David Crosby — who puts the cantankerous in Crosby, Stills & Nash — was in a particularly good mood the other day.
“I’m in a very good space,” said the outspoken, voluble Crosby. He’s lost 40 pounds. The visits to the gym for weightlifting have stopped, but he swims and walks and — get this — stopped smoking pot. At least for now.
“I’m not getting high or drinking, although I probably will smoke pot again at some point,” said Crosby, 73. “I’m incredibly happy that songs are coming to me. I’m trying to pay attention to the visitation from the Muse. I work at it every day. There are four guitars in four different tunings in my bedroom right now.”
Crosby always has been the colorful one in CSN — the eternal hippie with the droopy mustache who did jail time for drug possession, received a liver transplant (paid for by Phil Collins) and was a sperm donor for Melissa Etheridge’s wife. A longtime activist and outspoken opponent of war and nuclear power, he showed up (with Graham Nash) to serenade the Occupy Wall Street protesters in 2011 because that’s just what Crosby does.
What’s the most misunderstood thing about him?
“That I’m a rich rock star,” he replied without hesitation. “I’m definitely not rich, and star is a false word. There is no such thing, really.”
Last year, Crosby released his first solo album in 20 years — titled “Croz” — and he’s still on a writing jag.
“I’ve been going through a writing surge, which is kind of amazing at this stage of the game to feel inspired. But I have been,” he said by phone last week from Santa Barbara, Calif., with his dog barking in the background. “I’ve already started another (album). That one (‘Croz’) had a big impact on my life. It made me feel more confident in terms of stepping out on my own. It’s very easy to relax back into Crosby, Stills & Nash. I know how to do it. The solo stuff challenges me more. I see people that I know pretty well falling prey to ‘I’ve said everything I’ve got to say’ and falling back on their laurels. That’s a mistake. They’re going to sleep. I am naturally moved to keep moving forward.”
He’s been writing with Michael McDonald and Shawn Colvin as well as his son, James Raymond, whom he gave up for adoption in the 1960s and reconnected with in the 1990s.
Raymond co-produced “Croz” with Crosby, helping influence the ambitious and sophisticated arrangements, which suggest Steely Dan more than CSN.
“I like strange arrangements of music and he does, too,” Crosby said of his son. “I think it’s going to be even more characteristic of my stuff on the next record. I’ve never been able to write simple pop hits.”
Crosby will do a solo tour — just his voice and an acoustic guitar — after CSN’s spring U.S. tour.
CSN always puts together a set list for a tour, but they don’t necessarily stick to it.
“Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” sometimes makes the list. It’s the hardest CSN song to sing, Crosby says.
“It requires really, really accurate on-the-money singing because there’s nowhere to hide. It’s one acoustic guitar for most of the song. You really have to be right smack-dab on to pull it off.”
Speaking of which, Stephen Stills’ voice hasn’t aged as well as those of Crosby and Nash.
“He can actually do pretty well,” Crosby observed. “Most nights he manages to step to the mark. Graham and I, I have no explanation for it; we are still able to harmonize pretty well. Of course, that’s a joy.”
A two-time Rock and Roll Hall of Famer (the Byrds, CSN), Crosby thinks CSN, which started in 1969, has gotten better over the years because he and Stills “aren’t butting heads the way we used to. We’ve gotten a lot closer and a lot more supportive of each other. Maybe it’s just getting smarter with age. I like being his friend.”
In 2010, CSN started recording an album of cover songs of the Beatles, James Taylor and others with uber-producer Rick Rubin, known for his work with everyone from the Beastie Boys and Red Hot Chili Peppers to Johnny Cash and Neil Diamond.
“The chemistry just wasn’t there with Rick,” Crosby admitted. “He’s a good producer, and he’s not a bad guy. We produced all the other records ourselves; we kind of already know what to do. But that record could be revived. We have at least five songs in the can.”
However, don’t expect a resumption of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. Crosby burned a bridge with Neil Young in an interview last year when he said something derogatory about Daryl Hannah, Young’s new romantic interest after leaving his wife of 30-some years. Young blasted back in an interview with Howard Stern, saying he loved Crosby like a brother but couldn’t work with him.
“I shot my mouth off and I shouldn’t have,” Crosby said bluntly. “And Neil is pissed about it, and I don’t blame him. I don’t think he had any intention of doing CSNY, though. ‘Cause when we put out the 1974 boxed set (in July 2014) he didn’t say a word about it. If he’d had any intention about doing CSNY — girlfriend or no girlfriend — he would have said something because he’s not stupid. He would have tried to help that thing. I have no beef with the guy at all. I think he’s one of the most interesting people in the music business, and I like him.”
Of course, that rift won’t stop Crosby from singing at Young’s 28th annual benefit for the Bridge School, which Neil and his ex, Pegi Young, founded to help children with severe physical impairments and complex communication needs.
As the famous CSN song says: Teach your children.
Or as Crosby says: “Children are great teachers. They do teach you a whole lot.”