David Crosby’s cliff dive

At 75, David Crosby is freer than ever and just as opinionated

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David Crosby has produced three solo albums in three years. He's currently taking his latest, Sky Trials, on the road.
Henry Diltz

David Crosby loves science fiction novels. Yes, that David Crosby. The mustachioed troubadour; the man who almost cut his hair; the shadow captain himself; the bard who took the head of the bill in Crosby, Stills, Nash and (sometimes) Young — but only because it rolls off the tongue best in that order (at least that’s how he explains it).

That David Crosby really loves sci-fi novels.

He’s loved them since he was a child. Loves Robert Heinlein, the oft-called “dean of science fiction novels.” Loves Heinlein so much that he managed to wind up as a bit character in a Heinlein novel in 2006.

Since Heinlein died in 1988, there’s some nuance to that story.

You see, Crosby’s friends with Spider Robinson, himself an acclaimed sci-fi writer. In the early-to-mid aughts, Robinson took seven pages of an outline Heinlein penned in 1955 and shaped it into a novel. The result is Variable Star, a story about a young musician who joins the crew of a starship as a way of escaping from a failed romance.

With his storied career in rock ‘n’ roll, his well-known love of sailing and the death of his longtime girlfriend Christine Hinton is 1969, Variable Star could be a sci-fi recast of Crosby’s real life.

But it’s not.

Crosby helped Robinson work out a tune for some lyrics in the first chapter of the novel, and, as a nod to his friend, Robinson gave Crosby a cameo (using his middle name as his surname):

“Second Officer David van Cortlandt, tall and portly, with a flowing white walrus mustache, a receding mane of white hair, and extremely well-developed smile wrinkles — which he too was exercising.”

So it’s no surprise when Crosby brings up sci-fi first thing.

He’s in Portland when he calls to chat. It’s 11 a.m. there and Crosby, in true rockstar form, responds, “I’m awake” when asked how he’s doing. In anti-rockstar form, he laughs heartily.

He’s two weeks into his David Crosby and Friends tour in support of his upcoming album Sky Trails, his third solo work in as many years. Before 2014’s Croz, it had been more than 20 years since Crosby had released a solo record of totally new material, 1993’s Thousand Roads.

“Oh, man, you do wanna see this place,” he says of Portland, taking on the tone of an old friend just calling to catch up on life. “Portland has the best bookstore in the United States of America.”

He’s talking about Powell’s City of Books, the largest independent bookstore in the States. Indeed, it’s the book lover’s Arcadia.

He’s just finished the latest Carl Hiaasen book, Razor Girl, and he’s about to crack into another sci-fi novel.

He reads for pleasure, but escapism isn’t what Crosby seeks in sci-fi.

“There’s no limit to what can happen. Anything can happen. I love that; it’s just unlimited possibility.”

The man who played in a band with Neil Young, partied with Mama Cass, jammed with Garcia, Hart and Lesh, and fathered Melissa Etheridge’s twins is a total nerd.

But the conversation turns, as it inevitably must with a man known for his political activism, toward the kind of sci-fi world we now inhabit with a misogynistic, abusive reality television star sitting in the Oval Office.

Crosby’s never been one to mince words about anything (i.e., his strong and vocal displeasure at friend Neil Young’s relationship with actress Daryl Hannah, whom Crosby called a “purely poisonous predator” circa 2014, a move that at least partially contributed to the seemingly irreparable break between Crosby and Graham Nash — but more on that later).   

In a time of drone strikes, populist movements, Muslim bans, police brutality, Richard Spencer and not-so-secret Russian connections, Crosby’s sure as hell not planning to clam up now.

May 4 marks the 47th anniversary of the Kent State shootings that birthed one of CSN’s (Crosby, Stills and Nash, for those of you unacquainted) most cherished and pointed songs, “Ohio.”  When Crosby looks back on the past, it seems times haven’t changed much at all.

“I think you’re seeing people acting in ways that remind you of how [former Ohio Governor Jim Rhodes] acted [in 1970]… that wound up with the four kids getting killed. Very bad, reactionary stuff and really putting complete untruths out there,” Crosby says. “They were saying that these [students] were all Commie agitators and outside infiltrators that were rousing our students and they fed them a line of bullshit and then put bullets in the gun. It was terrible. When a country starts killing it’s own children, you’re in deep trouble.”

