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Q&A: David Crosby

If David Crosby were a cat, he’d have used up the lion’s share of
his nine lives by now — but David Crosby being David Crosby, he’d
probably figure out a way to make it to ten. Call it good fortune
or luck, miracle or circumstance, but the man is right when he
claims that the truths of his sometimes painful, often remarkable,
life are stranger than fiction.

Here’s a musician who’s been voted into the Rock & Roll Hall
of Fame not once but twice for his work with two of the
most celebrated bands of the Sixties and Seventies: the Byrds and,
of course, Crosby, Stills & Nash (and sometimes Young). Here’s
a man who’s spent the better part of that very public life battling
very public substance abuse problems (a battle that eventually led
to a one-year prison term on weapons-related charges in 1985); and
who underwent a life-saving liver transplant in 1995 that enabled
him to stick around for the birth of his new baby, Django. No doubt
about it, the peaks of the fifty-seven-year-old Crosby’s life have
been breathtakingly high, and the valleys terribly, darkly, deep.
Thankfully, these days he’s got a mountain-top view of the
present.

At the moment, Crosby is resting comfortably at his home just
north of Santa Barbara with his family, recuperating from a bladder
infection that gave everyone close to him a bit of a scare. Despite
the setback, however, he continues to look ahead. Between now and
December, Crosby’s hoping to get back on the road with CPR (his
current group with CSN multi-instrumentalist sideman Jeff Pevar and
a Los Angeles musician named James Raymond — who also just happens
to be Crosby’s son; a son, in fact, who had been given up for
adoption more than thirty years before), play a few assorted
benefit shows with pals Christopher Cross and the Doobie Brothers’
Michael McDonald, and — oh yeah — those two other guys he’s
played with for the better part of thirty years, Graham Nash and
Stephen Stills. In fact, the group’s reportedly at work on its next
studio album and will be trying out the new material live in the
months to come.

The past few years have been a series of beginnings for you
between discovering your son James Raymond, having a new baby, and
surviving your liver transplant. In a way, the experiences seem a
bit surreal. Is it still hard for you to get your head around
what’s happened to you?

Oh yeah. If I hadn’t had that one-day-at-a-time-thing happening, I
would’ve gotten swamped emotionally. But that stuff really works in
helping you deal with overwhelming events if you practice it
seriously. Ever since I went through the almost-dying thing, I’ve
tried very hard to live in the present and take life a little bit
at a time.

There’s a haunting song on the new album called ‘Time is
the Final Currency’ that’s fairly self-explanatory. Is this an
example of how recent experiences have shaped your approach to
songwriting?

No question. To me, writing needs to be about real stuff or of your
real life as much as humanly possible. I’ve always lived my life
intensely and tried to write about those experiences, as opposed to
writing abstract lyrics.

On the new CPR song ‘Rusty and Blue’ there’s a lyric,
“People fascinate me/ All my life.” What fascinates
you?

People’s fears fascinate me; people’s courage and intelligence
fascinate me. But I think more than anything, it’s people’s
compassion for each other that fascinates me and draws me in
completely. I love that about human beings, although I don’t think
having a sense of compassion is all that common, unfortunately. But
it’s something that should be celebrated.

Your musical collaboration with your son James is an
amazing story. How and when did you first meet James?

I met him right after my operation. His adoptive parents — who are
two of the sweetest people you could ever meet — had contacted me
and told me that James had wanted to meet me. It was very emotional
for me; I was very choked up. But James was very generous to me.
He’s a really great guy. But some of it’s just *too* absurd. For
instance, his wife gave birth to his son the day after he met me —
so he became a father and met his father within 24 hours.

At what point did you begin to think about the possibility
of starting a band together?

There was a point where I gave him some words, just some lyrics,
and he took them and came back with a song. And I said to myself —
oh boy! Here it comes. When he came back and had all kinds of ideas
for melodies and stuff, I knew immediately.

How different is it to be out on the road with two guys who
*aren’t* named Stephen Stills and Graham Nash?

The working chemistry between the three of us is amazing — we
write like crazy. And on stage we change and modify things
constantly. We never play the songs the same way twice. It’s been
really good. And it’s not like I’m quitting my day job — I love
working with CSN — but it’s a great gift to be able to do
something brand new. You need that. At this stage of my life, I
don’t want to stay in one place too long without moving forward,
without trying something new.

It’s been nearly 30 years since Crosby, Stills & Nash
began writing and performing together — and you’re still doing it.
What’s been the secret to the band’s legacy? Why do you think the
music has endured?

It’s gotta be the songs, man. We’re certainly not doing it on our
looks.

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