Croz on angry bandmates and why you don't lunch with tigers
David "Croz" Crosby left the planet Jan. 18 at the age of 81, but the late, great musician didn't go kicking and screaming. The cantankerous (but kind) California singer/songwriter and guitarist, a founding member of the Byrds and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, had long since worked out most of his demons. He explains how and why in the 2019 documentary "David Crosby: Remember My Name," and also in a memorable interview I did with him the summer of that same year for the Toronto Star:
David Crosby begins our interview by insulting me.
My offering of an early birthday greeting — he turns 78 on Aug. 14 — prompts a sarcastic response from the irascible rocker: “Oh, thanks for reminding me, you a-hole! Hah-hah!”
No offence taken. Crosby says it with a chuckle and could I expect anything less from the Pied Piper of Pungent Proclamations?
His new confess-all documentary "David Crosby: Remember My Name," currently screening at Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema, is making him as notorious for his outspoken observations as he was famous for singing and strumming with the Byrds and Crosby, Stills & Nash (and also Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young).
Crosby wouldn’t have it any other way. Most authorized rock docs are “shine jobs,” he accurately opines. “They’re about as deep as a bird bath and they don’t tell you anything, man.”
When Crosby agreed to sit before the documentary lens of first-time filmmaker A.J. Eaton, under the watchful eye of producer/interviewer Cameron Crowe, it was under the condition that the truth be told, even if it hurt.
“If I’m going to see a documentary about you, I want to know what matters to you,” Crosby says, in a call from a rural retreat near Santa Barbara.
“I want to know what you care about. I want to know what you’re afraid of. I want to know what you love. I want to know who you are inside.”
We get all that and more from "Remember My Name," one of the best docs of 2019. It’s like watching open-heart surgery as Crosby holds forth on his decades of being a “big ego, no brain” cat, leaving behind a trail of unhappy ex-lovers (Joni Mitchell among them) and ex-bandmates infuriated by his intemperate remarks and actions.
“All the guys that I made music with won’t even talk to me,” he says.
The enduring band enmity was confirmed just this past weekend after Crosby extended an olive branch to his fellow ex-Byrds member Roger McGuinn, saying he’d be open to a reunion of the seminal 1960s folk-rock group. McGuinn’s publicists sent a withering response via Rolling Stone magazine: “DC is not hated, but that doesn’t mean anyone wants to work with him.”
Crosby’s “stuff” involved decades of drugs, booze, outbursts, arguments, cops, jails and assorted other misdeeds and bad mojo. This was compounded by a litany of health complaints: heart attacks, liver failure, hepatitis and diabetes among them.
He must be doing something right, though. He’s still married to Jan, his wife of 32 years. He has four adoring children, from various unions. He still sings like a bird (and Byrd). He’s still making music, with a band that includes Toronto singer-songwriter Michelle Willis, whom Crosby calls “one of the best singers I ever heard” and with whom he’s planning a November concert date here.
Crosby also has a lifetime of amazing memories, including performances at Woodstock and its polar opposite Altamont, and writing or co-writing such rock classics as “Eight Miles High,” “Long Time Gone” and “Guinnevere.”
He’s learned a few things along the way, so much so that Rolling Stone recently signed him up as its advice columnist, “Ask Croz,” offering his flinty but good-natured takes on how to cope with everything from existential dread to relationship woes to prison life. (Crosby did a freebie “Ask Croz” question for the Star: see the sidebar.)
Croz, did you realize way back when that you were being such a badass?
Fuck no! I didn’t think about myself at all. I was just having a blast. And then when I wasn’t, I wasn’t.
What were you feeling when you looked back on your life in Remember My Name? Guilt? Regret? Or was it just pure catharsis?
Those aren’t useful, man. Regretful, yeah, you can go for it for a minute, but guilt doesn’t do you any good at all. What you do is — and I learned this in a 12-step program, where I was many, many, many, many years, what you do is you learn from sh--. You take the events in your life and you look at them with a fierce honesty … and then you set it down and walk on. That’s how you get on with your life. Catharsis is a very useful thing. The film does that for me, although I’ve already done it a thousand times in a thousand 12-step meetings. But doing it in the film also lightened my load.
What feedback have you had to the film?
People are so startled by it, because the common currency now, man, is lies: “I can tell a bigger lie than you can, hah-hah!” And that’s what we’re faced with every night on the news, it’s what we read, it’s what we see all around us: people telling these monstrous lies about each other. And here’s this one film that comes out and doesn’t do that. We were at least trying to be as honest as we can be and that’s what appeals to people.
It makes me sad when you say you don’t talk to your old buddies Roger McGuinn, Stephen Stills, Graham Nash and Neil Young.
I don’t know, man. You know, I try not to worry about them very much. I don’t have any bad sh- going against any of them. I kind of still feel good about them, because we did a lot of really good work. But truthfully, man, I can’t wait around. I don’t know how they think about stuff. I don’t know if they saw the film. I don’t know how all that’s going to work out. But I do know that I have a very limited amount of time and I’m going to spend that making music, not waiting to make music.
If one or more of them showed up on your doorstep with a bottle of Scotch and said, “Let’s talk,” would you?
Of course, yeah, absolutely.
Was Woodstock as big a deal as everybody says it was?
The thing is, everybody is so impressed by how big it was that they think that’s where the story is, and it’s not. The story is that for three days, half a million people were nice to each other. They were kind to each other. They were decent to each other. They behaved like human beings. They were good. And it was such a shockingly delicious feeling, man, that none of us can get it out of our heads. And we may never be able to. For a minute there, we could hope.
So why was Altamont — Hells Angels violence, a stabbing death and serious bad vibes — such a bummer only a few months later?
The mistake there wasn’t the choice of bands or even the venue. It would have been almost manageable, but they counted on somehow Woodstock happening again and it doesn’t work like that. It’s not a given … The big mistake at Altamont was very simple: the guys who managed the Grateful Dead hired the Hells Angels to do security. That was a huge fucking mistake. Hells Angels don’t do security. Hells Angels fight. They like to fight. It’s one of their main amusements … You can’t invite a tiger to lunch, man, and expect him not to eat your lunch guests. The answer is, don’t invite the tiger.
They say that if you make it to through your 70s, you’ll live to 90, because the 70s are the most lethal decade. So you’re good to go if you just make it through two more years.
You know why? I’ll tell you why. Only the good die young!
PARENTING ADVICE FROM DAVID CROSBY:
Legendary singer-songwriter David Crosby has become an advice columnist for Rolling Stone magazine, so the Star put him to the test.
Dear Croz: I have three wonderful millennial children, but I often wonder what advice to give them. How do you inspire a millennial?
First off, ditch the millennial tag. It doesn’t describe a human being. You have three human beings who are young. And they’re probably all three different from each other. You’ve got to make sure that you understand that, too …
And you can’t tell them anything. They don’t pay any attention to anything you say, at all. They do, however, watch every move you make. And they will watch every choice you make. And they will be strongly influenced by what kind of example you set … If you’re a standup guy, if you stand up to oppression, if you stand up to racism, if you stand up against people being cruel to other human beings, they’re going to see that. They’re going to watch every bit of it. And if they see their father being brave, then they’re going to want to be brave. If they see their father being compassionate, they’re going to say, “Oh, so that’s how you do it!” If they see their father being intelligent, they’re going to want to be intelligent. 🌓
(Originally published in the Toronto Star.)