In his third year as a Byrd, David Crosby was kicked out of the band. There were a number of reasons, none of them made public, but several of them easy enough to guess. Crosby, rhythm guitarist, singer, and composer, was continually at odds with Roger McGuinn, acknowledged leader of the group. While McGuinn steered the band’s uneasy course from “folk-rock” through space-rock to country, Crosby, equally energetic, equally opinionated, equally brilliant, kept tampering with the wheel. Crosby worked out and executed the intricate harmonies for the group’s three-part vocal lines, but he went beyond “folk-rock” early in the game. He wrote “Mind Gardens,” “Eight Miles High,” “Everybody’s Been Burned,” “Why,” and “What’s Happening?!?!” He called Byrd music “folk, bossa nova, jazz, Afro.”
Away from music, but still on stage, Crosby insisted on speaking out on politics, and he did it articulately and abrasively. At the Monterey Pop Festival in June, 1967, he delivered a rap challenging the credibility of the Warren Report. Four months later, he was no longer a Byrd.
Crosby hasn’t changed much. If anything, he’s younger than yesterday, freer with his music and with his iconoclastic ideas. Since leaving the Byrds, he produced Joni Mitchell’s first album; Jefferson Airplane recorded a love song of his that the Byrds couldn’t take: “Triad.” And now he is the proudest, loudest member of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. Onstage, it is David, Leo/lion round face fronting a neat mane of wild hair, with freak fringes flying from his old Byrd jacket, who dominates the between-song raps. It’s like the man can’t stand dead air.
Where Steven Stills is the restrained Capricorn virtuoso boy wonder; where Neil Young is the earthy balance to the other three’s often – angelic approaches, and where Graham “Willie” Nash is the boyish, stretched-out Englishman, Crosby is the most obvious catalyst, working hardest to keep four adamant individualists together. He does it with looks, grins, vibrancy bouncing off the balls of his feet, and, most of all, with raps.
Introducing a Neil Young tune called “Only Love Can Break Your Heart,” Crosby rumbles: “Here’s a song about President Johnson, Spiro T. Agnew, Richard Nixon/Ronnie Reagan/Vietnam/Cambodia/the moon and refuse”… pause … “but it’s not a bummer!” Talking about “Guinnevere,” a song he’d written for his lady Christine before she was killed last summer, he now says: “This is a place that Tricia Nixon doesn’t get to go.” At the Oakland Coliseum last week, Nash come-nowed: “She might be groovy,” to which Crosby replied, slowly: “The odds are stupendously high against it.” Then the irreverent capper: “She’s the kind of girl that’d give bad head.” Nash choked, turned away, and laughed. McGuinn would’ve kicked him off stage.
“Yeah, sometimes I rap too much,” he admits. But you gotta understand: Crosby has had a lot of past, and it all stays with him, and he builds on it. All that music, dating back ten years when he started at 19 and made the folkie Troubador/Gate of Horn/Bitter End circuit. All the reading —science-fiction books; books on sea life and survival methods; titles like Ice Station Zebra and True Experiences in Telepathy. All the women who inspire him to weave sex into raps everywhere and anywhere. All the love for the sea, for his 60-foot schooner “The Mayan.” And of course, all the months of personal crystallization as a person, as a Byrd.
Crosby was an easy interview; he’d become a friend through past meetings for different stories. He said he’d found a journalist he thought he could trust. I’d found a musician/spokesman I knew I could believe. When the tape machine wasn’t running, we spent time on the deck of the Mayan, docked at Marina del Rey, and talked about London, about women, and about trips he had made in the waters and the winds while he planed and sanded down hatch doors and revarnished various pieces of the boat’s woodwork. Downstairs, whenever we talked, friends would invariably gather to listen. At dinner at Steven Stills’ house in Laurel Canyon, he made pitches for the rest of the band to support campaigns being waged by Jess Unruh, Jane Fonda, and Dr. Benjamin Spock. He taunted and debated Steven and Graham about “Yo-Yo Lennon,” and about the impossibility of carving out a perfect male-female relationship. But he conceded that Yo-Yo and John might have one worked out.
A few weeks later, Nixon and the National Guard in Ohio did their numbers, and Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young fell apart, and David called up to tell about it, to say he thought it’d be together again soon. Days later, Neil Young had written “Ohio,” and Crosby’s prediction had come true, the band was back on the road. We met again and talked some more, over breakfast at a restaurant in Hollywood, after the waitress had finished hounding him for concert tickets for her kids — promising an incredible blow job in the restroom (“And I’ve got false teeth,” she said).
He spoke, not too specifically or certainly, about the band, and it sounded like maybe Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young might be staying together just long enough to save their legal necks on the concert tour. Young and Stills were at it again. Broken arrows.
But last week, speaking after the Oakland concert, Crosby, the catalyst, sounded very certain: “The music has been so good,” he said, “that as far as I can see, we’ll do one tour and one LP a year for the next ten years. Steve and Neil were fuckin’ hugging and shaking hands after shows. And if me and Willie and the others can get those two cats up and keep ’em up … Well, we can work it out.” And meanwhile, he and Nash will do a joint LP this summer, and Stills will have a solo album out, and CSN&Y have six Fillmore sets recorded for a possible live album this fall, and so David Crosby has a lot to talk about, indeed.
You were talking, when we first met, about what you hoped Crosby, Stills, and Nash would be. And you were saying something about what a joy it was to be able to not have to just sing three-part harmony, to be able to find your voice. You were hinting at limitations as a Byrd and the whole range of things you went through as a Byrd.
Man, there’s limitations inherent in anything, I suppose. The thing you gotta do in a group is fill whatever needs to be filled that you can fill and try not to be too specific about it. No, the limitations worked out usually in the areas of there being nobody else to sing harmony.
The way we did the first three Byrd albums, I guess, was Gene and McGuinn would sing the melody together and then I would sing the harmony parts and then finally we got Christopher to start singin’ and along about then Gene dropped out. Then we got to singin’ parts more. But for most of it, it wound up bein’ me singin’ harmony because I could sing that high and I could stay in tune, and that’s about it. And also I really love singin’ harmony and I love thinkin’ up weird ones, and they used to enjoy the weird ones. So I wound up never singin’ lead. Now, I’m not a great lead singer. But there are songs that I like to sing; and then they could all sing it. So … he used to want to, and it used to be a matter of habit within the group to try and keep everybody in roles, you know what I mean? When we started out makin’ groups the first time around, we thought it was sorta like Hard Day’s Night, and we thought everybody had to have a role.
It got to be a matter of habit that I would do that and this would be that and that … and it’s hard to break habit, man. Habit’s even harder to break than some kind of deliberate plot, ’cause it’s not maliciousness on anybody’s part. There wasn’t anybody in that group trying to hold me back. There was no real maliciousness in that group until right near the end, y’know? Along around “Eight Miles High” and Monterey Pop Festival, y’know? They used to get uptight that I was playin’ with Stephen and Buffalo Springfield. They got uptight behind Monterey, me sayin’ that shit about Kennedy and the Warren Report.
What exactly did you say?
“Who killed the President?” basically. It was a standard introduction. We used to do it — you saw us do it a hundred times. We used to do it every single time we did “He Was a Friend of Mine.” The introduction for a year solid was: “We’d like to do a song about this guy who was a friend of ours. And just by way of mentionin’ it, he was shot down in the street. And as a matter of strict fact he was shot down in the street by a very professional kind of outfit. Don’t it make you sort of wonder? The Warren Report ain’t the truth, that’s plain to anybody. And it happened in your country. Don’t you wonder why? Don’t you wonder?”
And then we would sing the song. Now, admittedly that’s a little extreme for an artist to get into those areas at all. Got no right talkin’ about that. But I was pissed about it, and I’m still pissed about it! I guess I overstepped my bounds as an artist. By rights I shouldn’t get into that area at all. I’m sure no political genius. I don’t fuckin’ know what to do. I sure am sure I was tellin’ the truth. But I sure am sure that it didn’t fuckin’ do no good. I mean he isn’t alive, he’s dead, and nobody still knows why. Or how or who. And everybody’s guessin’ and everybody’s scared. So I guess it didn’t do a hell of a lot of good for me to mouth off.
You say “overstepping your bounds.” It sounds like at first, the whole band was with you. They knew just what you were saying.
They all believed the same thing, but I don’t think any of them would’ve said it … well, they didn’t say it.
Did they feel it was improper for Monterey?
