FACES : CROSBY SINGING THOSE OLD JAIL BLUES AGAIN
Being in jail isn’t easy, observed singer-songwriter David Crosby, who recently served a short stretch. But, he added, it’s even worse if you’re a rock star.
Mimicking a drawling jailer, he said: “The guy would say, ‘Hey there, rock star, mop that floor!’ I’d say, ‘Yes sir.’
“I don’t look at myself as a rock star, but they did. You have a name and they have power and control over you for a while. They love that. To them, it’s better than having control over an average prisoner. It makes them feel powerful. It makes them feel like big men. I wouldn’t give them any problems. That’s suicide. That’s what they want you to do. They try to bait you into reacting so they can stomp you.”
Earlier this year, Crosby served three months in various jails for escaping from a New Jersey drug rehabilitation center. Before that, he was convicted in Dallas of possession of cocaine and illegally carrying a loaded gun. That decision was overturned on a appeal, but the case still isn’t closed.
“I’m out on an appeal bond,” he explained. “If the high court of Texas decides against me, I’ll have to do two years in the state pen.”
There’s more. In 1982, he got three years’ probation and a $200 fine for disturbing the peace in Culver City. Two women accused him of striking them during an argument. “I don’t hit women,” he said. “I was innocent, but a lot of good that did me.” He was also arrested in March, 1982, in Costa Mesa for drugs and weapons charges and last October in Marin County on similar charges.
Why has Crosby been in so many scrapes with the law?
“I don’t know,” he replied. “Sometimes I’ve just been in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Though discussing an emotionally charged topic, Crosby was surprisingly impassive. Indifference didn’t seem to be the problem. It was as if he’d already been so drained by all his traumas that he couldn’t muster any more anxiety.
Crosby was sitting on the edge of a couch in the cocktail lounge of his West Hollywood hotel, sipping a soft drink through a straw. With his ankles crossed and head erect, the small, pudgy singer looked like a hip, scruffy Buddha. He definitely didn’t look like the incorrigible, drugged-out thug many assume he is.
“I’m a harmless, fairly intelligent guy,” insisted Crosby, in town from his Mill Valley (Marin County) home for concert rehearsals. His group--Crosby, Stills and Nash--is starting a tour that includes a Tuesday concert at the Pacific Amphitheatre and Wednesday and Thursday shows at the Greek Theatre.
“I don’t lie, cheat or steal,” he continued. “I’m not a criminal. I’m not violent. I’m a gentle person. I respect my fellow man. I’ve never done anything bad to anybody. When you’ve been busted for drugs or you’ve been in jail some people think you’re a mad dog, a wild man, or some kind of menace to society.
“Don’t get me wrong. I haven’t been a saint. I know what I’ve done. I’m not going to lie about it. I’ve done some wrong things. I’ve screwed up some things in my life. I’m human, I’m imperfect, as imperfect as they come.”
Jail would have been much less traumatic for Crosby if he had been able to write music. But it was always against the rules. In one jail, a sympathetic guard helped him break those rules.
Crosby recalled: “One of the guards smuggled in a guitar for me and let me play it in a storeroom late at night, about 3 in the morning. But somebody snitched on us. He got suspended for about 10 days without pay and I was put in solitary. All because I was playing music.”
Writing without conventional tools like a guitar and a tape recorder wasn’t really possible. “I tried making songs up in my head but that didn’t work,” he said. “Another problem was I was so depressed that the songs were coming out depressed. I didn’t want to write that kind of stuff.”
In that rehabilitation center, writing music was also forbidden. “They said it would take my mind off the treatment,” Crosby said. “That’s stupid. I wanted to form a band with some people there but they wouldn’t let me. (Graham) Nash sent me a synthesizer and a tape recorder so I could make tapes. They sent them back without ever letting me see them.”
His frustration mounted. It got so bad he finally escaped. The next day, he was caught and jailed in New York.
Not being able to write was good for Crosby in one sense. It made him realize how much he values composing. “It’s a tonic for me,” he said. “It’s the best thing in my life. Music gets me higher and makes me feel better than drugs ever will. If I had a choice, all drugs and no music forever or all music and no drugs forever, I’d chose music. If they had really wanted to help me in those places, they’d let me play and write music.
“In my darkest hours in jail, thinking about playing music again helped me hang on. There were times when I’d just cry at night. I didn’t know when I was getting out. But I’d hang on thinking about when I’d be free to play music again.”
How has being in jail changed Crosby?
“It has changed who I am and how I write,” he replied. “I’m a tougher guy but I haven’t lost my sensitivity. I’m not hard as nails or bitter. I’m too smart to fall into that trap.”
The son of noted cinematographer Floyd Crosby, who shot “High Noon,” Crosby was born in Los Angeles nearly 44 years ago. After working as a solo performer, he came to prominence during a notable mid-'60s stint with the Byrds, a group known for its high-pitched harmonies and for pioneering both folk-rock and country-rock. A few years later, Crosby became a star working with Crosby, Stills and Nash, formed in 1969.
Though known for soft-rock songs like “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,” “Just a Song Before I Go” and “Marrakesh Express,” the group is also known for its reunions and internal squabbles.
When CSN decides to record and tour, those occasions, Crosby insisted, are improperly labeled reunions: “The media always says that and it’s wrong. When we first got together, the idea was to work together only at special times when we all felt it was right. We weren’t going to be together all the time. We weren’t going to crank out an album once a year. The rest of the time, we would do what we wanted.”
Regarding the notorious love-hate relationship between the three musicians, Crosby said: “I have nothing bad to say about those guys. Whatever problems we’ve had, they’ve been loyal to me when it really counted, through all my trials and tribulations. If they hadn’t been patient, things would have been much, much harder for me.”
The group has only recorded three studio albums in 16 years. According to Crosby, another is in the works, the first complete album of new CSN material since “Daylight Again” in 1982.
Between CSN projects, Crosby was most active in the early ‘70s, when he recorded and toured with Nash and made his only solo album, the memorable “If I Could Only Remember My Name.” In recent years, he’s been less active, though last year he did a solo tour that included a Country Club engagement.
Why has it been 14 years between solo albums? “I did one for Capitol Records years ago, but they didn’t like it so it never came out,” he replied. “But I plan to do another one. I have some songs recorded. If I can get jail and court problems out of my life long enough, I might be able to get some creative work done.”
Crosby, who seemed to covet what many regard as his negative traits, described himself as an outrageous, eccentric loner.
“I’ve always been dealt with as a strange, weird character,” he said. “I’m outrageous. I’m outspoken, I’m opinionated. I’m not the kind of guy many people will like. I offend too many people. I’m not complaining. This isn’t a sob story. I’m just telling you the way I am.
“I don’t hang out with a lot of people. I like bright, sensitive people who aren’t into prejudging me. I have very few friends. I should say I have few real friends. Very few people have earned my respect.”
Crosby did no repenting. He didn’t swear he would never take drugs again. Nor did he swear that he’d be a model citizen and avoid trouble forever.
“I’m not preaching to anybody,” he said. “I’m not going to make a lot of promises. The only promise I can make is that I’ll be a decent human being. That’s what I’ve always been--in spite of what everybody else thinks.”