day if I don’t get Steely Dan in it.
Does Trump scare you more than Nixon did in the Seventies?
Yeah. Nixon was smarter. But that’s not much. That’s like saying that Nixon was faster than a snail. [Trump] can’t control his mouth or his mind. He’s an idiot, and a scary one.
You’re very active on Twitter. What has it taught you?
I have a lot of fun. I love to communicate with people. I answer questions, and I learn from their questions. I did get in trouble saying that Kanye West is a total poser who couldn’t write, sing or play. That was fun.
2019 will mark the 50th anniversary of Crosby, Stills and Nash’s first LP. Any chance you’ll celebrate with some shows?
I seriously doubt it. Never say never, but that’s history. Good history – we made absolutely great music together – but none of us are who we were then. And I’m kind of liking who I am now.
David Crosby talks about discovering for himself the genius of Bob Dylan in a new original animated video. Watch here.