Probably. Maybe they thought the focus was there. I know that everybody was conscious of the cameras because it was the first time anybody was filmin’ rock & roll, y’know. We were all very camera-shy. I was camera-shy to an extreme degree.
Stephen Stills: Being convinced that you were ugly.
Crosby: Well, there are mirrors in this world. For god’s sake, man. I mean, Lord. The truth hurts!
So you’re up to Monterey and the uptightness begins. Was Stephen really a big part of it?
Stephen has been a big part of my life, man, for the last three years. The cat came over to my house and played one evening with me, and it was very clear to me that he was a stoned goddamn genius. And I don’t know whether anybody else knew it then, but I was firmly convinced of it. He plays rings around everybody. Everybody! He plays everything better than anybody. So, I wanted to hang out with him.
How’d you meet him?
How the fuck’d I meet you, man? I guess I came and heard you.
Stills: You guys paid us $125 for our first gig.
Crosby: First gig? Were you paid on those Byrds concerts?
Stills: Yes, you …
Crosby: No wonder you guys were really loose. I wondered why you were loose. [The Byrds’ producer, Jim] Dickson didn’t tell us that. That’s groovy. You sang really good. You put me uptight, as a matter of fact. I felt competitive.
Stills: I know. We watched. We laughed a lot.
Crosby: Oh, you mean guys. Kicked our plug out, too … I caught you, bastard! Yeah, so, but they were good, man. That was early Springfield. I didn’t really know what he was, man, until he came over to my house one time and we played acoustic guitars. And then I knew what he was. I wanted to obviously do some of that, ’cause it’s groovy. Like, I don’t know, we like music, we like a lot of music. At that point, see, my band was turned off to playing. Everybody goes through that stage some time or another, I guess. Right then they were all really turned off to playing. I mean Roger would stop in the middle of a song to look at his watch and see how much more time he had to do in the set. And I’m not kidding you, he’ll tell you it’s the truth. He’s seen him do it. Maybe you haven’t seen him do it. I’ve seen him do it.
Stills: I watched Chris, though, right in the middle of a song stop playing and turn around and take a draw on a cigarette and then start playing about six bars later. Seven and a half.
Crosby: Twenty to one it was one of my songs.
Stills: As a matter of fact, it was.
Crosby: Okay, so now, anyway, it got to be to a point where one time I was tryin’ to sing a song where my energy level was so dissimilar from theirs that Christopher turned around to me and said “Ah, the David Crosby Show.” And it pissed me off so hard that I got frozen up like they were. I mean there was a real disparity between how we wanted to get it on in music.
Now I saw this cat, man, I mean he loves to play. He will play 25 hours a day. Now, didn’t I just want to hang out with somebody that loved to play? I love to play, man. And, fuck, we would get it on. We would have a good time playin’. And I was fuckin’ starved for that. I mean I was going on a stage, man, with a band that was a burn. It was like goin’ out and selling parsley on the street and havin’ to meet the people the next day. Byrdshit! It wasn’t the Byrds; it was the fucking canaries.
It was a burn, but it didn’t start out to be, so it really was a turn-off to watch it go that way, you know? So I had a very negative scene on one hand that was rapidly turning into a worse and worse psychodrama because I had made a terrible mistake and led everybody into a cat who was taking us to the cleaners. Manager cat. Pure poison. Ruined a lot of people and I led them all in. The only thing that I can also say is that I tried to lead them all back out again.
How did he ruin people?
Stole their money. He was a very direct fellow. Wasn’t subtle or anything. He would steal. That was his trip. Anyway, so I had an intensely bad scene on one side, and then I had Stephen on the other side; Springfield was falling apart, too. Neither Stephen nor I could wash the taste of bein’ in a bad group out of our minds. For us, you gotta remember, those two groups — and they were not bad groups — for us they were intensely painful psychodramas at the time. A mismatching of purposes, of motivations. Everybody was windin’ up doin’ it for different reasons. Well, Stephen and I hung out, and hung out, and we made some demo tapes and played ’em for Atlantic and Atlantic said “Sure, kid. I’ll buy that.” And I was shoppin’ around. Capitol offered me a better deal. I was gonna sign with Capitol as a single. And when Graham came to the United States …
And a twinkle lights up your eye …
Yes indeed. At that point it started to get good. Now Graham Nash — this is gonna sound like a hype — Graham Nash is one of the most highly evolved people on the planet. He is my teacher and he’s certainly the finest cat I know. Excuse me for usin’ that word, because I know a lot of really fine cats. He is just an incredible human being! And don’t just trust me. Ask anybody that knows him and they will tell you that he is just one of the major joys in their life. And he started bringing my spirits up.
We started singing together and one night we were at Joni Mitchell’s — ah, there’s a story. Cass was there. Stephen was there, me, and Willie [Graham Nash], just us five hangin’ out. You know how it is this night, I mean this time of night, so we were singin’ as you would imagine. We sang a lot. What happened was we started singin’ a country song of Stephen’s called “Helplessly Hoping.” And I had already worked out the third harmony. Steven and I started singin’ it, Willie looked at the rafters for about ten seconds, listened, and started singin’ the other part like he’d been singin’ it all his life.
That’s how Willie does things. And the feeling of that, man, was like havin’ somebody give you head all of a sudden in a sound sleep. It was like waking up on acid. I couldn’t begin to tell you how that was. That was a heavy flash, ’cause that’s a nice thing. You know it was. Especially if you’re a harmony singer and you love singin’ harmony. And I am and I do and it got me off. So that’s what we were doing.
That time in Chinatown when you were having dinner, you made a comparison between yourself, and your relationship to McGuinn, and the roles adopted in the movie by Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda, in Easy Rider.
Yeh, well, Dennis and Peter used to watch us a lot. Peter’s been a good friend for years, and Dennis, too, for that matter, although I don’t know him as well as I know Peter. I wouldn’t say that Dennis had me down exactly. He did grow a pretty good mustache, I’ll say that for him. And, as a matter of strict fact, although it’s a really technical detail, he got the knife right, too. Peter’s a sailor, too. Dennis — I really dig Dennis. He’s outrageous. I went to a wedding party the other day and he’s still outrageous. Michelle Phillips in a girl scout uniform. No underwear. God knows I love her …
How about the relationship between Fonda and Hopper in the movie and the relationship between you and McGuinn?
It was frequently that. Brash extrovert that I am, and that I was even more, then. Energy source. And McGuinn, a laid-back, highly complex, good multi-evaluating, highly-trained brain.
Probably not as much as that praise would have gotten everybody to believe, but certainly intelligent about planning the odds. I think he used me as an ice-breaker more than he used his optimism. I’m naturally going and already moving. Easy enough to slide in and then try and get me to go which way he wanted. McGuinn’s really a good one for trying to figure out the least effort way to accomplish something. Me, too, for that matter.
So how did it come to be that you left the Byrds?
Roger and Chris drove up in a pair of Porsches and said that I was crazy, impossible to work with, an egomaniac — all of which is partly true, I’m sure, sometimes — that I sang shitty, wrote terrible songs, made horrible sounds, and that they would do much better without me. Now, I’m sure that in the heat of the moment they probably exaggerated what they thought. But that’s what they said. I took it rather much to heart. I just say, “OK. Kinda wasteful, but OK.” But it was a drag.
In later interviews, McGuinn would say that the Byrds missed your musicianship and the kind of music you contributed. And later on he said different things again.
Well, I don’t know. I wish he’d said it at the time … Say, it’s OK. Rog’s doin’ fine.
Compared to the Byrds, does this band offer you something closer to total freedom?
This isn’t total freedom, no, of course not. I have to — not only am I not free to just express myself, but that can’t even be my main concern. Not if I really want this to be a healthy group, which I really do, ’cause I really love it. And I love the cats and they can really play. That’s nice. They all also really get off playing. They’re doing it for the right reason, thank god. It’s really part of it. Why you do it really affects the flavor, man. And I do it ’cause it gets me off, every time, man, that I get stoned and put on a guitar and somebody points me at a microphone, I have — I can’t say every time — 99 times out of a hundred— I have as good a time as most people do balling. And wouldn’t you want to do that? And wouldn’t anybody want to do all they could? I want to do it all I can, ’cause it gets me off. I love it.
I mean — you know, I did it — all I can say is that I’ve done it for every single reason I’ve been able to find. I’ve done it for money and I’ve done it for the glory and I’ve done it for the chicks and I’ve done it ’cause I was 19 years old and I thought I was Woody Guthrie on the road, man, and it was hip to sling my guitar over my shoulder. I’ve done it ’cause of every reason I’ve ever heard of, and doin’ it cause it’s fun really is an absolutely out of hand good trip.
