The New, Improved David Crosby : Now That He’s Clean, He Tries to Restore His Credibility
Three years ago, Neil Young wrote an epitaph for his friend David Crosby. The song was “Hippie Dream.” And the pointed final verse went:
Another flower child goes to seed
In an ether-filled room of meat-hooks
It’s so ugly
But David Crosby escaped from his ether-filled room before Young’s doom-laden song could become a true epitaph.
Today, things are still being written about Crosby--but instead of his friends writing sad songs about how the singer/songwriter wasted his life by sinking into the morass of drug addiction, Crosby himself is doing the writing. And the story seems to be pointed at a happy ending.
Crosby’s autobiography, the just-published “Long Time Gone,” details his descent into heroin and cocaine addiction, the drug and gun convictions and parole violations that landed him in a Texas prison, and his unexpected recovery.
New Crosby songs like “Compass” tell the same story more indirectly. After years when he was unable to finish any songs, Crosby has written enough new tunes for both a new Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young album (due next month) and a solo LP scheduled for early 1989.
His slow, startling recovery has been public knowledge since he left prison more than two years ago. In that period, Crosby has done low-key solo tours and occasionally appeared with Graham Nash and Stephen Stills. He’s now ready to assume a much higher profile. The new David Crosby, it seems, has proven himself and re-established his credibility with his friends; now he’s got to do the same thing with the public.
“We all figured he was the one that was gonna end up gone,” says David Anderle, a 20-year friend of Crosby’s who signed the singer to his new solo deal with A&M; Records. “He was the easy bet to be the next casualty. But there’s something that burns inside that guy--the light wouldn’t go out, and what we see now is absolutely the new David Crosby.”
Before the new Crosby fully establishes himself, the idea is to remind fans of the old Crosby. The game plan starts with the book, which, in addition to the story of his addiction, includes plenty of tales of his musical, emotional and sexual escapades during his days in the Byrds and the various incarnations of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. Then there’s the new CSNY album. And finally, the Crosby solo record.
“As we all know, David has never suffered from being unable to generate publicity,” says Anderle with a laugh. “He’s a master at that, always has been. And the idea now is to let the CSNY album and the book make people remember him.
“And maybe something will start to roll and tumble during the Christmas season with the book and the album. And then the first of the year comes, there’s new energy, everybody’s feeling refreshed, radio is ready to get back to business, and here’s a new David Crosby album that’s just full of new energy and freshness and hope and spirit and all of that stuff.”
Adds Bill Siddons, Crosby’s manager for the past three years, “I think he is closing the door on the bad part of his life, fully and completely.”
And what does the manager see for the new David Crosby? “For me, I hope that what we lined up pans out the way it’s supposed to. I hope his record is received with the kind of open arms I think it will be, and (I hope) his book is, and he’ll do a solo tour, and by next summer, David Crosby will be seen as a new man, and he’ll have done a lot of work toward cleaning up the mess that he’s left behind.”
It’s mid-afternoon and the shadows are lengthening in Encino. David Crosby’s house is dark and sparsely furnished. There’s nothing in his dimly lit living room except a piano and a few large pieces of furniture. The bookshelves are completely bare; the only book in sight is a copy of “Long Time Gone” sitting by itself on a coffee table.
This shadowy, curiously empty house reminds you of the stories about a bloated, sickly Crosby retreating from his friends and colleagues and huddling in a dark house when he was under the grip of a ferocious addiction to heroin and cocaine.
It’s unsettling until Crosby walks into the room. He’s overweight, certainly, but he’s also hale and good-humored as he explains that he’s in the midst of moving, and chuckles about how it must seem to an outsider.
“Look at this,” he says with a hearty laugh. “Nothing in the house: ‘He must have sold it all to buy drugs!’ No books on the shelves except his own book: ‘What a huge ego!’ Man, the press could have a field day with this house.”
