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.