Neil Young writing a song about Kent State. He surprised everybody.
Yeah. He said, “I don’t know. I never wrote anything like this before, but …” There it is. I watched him do it. We were at … Actually we were up in Chicago. We all came back and it was really crazy and really a drag. I couldn’t get mad at anybody, make myself feel righteous, so I split. We went up to Pescadero, and I watched him do it. It wasn’t like he set out as a project to write a protest song. It’s a folk song. I’ll admit that, it is definitely a folk song. But he didn’t set out to write it, man. It’s just what came out of havin’ Huntley-Brinkley for breakfast. I mean that’s really what happens. We’ve all stopped even watching the TV news, but you read the headlines on the papers going by on the streets.
He didn’t seek out his subject matter, it’s what forced its way into his consciousness, when he had defended his consciousness against it and tried strongly to keep his head in personal good trips all the time. But it’s very hard to ignore that Kent State thing. They were down there, man, ready to do it. You can see them, they’re all kneeling there, they’re all in the kneeling position and they got their slings tight and they’re ready to shoot. And there’s this kid, this long-haired kid standing there with a flag wavin’ it … I mean, I cannot be a man, and be a human, and ignore that. I don’t think. I don’t think I can. And I’m not political. I don’t dig politics. I don’t think politics is a workable system any more. I think they gotta invent something better. And man, it’s really right down to there. It’s really not happening for me to live in a country where they gun people down in the streets just for that, for saying they don’t dig it that way. You can’t do that. President Nixon, you can’t do that!
How did Graham and Stephen react to the song?
They said, “Well, how soon can we record it?” And there was no question in anybody’s mind. We all felt the same way about it. As a matter of fact, as soon as we played it to Stephen and Graham we just all went to the studio and recorded it. We cut the whole record, both sides, in one night, and finished it the next day. We went in, we played it like that. Those extra words on the end: “Why?” “Why?” “How many?” “How many more?” … you know, that? That wasn’t even part of the song, that was just what happened when we got to the end. It was all one live take, man, of cats just reacting to our world, that’s all. I don’t see any holy word or panacea or answer in what we did, we’re just people. We live here, too, and they just kicked us in the face.
Do you think it’ll just keep getting worse?
Well, now, the way I see it, the seeds of the better are already here. There’s the new ways for people to relate to each other and live with each other and grow up. A whole new society inherent in the way that young people are relating to each other now. And communicating with each other on levels that squares never achieve, man, it’s that simple. They do not communicate with each other that well.
The shared experience of people who’ve been high together, the multiplicity of levels that they can relate on and do relate on is not frequently found in straight people. It’s a new way, OK? It’s only a matter of degree and not really kind, but it’s really quite a change in degree of communication. I mean you and I relate to each other on an awful lot of levels. You’re reading my skin temperature, my tension, my stance, my position in the room, my tone, inflection, pitch, attack, rise, fall, tension, my blink-blink, my respiration rate, my heart rate, and in the middle of all of those you’re copying me telepathically, and I know it. Empathically, anyway, for sure. If you’re not doing that then it’s different. I see people doing that, man, I see people relating to each other in ways that haven’t happened before for people. There are huge numbers of them doin’ it. I see, for me, quite plainly a new humanity, I mean a bunch of people who are concerned with being human. I also think that I can see that it’s going to get worse before it gets better.
It’s something like we have only this one plot of ground, y’know, and we’ve built a house on it and it’s an old frame house and we didn’t use redwood. And it’s rotten. And we have propped it and shored it and buttressed it and sky-hooked it and everything we can think of to keep it up, man. And I don’t think it’s happening. I think at least we’re gonna have to kind of bust it up for the lumber. And I don’t dig it, man, because I don’t dig destruction, man. I’m a builder. I’ve always been a builder.
But I’m afraid that’s what’s gonna happen, man, I’m afraid that’s what has to happen. I told that to Albert Grossman last night and he go so angry with me he wouldn’t talk to me anymore. I played “Ohio” for him last night and he got angry. He said, “What are you tryin’ to do?” And I said, “Well, actually, if you really want to know, I’m not really trying to do anything. But I think we’re gonna help tear it apart a little bit.” And he said, “Well, man, you’re just children, and you don’t understand what’s going on.” Went into that kind of rap, and I said, “Albert, you’re comin’ on hip all the time, but in truth you’re just another old man who’s really got all his marbles in this system. And the real truth of it is, man, I just scared you. You don’t want that system to go. You got every fuckin’ egg in one basket, Jack. If they burn the bank you’re screwed, Albert.”
And he got really scared. If they burn the bank I’ve still got my two hands, and I ain’t scared of it. I’ve done it, a lot. I’ve caught my own fish and ripped their own stomachs out, and cleaned them, and cooked them. And done the same for the animals. It isn’t as if I don’t dig civilization, I do, and I don’t want to blow it. But I do want to blow this political system. I had a long talk, man, with the head of the Democratic party in California. Like, there’s a cat who’s got a lot more information than me.
Right. He’s firmly convinced that if we don’t change something radically, soon, that it’s gonna come apart at the seams, too.
When did you talk to Unruh?
He came down to the boat. He wants us to help. I kind of dig it that he’s at least willing to go out and talk to long-hairs. Because quite frankly he’s a very shrewd politician, and he must know that he doesn’t have to cater to us at all. We have absolutely no choice in this election but to support him.
But it’s a gamble for him to alienate more of the moderate voters by associating with longhairs.
Yeah, that’s what I felt, too. I thought it was kind of brave for him to do it.
Maybe he’s trying to envelop you so that there’s no third party formed to maybe take a large chunk of votes from him.
Maybe so. He’s up against pretty heavy odds, y’know. He’s up against California oil money and the original power bloc of this state. And they’re after his ass. And they’ve got idiots — just full-out clowns, front men — like Yorty, and they’ve got truly dangerous people like Reagan.
What’s Reagan’s importance in terms of what he’s done to the state or to people, to the youth movement — what has been his contribution?
Crystallization. The more pressure you put on coal the sooner it turns into diamonds. I mean the cat has polarized the entire minority so that it isn’t a minority anymore. It’s a majority of minorities. He’s got the intelligentsia and the blacks and the “kids” and the “hippies” and he’s got everybody, man, sort of universally aligned against him because he has sort of gone physically insane right in front of us and threatened our freedom, and our right to breathe, move, think …
You wrote “A Long Time Coming” and “Almost Cut My Hair” right after Robert Kennedy was shot. What exactly did he mean to you?
See, I didn’t know him, I never talked to him. I believed in him because he said that he wanted to change stuff. And I believed also that in my probably naive conception of politics he had not made so many deals that he was unable to change course at all, which is the case in Johnson and Nixon both. They’re cats, politicians, who’ve made their deal. Years ago. They’ve sold out to the special interests and controlling powers in this country in order to gain power. Now I thought Bobby Kennedy was one more opportunity to have a leader who had not made those deals.
You believed that, even knowing who his father was and what that family meant in terms of seeking political power?
I can’t defend the father or the family. The cat was young. Right, wrong, or indifferent, he was interested in change. He still had balls. He still had the willingness to change and grow, you know? And he had the willingness for this country to change and grow … I think. Who knows what he could have done, man. I mean we didn’t ever get a chance to find out about him, right?
We found out what kind of reaction there could be to that kind of person …
We found out that he — in actual fact, man, the way I figure it is, I was right. He was very close to getting that much power. And he was also not signed, in a sense, to a company. Now Ronald Reagan is a bought and paid-for man. And there’s no question in anybody’s mind that looks at it, really. I mean, when the oil interests are performing ecological crime on a mass scale, that certainly is no less offensive to the human race as a long-range thing than Buchenwald or the worst examples of human depravity. OK? Any of that is not worse than what the oil companies are doing, particularly in California. Multiple mass murder of living beings and for nothing. For nothing, man. For bread, for money, dig? Well, now, I was quoted the tax figures on those platforms off Santa Barbara, and if the tax figures they quoted me are correct, then the government ain’t gonna shut them down. ‘Cause they pull in a lot of bread out of there.
Now, that same bread, man, not only comes in in taxes from the oil companies, but it comes in in contributions. And I’m not just saying the oil companies, but in California they happen to be a controlling interest. And he very definitely is totally sold out to those people, y’know. Otherwise he wouldn’t keep instructing them to let him have more and more new licenses to go out and do it more and more. The federals, too.