He laughs again, because he knows that for once those stories would be false. Once a zealous hedonist devoted to excesses of every kind, the burly, perpetually grinning Crosby is today a zealot of a different kind: a relentless campaigner against the drugs with which he and his wife Jan nearly destroyed themselves.
For years, his friends have talked about the prodigious energy Crosby brings to his passions; the difference is that now, those passions are devoted to his career rather than his freebase pipe.
“What’s in everybody’s mind,” he says, sitting on a couch by the window while a couple of cats wander through the room, “is that if the CSNY record and the book do well, then my solo album will have the doors opened for it to do, hopefully, some of what (Neil Young’s breakthrough solo album) ‘After the Gold Rush’ did, coming in after (CSNY’s) ‘Deja Vu.’
“I’m certainly not trying to say that it’s as good an album as ‘After the Gold Rush’ is, but I think it’s a very good album.” He laughs. “ ‘I think it’s a great record,’ he said modestly.”
Ask Crosby what he’d like to be doing in five years and he doesn’t hesitate. “If I can still be working five years from now, I will be an immensely satisfied and happy man. And I fully intend to be. I would like to do more solo work, more writing . . . more solo stuff.”
How would he have answered the same question five years ago?
Again, he answers without hesitation. “I would have said, ‘I wanna be on an island where the police can’t reach me, with 200 kilos of cocaine and 50 pounds of heroin and a lotta guns and no one around to share it with.’ And that would have been the entire sum of my ambitions.”
“This is how I remember my life,” begins the introduction to “Long Time Gone.” “Other folks may not have the same memories. . . .”
Those other folks also have their say in the book, which is partly an autobiography in Crosby’s voice, partly a third-person narrative from co-author Carl Gottlieb and partly a collection of interviews with Crosby’s friends, colleagues and even an enemy or two. The idea, says Crosby--who hates all the celebrity-addict memoirs he’s read, with the exception of Carrie Fisher’s fictionalized “Postcards From the Edge"--was to tell the story more fully and accurately than a single voice could do.
The story itself, he hopes, “is startling enough, and extreme enough to hold you without having to go with any cheap shots.” And certainly, the book is about extremes. From his early days in the Byrds, Crosby was an obstinate, opinionated man who enthralled some people with the mystical bent in his music but who offended many as he relentlessly pursued a life style of excess: lots of drugs, lots of girlfriends (often two or three at a time), lots of everything.
In the Byrds and in his early years with CS&N; and CSNY, Crosby seemed unaffected. The excesses didn’t seem to be taking their toll. But by the mid-1970s, things took a turn for the worse and Crosby’s appetites began to control him.
“The drugs were there right from the beginning,” remembers Anderle. “And after the mid-Crosby, Stills & Nash period, I started seeing it get very bad.”
This long, slow descent is the focus of the last half of “Long Time Gone,” which paints an unrelentingly bleak picture of a man who wound up covered with sores, hiding from the world, carrying guns everywhere he went and oblivious to his work, his health--anything but his addiction.
“Your mind has so many levels,” says Crosby, “and not all of them are articulate. But they all get a vote in your behavior. And addiction is like a fire taking over a tall building: one floor after another goes at various places, and all of a sudden you can’t open your elevator door on that floor, ‘cause the floor is on fire.”
The only way he could have stopped, he says, was by force. “I went to the hospital six different times, and every time I left. I had gotten to the point where I had to be physically, forcibly separated from my stash . . . for at least six months. Neil (Young) offered me a place on his ranch, and some friends of mine in the Hell’s Angels wanted to lock me in a cabin in the mountains. . . .”
Crosby first thought about writing a book when he was in prison in Texas in 1986, serving time on drugs and weapons convictions that were later overturned by the Texas Supreme Court.
And when he came out of prison that summer, straight for the first time in decades, publishers were clearly interested. But, he says, he wanted to wait “until I’d stayed straight for at least a year. Because the only way I could tell the story is if I had the right ending on it. The story’s not worth telling unless I win.”