Michael Brown. Trayvon Martin. Tamir Rice. Tony Robinson. All unarmed black men under the age of 20 shot by law enforcement officers in 2014 and 2015.

Looks like we’re still in deep trouble. And getting deeper.

“As incredible as it sounds, Nixon was actually better than this guy,” Crosby says of Trump, a man to whom he liberally applies the term idiot.

“This is a guy who has never made love in his life. He’s only been served. That’s the only thing that’s happened. You know it. And he’s an idiot. That’s what we’re all worried about. He’s an imbecile. He’s making terrible mistakes every day.”

Crosby’s current musical prolificacy is at least in part due to his concern about the trajectory of the U.S. and the world. And he doesn’t save his condemnation for conservative politicians.

In 2014, Crosby released Croz, the first solo album in his recent flood of material. While Croz weaves the kind of eloquent tales of love lost, love unrequited, love celebrated and love eternal for which Crosby is known, it doesn’t ignore a world that often seems bereft of love. “Morning Falling” takes a shot at Barack Obama via the somber narrative of an Afghani family killed by a drone strike.

In 2016’s Lighthouse — a return to Crosby’s acoustic roots — he touches on the global refugee crisis in “Look in Their Eyes,” inspired by a friend who provides aid to refugees in Greece.

“So she told me what it was like pulling dead children out of the surf and I see how [refugees] turn into this political football once they get there,” Crosby says. “What the politicians are doing in Europe and elsewhere, how they were used in Brexit, how they’ve been so violently treated by people all over… They’re human beings. I don’t care what religion they are or what they look like. They are human beings and they deserve not to have their children drown in the surf.”

Crosby’s never shied away from taking politics to the stage because, as he’s been known to say, contemporary musicians are the descendants of the “troubadours and town criers” of the middle ages.

“It isn’t the main thrust of our job. The main part of our job is to make you boogie and to take you on little emotional voyages and make you happy. But part of our job — only part — is to notice when something’s really not OK. When a country starts killing its own children it’s pretty bad. At that point we should speak up and say, ‘Hey, it’s 12 o’clock and all is well’ or, ‘Hey, it’s 12 o’clock and you’ve just elected an imbecile to run our country.’ You can’t do it all the time because then you’re preaching. And it’s much better to set an example than to preach.”

For as fired up as Crosby is (and always has been), he says he’s happier than ever. There have been some hard times (he recently sold Mayan, his beloved 1947 Alden centerboard schooner that he’d owned for 45 years — it was the “deep muse” that inspired songs like “Wooden Ships” and “Shadow Captain” — because money was tight), but he never ignores the absolute wonder that is his life.

He gets to work with his son, James Raymond, both in the studio and on tour — a real gift as Raymond was placed for adoption at birth and only reunited with Crosby as an adult. Crosby says their reunion was never angry, never accusatory.

Raymond — an accomplished producer and musician before even knowing David Crosby was his father — has said that he’s just riding on his father’s coattails, a notion at which Crosby scoffs.

“No, I don’t think so. I think he’s picked up my coattails and he’s dragging me along by them.”

Crosby’s got another — yes, another — album of fresh material already in the pipeline.

And as for the question everyone asks: No, he hasn’t spoken to Graham Nash. CSN is out of the question, but Crosby would be open to CSNY because “Neil always pushes the envelope.”

But at 75, it seems Crosby is freer on his own. Sure, leaving CSN was “like diving off a cliff” and making his solo albums was “like growing wings half way down the cliff,” but he’s happy. No more “turning on the smoke machine and playing the hits.”

“Well, I believe it’s gonna be alright,” he says. “I don’t believe I’m gonna make money, but that’s not why I came to the party in the first place.”

Party on, Croz.

On the Bill: David Crosby & Friends. 7 p.m. Sunday, May 7, Boulder Theater, 203214th St., 303-786-7030. SOLD OUT.

  • Malcolm Keks

    what a fucking dick.
    never liked him, never will.
    Least talented CSNY’er by far.
    More than washed up….and why in the world would you want his drug infested sperm?