The point is that the problems we’re up against, and those include environmental crime, race crime, political, total, obnoxious corruption, and international crime, which is war — all of those problems, man, relate to a power structure that is running this country.
We got a whole bunch of people who clearly identify that, and they say “OK. Now we’re gonna just shake this power structure by the roots.” Right? I laugh at ’em. I laugh at the SDS and I laugh at those fucking parlor-pink revolutionary kids going around saying “I’m a revolutionary by trade.” Bullfucking pukie. They haven’t any idea what it is, man. They should go watch a newsreel of the last three days of Budapest, and think it over. Asshole kids. They don’t don’t know what they are up against, man. You can’t convince this power structure to change its course. It’s inextricably — a curious word — inextricably involved in its course. I’m trying to explain to people that it isn’t the President, it isn’t Congress, it isn’t the governors. It seems like it, but as far as I can tell, it’s an interlocking whole socio-economic systems group. And they’re all interlocking … There’s this guy who makes the transistors for the guy who makes the radios for the guy who makes the planes for the guy who makes the wars for the guy who mines the tungsten and the transistor.
It’s all interlocking, man, and I don’t see how they’re going to change the course. I had to think up a phrase to describe it. We have “societal inertia.” And we’re moving — look, man, I’ll just bring it down to the basest of terms that made it clear to me: How are you gonna get ’em to close the gas stations, what are you gonna do with the pumps? That’s inertia. How are you gonna convince Chevy, Ford, Volkswagen, Cadillac, Honda to all take four, ten, 12 years of profit loss re-tooling to another power source. The men who run those companies do not own them. They are there only as long as they win. They cannot make that decision. It’s not that they won’t. They can’t. They’ve got to show a profit every year or they’ll get another man. That’s the truth. Environment be screwed. That’s how those companies are run.
That’s not the only place. The oil companies are not the major criminals in this world; they are amongst the major criminals, and that example of inertia is not the only one. I’m talking about the 5,000 or so people who run the world. I would like to see these fucking SDS revolutionary bullshit kids come up with a list of those cats’ names and addresses. Then they’ll convince me that they’re serious. OK? As long as they fucking stand around on the steps and shout and yell, and wait for the cops to come in an bash ’em on the head so they can look heavy: “I got hit by a pig.” Far out. You probably kicked him, y’know? And I don’t like the police at all, man. I’m not making bones about it. I just am really sick of the revolutionary kids, man. I’m really sick of the talk and I’m really sick of the kids I see at the rallies and stuff. Hey, they’re jokes. Fuckin’ revolution, man. They forget that they already ate revolution alive. That’s not happening, man. It’s not happening even with AR-16s.
It ain’t even happening for the Panthers. And I don’t blame them. The Panthers feel, and quite rightly so, that they’re in a kind of Warsaw ghetto situation. I don’t blame them for buying guns, not even a little, man. I ain’t aligning myself with anybody, but I sure don’t blame them. Boy, I sure don’t — uh-uh. It’s hard to make ’em forget how many people voted for Wallace. It isn’t like they didn’t do it or anything, they did, you know. Hard to make them forget that. So, to get back to interlocking systems and what we’re up against, the reason I feel hopeless is because I have no way to communicate with those men, those nameless cats, man. I mean we only know the names of a handful, and they’re the loan-shark, robber baron, last remaining few or another generation of billionaires: Hughes, Getty, Hunt, Kaiser, he’s still one, Ford, Rockefeller.
I mean you know a few of them. Who are the other guys? And what do they care about? Does J. Paul Getty like seagulls? Does H. L. Hunt care about pelicans? I don’t know how to make the point, but I’m struggling with it. I don’t think that they’re bein’ realistic when they judge this power structure that they’re up against. I think they attack its lowest and best-defended levels.
I looked at it ten years ago and came to, on less data, the same conclusion and decided that the only thing to do, the only crack left, was that they didn’t really consider time — being sort of blind and being sort of in love with the fact that they were on top and in power. They would figure that … Well, most of those cats, man, always make the mistake of thinking they wanted more. It looked like it’d make it a thousand years. It made it about 30. I figured the only thing to do was swipe their kids. I still think it’s the only thing to do. By saying that, I’m not talking about kidnapping, I’m just talking about changing their value systems, which removes them from their parents’ world very effectively.
And I didn’t change ’em, I just offered them an alternative. On one side you got war, death, degradation, submission, guilt, fear, competition; and on the other hand you got a bunch of people lyin’ out on the beach, walking around in the sun, laughin’, playin’ music, makin’ love and gettin’ high, singin’, dancin’, wearin’ bright colors, tellin’ stories, livin’ pretty easy. Half a million of ’em get together and not even punch one cat out. That’s pretty easy. You offer that alternative to a kid, man, and the kid ain’t crazy yet. The kid ain’t had time to be crazy. He can make a very clear decision about alternatives like that. I think that they’ve probably lost the majority of their kids by now. I don’t know, frankly. I guess we’ll have to wait and see.
If you knew, then it might wipe out a lot of the hopelessness you expressed.
But see, man, how can you pin down to a statistical chart the degree to which a person, or even a statistical universe of persons, have changed their value systems. There are certain key, surface symptoms of value system change that you can watch: dress, manner, hair length. These are, y’know, good indications, but they don’t indicate it all.
How about rock & roll?
To a degree. I wouldn’t limit it to rock & roll. The artists in every area of art in the United States have been saying what the rock and rollers are now saying, for a lot longer than we have. I mean let’s not forget the writers. I mean those are the cats who’ve laid it out a whole lot more complexly, more heavily, more literately, more multi-valuedly and more multi-leveledly than most of us. For the poets, I mean we can go right on back through the history of artists, man, who were willing to tell the truth about their enviroment and include all the environments. It ain’t just us that are doin’ it now. What the trick is with us is that we’re mass artists, and there’s never been that kind of stuff before until Gutenberg, y’know, and that didn’t really happen until you get up into the electronic mass. And that’s simultaneity and interaction on simultaneity and numbers of a very wide scale. It’s far out, man. That’s the main difference.
It’s a tricky thing. I could be dead wrong, man. Richard Nixon might be right, and I’m crazy enough to admit it. I just don’t think so. Gotta do what you believe. I believe that all those cats are wrong. I believe what they say matters is not it. Now, I also believe everybody is underestimating the amount of inertia. I believe that that big conglomerate blob of interlocking systems, all moving down this one big socio-economic path … I don’t think it can change its course. I’m sorry.
So you can’t escape. Now, how does your boat tie into this? Several times in crises —mental crises — when the Byrds fired you; when your lady Christine died, —you went to the boat. So in a sense there can be an escape.
Well, try to understand. When the hassles in my head, and confusion, and pain sometimes — and everybody’s got confusion and pain, I guess — there’s no hiding or running, there’s only working it out. That’s when the boat helps, because the boat has great beauty and constancy and meaning, on a very, very close-up level. It was grace and and comradeship. And all of those things get to your head.
It also keeps you very busy …
Yeah, but it’s on extremely high levels that it works on you. It’s not just the mechanics of keeping yourself busy. It’s really, it’s truly, right up to the very highest levels of it, a rearrangement of how you think. And it’s helped me a lot, each time that I’ve had to try and put myself together and figure out what to do. I’m like everybody else, man. I walk along and stumble and crash straight to the ground, ’cause I sure don’t have it figured out.
I didn’t pick the boat as an escape route. When I started wantin’ to sail I was 11 and a half years old and I wasn’t thinking about escape. It happens that it is a good way to go elsewhere. But the reason I do it is … Well, I tried a lot of different philosophies, and none of them worked. So I came down to, “If I can’t work out any logical, overall ethic to work by, then I’ve gotta just do what gets me off — which points of consciousness were the highest ones, the peaks. And do whatever it was that got me there — a lot. I mean, God, sailing puts me in the highest kind of consciousness I have, makes the best person out of me I know how to be. It takes me to the same levels that balling does, and music does, and being high and doing both of those things does. Y’know. It’s not a philosophical or a political decision at all. It’s just me wanting to enjoy it.
Talking about Altamont, you compared it to “My Back Pages.” Altamont attempted to recreate the spontaneity of Woodstock. What was “My Back Pages?”
