Freak, asshole and eternal icon

“To be creative you have to be antisocial and strict. Not necessarily violent and ugly, just unfriendly and distracted.” Bob Dylan told me Last month. “You are self-sufficient and stay focused.”

That was David Crosby, who died Thursday at the age of 81 after a lifetime searching not for fame and fortune but for that elusive creative spark Dylan spoke of.

After his death, Crosby is remembered for many things – legend, iconoclast, boomer icon, curmudgeon, and even asshole – all underscoring the very path in life he has chosen: that of a true creator and collaborator, rather than some merely mortal. freak flags, like a writer put it, fly at half mast. It’s all fitting and beautiful (even the asshole part) and would no doubt get the typically effervescent Crosby that high cackle laugh that was so unique to him.

I first met Crosby after a show by Crosby, Stills & Nash, the group he co-founded, which occasionally included Neil Young, more than 30 years ago. The show, to put it bluntly, was less than outstanding. But Crosby had already lived several lives by this point – creative, safe, but also wild, hedonistic and often seemingly cursed. He’d topped the charts with The Byrds and CSNY, played Woodstock and toured stadiums at a time when that was unprecedented. But he had also more than once been the reason why his groups crashed and burned, to bury a soul mate, overdosed countless times and done hard time in prisonwho, for better or for worse, created the template for what would come later in rock ‘n’ roll.

But I really got to know Crosby when I interviewed him about the then-newcomer about a decade ago box set Chronicling CSNY’s 1974 Mega Tour. When he greeted me at the door of his hotel room, he looked me up and down, squinted, then smiled and said, “You’re not a reporter. You’re one of us, man!”

I explained that I was indeed a musician, but with the days that I could do that, and that alone, it was long gone that I had turned to writing about what I loved.

“Tell me about it, man,” he exclaimed, clearly annoyed at the idea of ​​not being able to make a living from music. “These are dark times.”

He invited me over before rushing to his laptop to break up his latest Twitter scuffle — something he loved almost as much as making music. I was promised 20 minutes with Crosby, but over three hours later, when he was already late for the sound check for his show at New York’s Beacon Theater that night, we were still in. We had extensively discussed his seminal albums with The Byrds. (His favorite was the 1967 one Younger than yesterday. “That was when we were growing up,” he said.) We also talked about his 1988 memoir, Long time passed, his addiction struggles, his rocky relationships with his various bandmates and, much to his delight, the new music he was making, of which he played rough mixes from his laptop. But as the clock ticked, I started packing.

“Hey man, are you coming to the show tonight?” he asked as I walked to the door. Then he caught himself.

“You know, you hardly ever asked about CSNY,” he said.

I told him I wasn’t a real fan; that I grew up listening to punk and old-school soul, and that while I loved some of the music, I also saw the group as a precursor to a darker side of the music industry, one that’s rooted in the “profits over arts” sensibility of The Eagles.

He blinked hard at me. For a second I thought Crosby might attack me; his reputation as a hot-headed man naturally preceded him. But then he let out a long, loud laugh.

“I see, man,” he said with a big smile on his face. “Let’s continue this soon. I think we have more to talk about.”

I knew I’d found a friend and I wasn’t wrong. I interviewed Crosby several times over the next ten years. He was boisterous and willful, sure, but he never played it; never played the game of a rock star promoting his latest project. He always said whatever was on his mind — like Trump was a buffoon, Kanye was one pretenderJim Morrison “just sucks” – but in a way that was so direct and refreshing that even as we disagreed and fought it out, I found Crosby utterly endearing and utterly engaging.

This was all during a career renaissance for him. Never known as a songwriter, Crosby released a string of new albums that were among the highlights of his Byrds and CSNY days while his peers spun endless victory laps. Actually 2021 For freeCrosby’s latest studio album, as well as the live album and concert film featuring his Lighthouse Band, Live at the Capitol Theaterfrom last year, continued a hot phase that started with Croz in 2014 and on through lighthouse (2016), Sky Trails (2017) and Here if you listen (2018). Crosby’s recent work sounded perhaps more like his beloved Steely Dan than CSNY, offering songs that were more varied, shriveled and elegant than even his best-known work. What’s more, he seemed to be having a better time than ever in a career that can only be described as genre-defining and tumultuous.