It was a formula, it was a cop-out, it was a total backward shot. It was, “Oh, let’s make ‘Tambourine Man’ again.” It was a formula record, anybody could hear it. It was a piece of shit, had all the commitment and life of a four-day old mackerel.
At what point of Byrds history did that come?
A point of desperation. At a point when it was just the four of us and we were kind of uptight. And we had done an album that was good, Younger than Yesterday, and we needed a single. And so we sat in a studio and tried to figure out how many different ways we could sell out, essentially. I don’t think anybody thought they were doing that, but the point is we came down to making a formula record. And that’s a mistake.
It’s also a surprise, because you know how all the talk was about the Byrds emerging with a new musical form, taking the roots, and experimenting with raga, and blending different kinds of music …
That’s what it was about. Listen, our whole thing was opening up like a can opener. We may have been less than sophisticated, man, but we were a goddamned good fucking ice-breaker. ‘Cause we were unafraid. We made mistakes, but in order to be unafraid, you have to be willing to make mistakes — publicly! At the same time, man, it was a bunch of human cats. And like one of the mistakes they could make was to cop out on their whole thing. And you can be sure, man, that in the course of a long and dreary career you make all of the mistakes there are. That’s one that got me. Hey, and that’s not a slur on those cats, man. They are far-reaching cats, and you know it. Roger McGuinn? Lord knows, that cat has a far-out head and he’s certainly one of the farthest out musicians on the scene. Before, then, now, probably always. And Chris Hillman isn’t exactly a dope, either. He did some things on the bass, man, that no one up till then had anywhere near enough balls to try. “Everybody’s Been Burned.” Ever listen to bass on that? It’s a running jazz solo, all bass, all the way through the song. Never stops. Nobody else had done that when he did that, man, not from any rock group. No Fender bass player playing that kind of shit. So, I don’t know … I’m proud of those cats, but that record was a cop-out. It was a total sellout, for me.
Given the economics of survival for a band, I can see where you might say, “Well, let’s do this one so that we can grow more later.”
It’s pretty far out to be in a band, man. The economics of survival of a band — how far out is it that in order to be an artist at all, in order to get your brush and your palette and your canvas, you must sell a million or two of them. Isn’t that weird? In order for a group to really survive, man, to really cook and get it on, they gotta be some kind of success. And that means they have to sell in the marketplace, just to have fuckin’ amps, and dope, and food.
Steve Stills and the rest of Springfield must’ve gone through shit, just thinking about the total lack of recognition that they were getting.
It wasn’t that total, man. There were people around that knew what he was doing. Neil Young knew what he was doin’, and he knew what Neil was doing. I knew what they were both doing. And the first time I heard ’em I went and said, “Hey, you guys are doing it! … and you gotta do that a lot!”
So they knew for themselves, but in terms of public acceptance, and support, and survival …
Public acceptance is a … yeah, and survival. In survival terms I’m sure that they paid their dues. I think everybody did. I can remember times when I played five sets on a Thursday and seven sets on Friday and Saturday in the Peppermint Tree in your fair city. When we first got there, man, there were a couple of topless chicks workin’ with us, and it was hip. And Lovin’ Spoonful started a few blocks away from there. Everybody pays their dues. I did four, five years of coffeehouse time before that. Y’know, in North Beach.
Where do you come from? Maybe you ought to give a quick autobiographical sketch of yourself.
I was born in L.A., a movie family — my father was a filmmaker — and therefore it was an unstable family. Nice, but unstable. Moved around a lot, most of it in Santa Barbara. Went to a whole bunch of different schools and got thrown out of them. Disciplinary problem. The best one was for being, and I quote, “of dubious moral character.” Dut-dut-dut-dummm …
What’d you do?
It was a note passed between two girls in the junior class, comparing notes, as it were, and it was not appreciated by the faculty. Listed a number of other young ladies in the same manner. It caused some scandal in the school, as a matter of strict fact.
What school was this?
Hmm … I have to search for the name. Laguna Blanca. It was high school age. I went through several high schools. Started off in a prep school. Bad place to be, no girls, but a good school. Didn’t do a whole hell of a lot of anything until I started acting and singing and started doing that at coffeehouses and little theaters and stuff like that. It got me off some, so I went on doing that. Supporting myself mostly with a life of crime. I was a burglar.
What — mostly house jobs or what?
Where were you singing — mostly around home, too?
Right, in the coffeehouses in Santa Barbara. The first one that I ever started in was called the Noctambulist, the nightwalker. I sang by myself. Thought I was goin’ to be an actor, took a long look at movie people and decided I didn’t want to have anything to do with that much ass-kissing and copping out.
Are you saying that’s among actors in general?
Pretty much anywhere. The channels into acting from the bottom are so lame, man, that I don’t blame anybody for quitting. The only way to get into acting is to cross over from another field, like we do, or as we are doing, I should say, or drop into it through some other achievement or through some pipeline. It’s not worth it to try and fight your way up through the studios.
What’d you say could be the rewards of an acting career?
Mmm … they’re not as heavy as the rewards of a career as a filmmaker, that’s basically what I’m talking about. I’m not trying to knock my medium. All I know how to do in the world right now is sing harmony pretty good and write some songs and play guitar. And I like making records with my friends. But the heaviest art form on the planet is certainly films. Let there be no question about it, it’s the heaviest crossfire on your senses that’s possible with our present day technology, so far.
At that point, did you consider, say, acting and films to be more pertinent than music?
I changed my mind when I dug the people in the one and the people in the other. People in music are almost universally crazy but they’re really quite a large percentage of really nice people playing music. They are all goony, but at least I met a whole bunch of cats that I thought were men and cats I can respect. I met a whole bunch of really nice ladies.
Who were the first music people you met?
The first were … God knows, I don’t even know where I started listening to music. I started singing when I was a kid with my family. People would pull me into the coffeehouses to see and hear people. Travis Edmondson was the first folk musician that would teach me anything. And it was a good trip.
But North Beach — yeah, it was just before Sausalito. Sausalito was prime, just cream. And then, Dino Valente, who is a great person to be on the same bill with, since he will go up every set and just sing his ass off, y’know. Unless he’s on some kind of change, he will usually go up and just really do his level best to stir your brains around with a spoon. He’s a very alive cat, y’know.
I was surprised to see him join a rock & roll band, after all those years. He told me he was asked to join the Byrds, at one time.
Yeah. Everybody was very surprised to see him join Quicksilver, even though he’s always had that very close friendship with them. He and David Frieberg and I were dropping acid together years ago. And David and I were livin’ together for just a long time. David and I and Paul Kantner, in Venice, with several others — Steven Shuster, Ginger Jackson, Sherry Snow …
What kind of a scene was that?
It was your basic little keep-your-money-in-a-bowl, share your shit … we never wanted for food, nor smoke, nor a guitar to play on, nor fresh strings, for that matter, to string up on it. We had a Volkswagen bus, in the classic manner. And we spent most of our time doin’ exactly as we pleased. Which meant mostly laying around on the beach, going back, playing, goofin’ off, stuff like that. Kantner’s really a fine cat to live by, man, and so’s David Freiberg.
Were they into the same thing you were — single folk artists?
Yeah. This was right after Sausalito. We were getting it together here after the scene up there.
In terms of the music around this time, was this during the period of the decline of folk — the hootenanny days?
“Decline of folk.” There’s a phrase for you.
Or over-commercialization of folk.
There’s a better phrase. Folk being eaten alive by the gigantic entertainment monster. I mean the entertainment business is not music. Or theater, or culture, or filmmaking. The entertainment business is the marketplace. Let’s somehow desperately struggle to remind ourselves of that fact, ’cause it’s the truth, man. And the fuckers are really, really twisting us up, a lot. They are the prime reasons that people fuck up — in bands, anyway. Peripheral trips, man. Money trips, and star trips, and selling-it trips. “You want to really be a hit, this is what you gotta do.” [Sings] “So you wanna be a rock and roll star …”
Can you at all get behind a person like Albert Grossman and his ethic?
No. Now mind you, I hung out with Albert and I kinda like him. I even kind of respect him. But I would not do business with him.
What’s the difference between the way he operates and what Bill Graham does?
I’m not able to discuss it. Talking about other people’s business and how they work and what they think is important about it and what they apparently don’t think is important about it is a pretty touchy area. Besides which, I’m no fucking businessman. I’m not really capable of assessing their true motives or what they intended to do with the money.
You’re concerned to the point, though, that you want to be sure you’ve got a man who knows how to handle the other people so that you at least get a fair share of whatever.
Oh, yeah. But we’ve got a human being. We’ve got a cat who is like us. Well, now see, that’s me patting me on the head, I guess, claiming I’m a compatible type. But the cat is — I don’t know how to say it — he’s our friend. Elliot Roberts is a good dude. And he is not a fair-weather friend, and he is not a bullshitter. However, he is, in his managerial capacity, capable of lying straight-faced to anyone, anytime, ever. But he’s really a beautiful cat, he really has a heart and it’s plain that he does. You just naturally do get to love the cat … unless you gotta write a contract with him. In which case you may just not ever want to speak to him again, ’cause he’s really — he not only doesn’t give away anything, he’s armed robbery in a business deal.
And if he doesn’t rob you blind we’ll send Dave Geffen [of CMA] over; he’ll take your whole company. And sell it while you’re out to lunch, you know. Those two guys, man, are not kidding. And they understand what’s going on and don’t think it’s any mistake that Elliot Roberts could step into the managing of artists business and in two years be holding a couple of million dollars worth of stuff. I mean he didn’t do it by being stupid, right? And he didn’t do it by just picking the right people. He made good moves. I could name a dozen. Y’know, he’s really bright at it, but he’s really a human being. He’s a rarity.
Which brings us to the ticket prices for your concerts. One of the complaints on this tour was from people in St. Paul-Minneapolis, who were boycotting your show there because tickets were $5.50, $7.50, and $10 top.
I don’t think that’s the case. Didn’t you tell me you had investigated it and found out that it was not the case?
No, I checked it out and found that the “plush circle” was 100 seats for $10 each and that Elliot had just called and told them to set aside 300 sets for two dollars to balance it out a little. But still, the bulk of tickets will be around $5.50 to $7.50.
That’s far out, ’cause Elliot told me that the last time that I checked on it that our top scaling was $6.50. If it is $7.50, I’m sorry it is, ’cause I think it’s outrageous.
Well, that’s the price the boycotters quoted to me. They’re screaming about it.
Well, you know where it is behind promoters and the sale of groups coming to that town, see. And like (a) the promoter may be trying to pull a full-out scam on us and the agency, in which case he’ll be blowin’ it, heavily. Or (b) maybe our management wanted to try and get away with it this time. It might be any one of a dozen answers, I don’t know.
Did you ever have to deal with Derek Taylor?
Sure, he worked for us awhile.
What specifically did he do for the Byrds? What was his contribution to developing the band as a force?
He was an excellent myth-maker. He blew us up, made us bigger than life. Turned our thing, not into something else, but I’d say he placed a lens in front of it that blew it up. Huge, it’s huge.
As opposed to what is now known as “hype”?
Derek hyped us, but the thing was, see, if you’re out hyping … Hyping is like, you know when your dealer says to you, “Man, say, man, I have some weed so righteous that you might just as well bang your head against the wall as smoke it.” I mean now that’s a hype. But whatever he says, if he delivers, that’s a good hype! You go back to that cat, right? And, well, Derek Taylor used to say that it got magical and weird and shit at the Byrds, and that’s a hype. Only thing as it did, sometimes.
What about the Byrds’ first major success, at Ciro’s on Sunset Strip? Were you ready for that at all?
Fuck, man, I was sitting there waiting an hour early! I was prepared, all right. I didn’t know what it was, but I wanted it, whatever it was. If it meant money or glory and chicks, man, I really wanted it a lot.
Ciro’s was the first really good gig. The first place we ever played and pleased anybody was San Francisco, at the Jack Tar Motel. There were about 200 little girls who were there for Teen Screen, 16, y’know, one of those … We played three songs. They loved it. That’s ’cause we got all the way through without dropping the guitars … Actually we cooked. It was the first time we ever cooked. When we came offstage we nearly thought we would fall down. It was great.
That was very early. And then Ciro’s was amazing, how they handled it. The Trip, which was a little later, was not so wonderful. But, as the Trip — it was groovy. Ciro’s was really outrageous. It was this great, big, overstuffed, plush Fifties rock & roll — no, it wasn’t even rock & roll — it was a Fifties Las Vegas showroom that had been done “cheapy,” right? And then it had gone out of business so many times …
Something I could never attest to, ’cause I didn’t see the early Byrds, was the criticism that onstage the Byrds were sloppy, had an awful sound mix, never got it on, didn’t care and were, in general, incredibly shoddy compared to the records. Were you?
Depended on when you heard us. There were also people — rare, but there are people, and some of them even responsible musicians, who will tell you — they heard the Byrds actually get you off. They played like angels. Oh, it was possible, it just was not all the time. Up until the time Gene left we were pretty good.
What was it that Gene Clark provided?
As opposed to leadership?
Right. He did it well. He’s an emotional projector on a huge and powerful level. If you get him on a good trip he can take everybody, anywhere in the vicinity, on a good trip. Dig it? McGuinn can’t do that.
What would you call yourself in your band now? You said “energy source.”
No, it’s a slightly different role, frankly. Everybody in this group can communicate to the audience. We all can do it in conjunction with each other and they all can do it by themselves. It’s a matter of some kind of personal honesty at some point and the ability to communicate, and the ability to love. or something like it.
Would you dig working with Jerry Garcia?
Man, I would. Now I think Jerry Garcia probably needs me like he needs a third eye. Excuse me, a fourth. He has a third. But I would be just so knocked out to play, or sing, or do any kind of music with that dude. I mean, you know I would! Hey, and he’s not the only one. What about Lesh, man? Have you really considered what kind of a musician Phil Lesh is? I would like to make a record sometime with him playing classical music on an electric bass. He is certainly one of the most virtuoso string instrument players on the planet.
Somebody somewhere, sooner or later, has got to realize that the Grateful Dead is one of the best bands in the world. And I hope that it’s more than just the people who occasionally see them do a really stupendous set. But they’re — man, on a good night the Dead is as good as it gets. Period. I mean they can take people and make ’em just absolutely fucking boogie till dawn. And there’s very little of that around.
You’ve called them a magic band, and you’ve said that the Airplane — and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young — are magic bands. What’s the criterion?
Magic is doin’ it so well that you get it up beyond mechanical levels. Magic is making people feel good and stuff. Magic is, if you’re high on psychedelics, having a great big love beast crawl out of your amplifiers and eat the audience. I don’t know what it is, man. Like, they’re magic. Something happens when the Dead get it on that don’t happen when Percy Faith gets it on.
The Dead have got an offspring band, now, y’know.
I think it’s healthy. I don’t think man is naturally monogamous.
You’ve talked about doing things with Cass and with Kantner, and there are people like Clapton and Harrison moving around with different bands. Is there gonna have to be some new deal to free artists from contracts that tie them up with specific groups and labels?
Yeah, it’s gonna have to go the way I think we’ve gone, for most of the people. And that is that they’ll be signed not as a Burrito or a Spoonful or an Airplane; they’ll be signed as Michael Santana and Joseph Stalin, Admiral Nimitz, Captain Beefheart, y’know. They’ll be signed as different cats, and well now, the record companies.
I’m certain that for a mutual profit gain these companies can be convinced to allow us to cross-pollinate, particularly if it’s put to them in those terms. If it’s put to them as a revolutionary, “up against the wall, futher-muckers,” it will no doubt fall flat smack on its nose, and they will tighten up on the contracts. Be hard-ass, for four more years. If somebody takes the trouble to convince them that it’ll net ’em twice as much money over the next ten years, we’ll get it Tuesday.
You mentioned that you had written a number of songs and they all seemed to fall or end up in the same strain.
The trouble is the words all come around to “Why it is like this?” They are all mostly about Christine, and with that … and they’re good songs. I haven’t sung ’em to anybody and I don’t think I’m gonna. ‘Cause they’re pretty sad and they don’t draw any useful conclusion. Man, if I had learned something from it yet that I could communicate to people, I would. I got no more understanding than an ant does when you pull off his legs. I mean it’s just a blind smash from God. I got no rationale behind it, I got no explanation, I have no way to make sense out of it or any useful wording to communicate from it to people. And what’s the point of just communicating to them that I hurt? That doesn’t do any good at all.
So what’s the point of blues?
The point of blues has been pretty much to communicate it and make it a shared experience, which can lighten it just enough to keep you from going crazy. I’ll buy that. But who the hell needs to hear about David Crosby’s bummer? It ain’t true, man, it just ain’t true. Nobody needs to hear about it; nobody needs to go on that trip. It was the most horrible trip of my life and nobody needs to go on it. And the songs that I wrote are some of the best that I ever wrote, as a matter of fact, and I’m still not gonna sing ’em for anybody. I’m waitin’ until I got something good to sing about, some joy.