“He was boisterous and willful, sure, but he never played it; never played the game of a rock star promoting his latest project. He always said what was on his mind – how Trump was a buffoon, Kanye a hypocrite, Jim Morrison “just sucked”.”

He has been buoyed by the reception of his recent recordings, as his solo work has often been rejected (with the possible exception of the 1971s If only I could remember my name, which has long been a favorite of indie and Americana artists). Crosby was a bit uncharacteristically humble, attributing it to the skill that he felt really shaped his career: his ability to collaborate.

“It’s something I have an ability for,” he explained when we spoke in 2021. “I have a spotter for that. I can see a chemistry when it happens. I know when chemistry is underway. I have an antenna that receives just that, really big. And when I get a chance to do it with someone who can, I appreciate it, work on it, try to befriend them, and try to be available in any way to help make it happen with them . Because it’s like two painters: if you have seven colors on your palette and then you team up with someone who has seven other colors, you have 14 colors. It will be a better painting. The person will always think of something you didn’t do. And so there’s more depth, more diversification, more ideas, more construction, more of everything.”

After that first encounter, Crosby and I remained unofficially connected. We wrote and chatted about everything from his love for Joni Mitchell to political injustices to the latest music industry rumours. He often lamented the fact that he could not foresee a creative reconciliation with his “musical brothers” Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman of The Byrds, whom he loved dearly.

“I don’t think there’ll ever be a close, man,” he told me in 2021, visibly heartbroken at the thought. “I’ve repeatedly asked these guys to sing with me and they always turned me down. I probably asked her 10 times. And they always said no.”

Less disturbing were his irreconcilable differences with Neil Young, Stephen Stills and especially Graham Nash, which had recently come to the fore in the press.

“It has evaporated,” he said in 2017, clear. “I mean, what was the last CSN record you thought was great? But if Neil comes along and says, ‘$10 million a man, I need two months.’ Fine. I can pay off my house. I will do it. I am an adult I understand what’s going on. But there is just no joy.”

Despite this, in our many conversations he expressed nothing but respect for Young and never missed an opportunity to rave about Stills’ musicianship and his ability to make great records. However, he didn’t have time for Nash. The man who had outwardly stood by Crosby through his darkest days was hardly worth mentioning.

“That’s because he’s from a different place, man,” Crosby said, bitterness in his rising voice. “He was in a pop band, so that’s really his orientation: to be a successful, important world pop star. I love this guy, but things went wrong with his book. It was a remarkably dishonest book. He turned out to be amazing looking, but whenever he needed…something wild to move the story along, he used my stories. It wasn’t cool. It just wasn’t right; and all that stuff is already known anyway. But he did it from a different angle, where he added everything to make him look great and make me look bad.”

But that was Crosby again. He felt he had been treated unfairly, he had the receipts and he wasn’t going to just let it go or say nothing. Whether officially or privately, he never missed an opportunity to rail against injustice. From Nash to Spotify’s “greedy bastards” to his ubiquitous punching bag Trump, I always knew where Croz – as everyone who even knew him a little bit called him – stood.

““I know I’m at the end of my life,” he told me in 2021. “This is where the rubber meets the road. How do you spend this time? You spend it waiting for death? no You spend it making as much art as possible because that’s your performance and that’s the only contribution you can make to the world. And the damn world needs it.’”

“I know I’m at the end of my life,” he told me in 2021. “So you look at it and you don’t know if you have two weeks or ten years. You really don’t. But you know that what you do with the time matters. That’s where the rubber meets the road. How do you spend this time? You spend it waiting for death? no You spend it making as much art as possible because that’s your performance and that’s the only contribution you can make to the world. And the damn world needs it. It’s a gloomy damn place. It needs a lift, and music is a lift, man. It makes things better. So I want to spend the time I have making things better. I want to spend it making good art that will outlast me.”

And he did.

“Crosby was a colorful and unpredictable character, wore a Mandrake the Magician cloak, didn’t get along with too many people, and had a beautiful voice—an architect of harmony,” Dylan wrote of Crosby in his 2004 book Chronicles: Volume One. “He could freak out a whole block all by himself. I liked him very much.”

I did too. Rest, David. Fly up. Freak, asshole and eternal icon

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