You’re saying that you’d like to provide answers as well as questions.
No, I don’t need any answers, I don’t even think there are any answers. I would very much like to talk about something other than the death of my old lady. I don’t think that’s a good trip for anybody.
That one point you made to me, though, that time, “Well, despite it all, at least you know that it can happen.”
Rejoice, rejoice, we have no choice.
Yeah. Willie and I wrote that one. Willie and I are a great combination. That’s mostly because of Willie.
That trip from Florida to San Diego … You mentioned how quickly Graham learned how to take over the boat.
Typical example, man, of Willie. There he is. Steps on the boat in Fort Lauderdale, bravely, having never been on a boat before in his life, never at all, not one minute. And the cat steps on the boat and casually — well, man, it was nine weeks, Fort Lauderdale to San Diego, and that’s a little under 5,000 miles, right? And by the time we got to San Diego the cat was standing three-hour wheel watches, dependably. So intelligently that all of us looked upon it as a good time to go to sleep if it was Willie’s watch, ’cause he had it covered. The cat was doing celestial navigation better than I do it. And faster.
What’s celestial navigation?
Taking star sights and working out positions. The cat was doing engine maintenance on a diesel, which is machined to tolerances of about 20 times as close as a gas engine or something like that. They’re hard to know what to do with, and he was doin’ a lot of things that are simple really to a diesel mechanic but relatively complex for a person approaching it from the outside. He got into it, is what I’m trying to say. He got into the whole thing just so totally and so fast it was amazing. But it’s typical of him.
How does Graham see you, do you think?
Well, I hope he sees me as a loyal friend. ‘Cause I am, man. If I was a chick I’d marry the cat. I think he’s one of the most highly evolved beings I ever encountered. That’s a heavy thing to say about anybody. I don’t know what he thinks of me. I don’t know what any of them think of me. They don’t tell me. But they play with me, you know, and I can’t ask very much more than that. I frankly don’t know what anybody thinks of me, ‘cept a couple of close friends. I don’t know what the public thinks of me. I have no idea what my public image is and I would rather not, you know. ‘Cause I got my feet firmly planted in the cheeseburgers, here, man. You can’t really do any grandiose numbers with the ocean. It’s a bit hard to bullshit the ocean. It’s not listening, you know what I mean? So it helps me keep in perspective. I don’t know … I’d be curious to know what they think of me.
I’d think you would be, because that would probably help to shape or reshape your way of communicating with people.
It would no doubt help me learn some stuff, too, ’cause they’re bright cats and they probably see ways that I could improve myself as a person. But the point is, all I ask of them — all I ever want to ask of them — is that they, excuse the words, love and respect me enough to want to play with me. And I don’t ask them anything more than that. They don’t have to approve of my politics, my sexual attitudes, which I’m sure freak them out, and …
What about your sexual attitudes freak people out?
Erk, erk. Excuse me while I eat this napkin…
Mr. Crosby … what’s so strange?
Not strange, not by me … The problem is that I’ve explored about every avenue of sex that I’ve heard of, OK? The trouble is that I like ’em, most of ’em. I’m not too fond of the bathroom trips, but aside from that in the catalog of sexual history I think that there are very few things that I don’t like. Which makes me, by most people’s standards, a freak. There are some things that have happened to me in my life, I haven’t sought them out, I wasn’t trying to freak out anybody, but there were times that it happened that I was part of a triangle, right? And there was one that worked out long and really righteously, and like that changed my attitudes about a lot of things, too. That’s the song, that’s “Triad.”
Is it a matter of when you “impose,” let’s say, your attitudes on other people that they freak? It’s not a matter of them delving into your private life…
No. I don’t try to proselytize for sex. I’m really not trying to convince anybody else to go my route at all, on anything, least of all that.
It’s hard to believe that a group of friends who worked with you would be uptight about the song.
Oh, you got me on that one. All I know is that they were… At least one group of people was very uptight by that song. This band is not uptight behind that song at all, having been through similar experiences. At least three of the cats in the band — four of the cats, have been through that same experience.
Well, yes. They were singing “Change Partners” at the dinner table. Now, you’re planning an album of your own this summer. Are you going to do more producing?
Producing; I don’t know if I’ll do any more producing for outside people. There’re some people that I would like to help: Dead, Airplane. Not that they need much help, but I love playing with them. There’s a cat that I would’ve liked to have produced an album for and I don’t know if I’m gonna get a chance to. I’m sure somebody else will snap him up before I have time to do it: Jackson Browne. I think Jackson Browne is one of the probably ten best songwriters around, maybe. He’s from Orange County, and he’s a stunner. The cat just sings rings around most people, and he’s got songs that’ll make you hair stand on end. He’s incredible. Yeah, I don’t know. There’s projects that I’d like to do. You heard McCartney’s album, sure, right? What do you think?
Well, Paul himself had said he could achieve the same kind of momentum and excitement that he could get with a group, you know, but it misses the band sound totally, in terms of each person contributing, helping each other work up a certain pace, and drama, and leading to climaxes.
Right. I got the same feeling, and I got that same feeling off records I made by myself. I made a couple of records by myself, band records, y’know, and employed a drummer and a bass player ’cause I don’t play either of those instruments, right. But I mean that kind of trip, it doesn’t work. There’s no bouncing off each other. There’s no excitement. And it seems to me Paul fell prey to that.
When I do my own album I won’t use anything except my big 12-string. You should hear Stephen’s. If you want to hear a cat go in and do the “I-can-make-a-record-by-myself” trip, check out Stephen Stills, ’cause he happens to be better at it than Paul McCartney or Eric Clapton or anybody else. That’s not my trip. I can’t do that, man, and I don’t want to put anybody on that I’m a band. I’m not.
As you said, Stills’ album is a thing like “I can make a record by myself.”
But he can! I remember a record that he made of “Mr. Fantasy” that nobody ever heard except a few friends. He made every noise that was on that tape. Played every instrument, sang every note. And goddamn, man, it made Traffic look like a bad second band at the Whisky. I mean it was tight shit. It was incredible, you know. He’s better at it than almost anybody would suspect, even knowing how good he is, even knowing the full Captain Manyhands image, y’know.
Well, anyway, me learnin’ stuff, yeah, I want to learn stuff. Every kind of instrument, every kind of project, every kind of music I can get into for the rest of my life, but it’s not directly related to making an album. And I’m not waiting on the album until I’m not doing something I would rather be doing — namely Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Neil Young, which I would rather do than any other musical trip I can think of.
With people like Stills, Nash, and Young around, do you find yourself playing a particular role in the studio during the sessions — when it comes down to production aspects?
Yeah, we all have things that we do. Like, I would say, if anything, that Stephen and Neil are even better record makers than I am. I would say Willie is unquestionably one of the finest mixers around. I let him mix my songs, man. I mean, we work on it together, but when it comes down to the final mix, it’s very frequently Graham’s, y’know. My role is my role. I don’t want to get tagged into it too tight, but on the most basic level I can approach it, its energy source, communication, and focus. And I don’t want to get into the techniques of it too close because it’s like talking about balling; you can really blow it, y’know. There’s that and then there’s certain kinds of harmony-thinking that nobody else does except me, that I’ve found, anyway. Willie don’t think the same about harmonies as I do.
What kind of reaction have you run across on your second album? Is it anything close to what Rolling Stone said about it, which was a putdown?
No. See, the point is that for me it’s not our second album; it’s our first album. We’re the new group. I don’t know how the other people in the world feel about it, but the first album was Crosby, Stills, and Nash; the second album was Crosby, Stills, Nash, Young, Taylor, and Reeves, and that’s from three to six, which means that it’s a different group. I think anybody should know that anything Neil Young steps into is different thereafter, y’know. I don’t care if it’s a bathroom. It wasn’t a second album. And it has stuff in it that makes me extremely proud. I figure that the third album that we put out will be maybe two or three times better.
Were you really satisfied with the record?
I wasn’t. And also, I probably brought it down by sticking to my guns on one thing. I kept “I Almost Cut My Hair” in there over the protestations of Stephen, who didn’t want me to leave it in ’cause he thought that it was a bad vocal. And it was a bad vocal in the sense that it slid around and it wasn’t polished, but I felt like what I meant when I sang it, and so it always put me on that trip. Now, I don’t know whether that communicated through to the people out there or not. See, I don’t know whether it communicated anything but just a bunch of raucous guitar and me yelling. If it did communicate, then it was right.
You’ve said a number of times that there were two dominant images of you that you put out. One was the “troublemaker” thing.
You said you were the troublemaker of the Byrds. The second thing was, you said that “At one time I used to put people down.” Then you said you’d stopped it.
I’m trying to outgrow it. I’m getting better at not doing it.
When was it the very worst?
At the peak of my uptight Byrd, when I thought I should have been really heavy and I knew perfectly well that my band was turning into a shuck and I was paranoid, uptight, and slightly on top of it but very uptight. I was playing a very shaky paranoid king-of-the-mountain. And at that point in my life I used to put people down regularly — everybody, anybody. It was my thing. “Aw, that stupid son-of-a-bitch doesn’t know what the fuck he’s talking about and I know what’s really going on, that cock-sucker doesn’t really understand what the fuck he is — stupid cunt motherfucker.” You know. And I would just rage on and on to everyone, about everything. But, of course, that has something to do with irritability, y’know. There are certain substances which we sometimes ingest through our nose, particularly, that increase one’s irritability factor, and they’re bad for you. There was a lot of that going on then, too. Mostly just unbalance, a lot of unbalance, man.
Was that a reaction all the Byrds had when they “ingested certain substances?”
I wouldn’t limit it to the Byrds. That’s a tricky and very dangerous subject to talk about, but I would say that that particular substance induces irritability and a tendency toward extremes in everybody that I’ve even seen take it.
How were the Byrds a shuck?
They weren’t when they started. The last year that we were working together they were a shuck because we would tell people that they should come watch the Byrds play, and then the Byrds would come there and be a mechanical windup doll. They didn’t play fuck.
We would get through a set, 40 minutes long — just barely — of material that we had done so many times we were ready to throw up with it. We were bored, we were uptight, uncommunicative, we were on an ego trip, we were defensive … overall defensive. Y’know, after that “Eight Miles High”/Younger Than Yesterday period … there was no significant advance that I know of. There was also no Byrds after that that I know of. And it’s a provincial attitude, but, as far as I’m concerned, there were only five Byrds, ever. Period.
Have you seen McGuinn’s group recently?
Yeah. I’ve also listened to their records. I think they should care more about what they’re doing. If they’re going to use that name I think they should care more about what they’re doing.
It’s like McGuinn is the Byrds and the others fill in.
Yeah, that’s true. The other cats are sidemen.
What do you think of Van Morrison?
We did a concert with them and I watched him work at Croyden, I think it was, one of the halls in London. And I was firmly convinced then that he was a good singer, and if he’s writing those songs he’s getting to be a good writer. There’s other people whose writing I like more, still. But I like what he’s doing.
How about Leon Russell?
Ha! Man, you go back and listen to the first Byrd album and on a couple of cuts you’ll hear electric piano … Listen, Leon Russell, Hal Blaine, Larry Knechtel, and those cats…
And Joe Osborne?
Osborne … have been there all along. I don’t know why somebody doesn’t make a list. It would take you a whole page to make up a list of the records that those cats made … starting with “Tambourine Man.” That was Knechtel playing the bass. And I’m talking about everybody’s records. Beach Boys, Raiders, everybody that ever made records in LA, man, those cats made records with them a few times. And like with us, they started out with us, and then we said “no deal” to Columbia. “We won’t even finish our first album unless you let us play it.” They wanted to make tracks and just use enough of us to put the flavor in so it could be quickly packaged, easily managed little material — and also wouldn’t be dependent on us to put out the record. Mmmmm. Smelly.
So, those cats were good, but there were some stupendous musicians amongst the studio cats. And Leon, I guess, would be the most highly developed of all of them. He’s a stoned fucking genius.
You’re saying that the entire band of session men were involved in the early Byrd records.
They were all involved in “Tambourine Man,” those particular guys. They were also involved at later points, when we started losing people, they would sometimes come and play. Sometimes there was another drummer — very often. The only Byrd that played on “Tambourine Man” was McGuinn.
Who decided that?
Jim Dickson. And Terry Melcher. Over our heads. I guess they thought that they could make a hit record that way.
How often does that happen?
It doesn’t happen very much any more, but in those days the groups that did come along not only had not been playing electric music long enough to be good at it; there weren’t any good electric bands. There were none. I’m including the Beatles. The first one I remember that played really good, aside from us, sometimes, which we did at Ciro’s, was Spoonful … or Butter band. Spoonful and Butter band both happened about that time…
Butterfield being more polished, having worked it out in Chicago.
Heaven to fucking Betsy. Listen to Michael Bloomfield and Paul Butterfield trading fours, man. God knows it’d rip your fucking brains out, send chills up your back. Butter is the unquestioned champion of the harmonica, for all time. There isn’t even anybody close. I love the way Sebastian plays. Sebastian can do stuff on a harp that Butter can’t do. Sebastian’s got one whole area that nobody else can play. But Butter, he used to just tear me up. Fucking incredible. We played on the same bill with him at the Trip once for two weeks. And man oh man, it was truly outrageous.
Was there a chance of Sebastian joining with Crosby, Stills and Nash before you added Neil?
I don’t know how to say it. John is on his own trip. I don’t think that he’ll join a band again, ever. His band was an unfortunate experience for him, and it didn’t work out the way it should have. And John Sebastian needs a band like a stag needs a hat rack. But he does come and hang out with us, and he does play with us whenever he wants to and, as far as I’m concerned, John Sebastian can walk onstage with us anywhere, anytime, in the middle of anything — even if we didn’t know he was there — and just pick up and start playing, any instrument or microphone or anything he wants to do, he’s that good. He can take off his clothes and sit down and start doing Yoga exercises and I’ll just be glad that he’s there. John Sebastian is a member of our group … he’s definitely one of the Original Reliability Brothers. There are some of our other friends that we like having come and visit us and sing with us and shit.
Oh, it’s not exactly hard to fit Cass into a harmony part, and I don’t exactly mind singin’ “Get Together” with Mitchell, and, for that matter, if we’re singin’ “Get Together,” I can remember times when there was John Sebastian and Joni Mitchell and Buddy Miles and Elliot Roberts, and all of these people, all of our friends that were onstage singing. And it was a good goddamn trip, too.
Gettin’ high, it’s a joy, man. Let there be no mistake about it. Unfortunately, my time has gotta be devoted to my highest priority projects, which starts with tryin’ to save the human race and then works its way down from there; with all the things to keep myself going, like balling, getting high, making music.
So, after all is said, how are you gonna save the human race, number one priority?
You got me. There is no answer that I know of to save us. It’s just that that’s my highest priority.
But through your music, if you affect the people you come in contact with in public, that’s your way of saving the human race.
OK, I’ll buy that. But somehow operating on that premise for the last couple of years hasn’t done it, see? Somehow Sgt. Pepper’s did not stop the Vietnam War. Somehow it didn’t work. Somebody isn’t listening. I ain’t saying stop trying; I know we’re doing the right thing to live, full on. Get it on and do it good. But the inertia we’re up against, I think everybody’s kind of underestimated it. I would’ve thought Sgt. Pepper’s could’ve stopped the war just by putting too many good vibes in the air for anybody to have a war around.
Now, I am doing my level best as a saboteur of values, as an aider of change, but when it comes down to blood and gore in the streets I’m takin’ off and goin’ fishin’. It’s nice to know that four-fifths of the planet is water and I’m gonna be able to go elsewhere when and if it gets down to street-fighting. Let the cats who are really into it do it. If they really want to.
So your guns and rifles are more of a hobby than anything else?
No. My rifles are mostly for another kind of thing. My rifles are because I plan to live all over the world, not just here in suburban America. And there’s an awful lot of points in the world where a rifle is a handy little thing. It’s called a lunch gun, you know. It gets you lunch or keeps you from being somebody else’s. Now, in this country, a weapon is another thing. In this country my rifles might buy me a great big 20 minutes sometime. I mean, fat chance! You can’t fight them on their own ground, man, you can’t take on the sheriff’s department or the Army. That’s their game. They got it covered in spades. Totally. But like, it might buy me ten minutes, and that might be the ten minutes that I got away in.
Look, I don’t want to get into it from the level that that’s what I expect is happening. I think that we might end up just with “business as usual” for a long time. But, man, “It can’t happen here” is number one on the list of famous last words.