David Crosby Talks Death, Drugs, Joni Mitchell Dumping Him, and Why He’s Not Worried About a Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young Reunion

Legendary singer-songwriter returns to the Stern Show ahead of his July solo album “For Free”

June 22, 2021

There’s still plenty that David Crosby wants to do in his life, but that’s not to say death isn’t on his mind. The 79-year-old singer, songwriter, and rock ‘n’ roll legend returned to the Stern Show Tuesday morning ahead of the release of his upcoming solo album, “For Free,” featuring collaborations with Doobie Brothers icon Michael McDonald, Steely Dan frontman Donald Fagen, and bluegrass prodigy Sarah Jarosz. As proud as Crosby was of the all-star team-ups, his favorite song on the record was actually “I Won’t Stay for Long,” a haunting tune he and his biological son James Raymond wrote about coming to terms with mortality.

“I am at the end of my life, Howard, and it’s a very strange thing,” David said. “Here’s what I’ve come to about it: it’s not how much time you’ve got because we really don’t know—I could have two weeks; I could have ten years—it’s what you do with the time that you do have.”

“Each day that I get, I’m very grateful for, and I try to [spend them] making music because I think the world needs music,” he continued. “I think music is a lifting force … and I think the human race needs a lift.”

Howard marveled at Crosby’s still-impeccable voice on “I Won’t Stay for Long” but was troubled by the thought of someone he so admired nearing the end.

David told him not to stress. “People get old and die, and that’s how it works, and I’m gonna,” he said. “But in the meantime, I’m going to have myself a bunch fun … I’m going to make some more music.”

Crosby revealed he still had two more albums planned, despite the fact tendonitis started taking its toll on his hands. “I am losing my ability to play guitar,” he lamented, predicting he’d need to give it up entirely in another year or so. “That’s kind of tough.”

Hard Drugs, Bad Mattresses, and Drew Barrymore

David was forthcoming about his struggles with addiction, which he felt led to the dissolution of Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, and past run-ins with the law. He told Howard he quit using hard drugs in the mid-1980s while serving time in a Texas state prison. Incarceration was “awful”—he toiled away in a mattress factory and befriend some “big, nasty boys” to stay safe—but it put him on the straight and narrow.

“Mostly in there you’re just trying to survive, and I was pretty good in that,” David recalled, explaining he even wrote the popular CSNY song “Compass” while on the inside.

After battling back his drug addiction, Crosby was eventually able to mentor a young Drew Barrymore, who was emancipated from her parents at 14 and struggled with substances herself. The two met in the recovery program and she eventually lived with David for a few months while getting back on her feet.

“[My wife and I] talked about it and said, ‘She can stay with us for a while. She’s a nice kid and we like her,’” he recalled. “We took her to school in the morning and tried to be a good influence.”

“I think we were kind and loving, and it felt good to do,” Crosby continued. “You try to do stuff and you’re not sure how it will work out, but I think that one worked out. I think she became a responsible human being and is a nice person.”

“Are there rules when David Crosby steps in and becomes your father or is it kind of like … anything goes?” Howard wondered.

“This is not ‘party me’ back when I was doing all the dope. This is me in recovery, going to bed at 10 o’clock and behaving myself,” David said. “I was actually really a pretty good choice back then. I was really concerned with sobriety and really living it very completely.”

“Not like now,” he added, explaining he resumed smoking pot some years later once the hard drugs stopped “snapping at [his] heels.”

Discovering, DATING, and GETTING DUMPED BY Joni Mitchell

Crosby gave the incomparable Joni Mitchell a different kind of help in 1967 when he discovered her playing a small club in South Florida. He brought her back with him to Los Angeles, they started dating, and she soon became quite famous.

“In all fairness, Joni was so talented that I think it would have happened anyway,” David assured Howard.

“She is arguably the best singer-songwriter of our times. I think she’s as good a poet as Bob [Dylan] and 10 times the musician-singer than he is,” he continued. “I don’t get along with her that well anymore, but I do love her with my whole heart for what she gave us.”

Howard wondered if David thought it was hard being in a relationship with someone so supremely talented.

“Do I think it’s hard?” David responded. “Listen, imagine if you wrote a song—a really good song—and you sang it to her when she came home, and then she sang you three better songs she wrote last night.”

Music flowed from Joni so freely, she even wrote David a breakup song (“That Song About the Midway”) and debuted it in front of him and their friends at the home of Monkees star Peter Tork.

“She said ‘I’ve got a new song,’” Crosby recalled. “She sits down to sing it and it was plainly a goodbye to me—and then she sang it again.”

“Why twice?” Howard asked.

“In case you didn’t get it!” co-host Robin Quivers laughed.

“Everybody in the room was going ‘Ooh! God!’” he recalled. “It was hysterically funny.”

Regardless, David didn’t regret a minute of their relationship. “We worked it out, man, the best we could and I’m grateful for the time I spent with her. She taught me a lot, she’s an incredible artist, and that’s the truth,” he said.

Irving Azoff Makes an Offer He Can’t Refuse

Crosby spoke candidly about how little artists are compensated when their work is streamed digitally.

“The motivation is just art now,” he said of making his new album. “They stopped paying us. Streaming doesn’t pay us jack shit. That’s the truth.”

“It’s not fair, the level they’re doing it at. It’s making it impossible for young people to get going in this business,” he added. “It pisses me off. It’s very short-sighted, it’s very wrong, but there it is.”

The unlucrative revenue model coupled with an inability to tour during the COVID-19 pandemic put David in such dire financial straits he was at one point afraid of losing his home. Thankfully, music mogul Irving Azoff came to him with an offer to buy the publishing rights to his music catalogue.

“I sold my publishing to our pal Irving,” David told Howard. “He’s been my friend for a long time. He gave me a ton of money. I paid off the house. You should’ve seen my wife’s smile when I told her I paid off the house.”

“Emotionally it sucked—it wasn’t good at all—but it solved my problem and it made me able to take care of my family, and they really matter to me,” David concluded.

Ask Croz Anything

The pandemic paused his tour and his publishing rights are now in someone else’s very capable hands, but David is still hard at work on several projects. In addition to recording new music and apparently collaborating with Robert Zemeckis on an upcoming Crosby, Stills, and Nash documentary, David also has a video series with Rolling Stone called “Ask Croz” in which he answers questions about everything from mastering cunnilingus (“follow the legs, they’ll lead you right to it,” he told Howard) to why he prefers the Beatles over the Rolling Stones (“they did a lot of harmony stuff the Stones didn’t do”).

“It’s a curmudgeon’s dream,” David said of “Ask Croz.” “It’s really fun.”

“You even advised men who are impotent,” Howard said. “I think you’re a sage.”

“What you’re hearing is an 80-year-old man talking,” David explained. “It’s an absolutely terrible thing when your wiener no longer works, believe me, but you have to work it out and get used to the idea.”

“What about Viagra or Cialis?” Howard wondered.

“Not my thing,” he responded. “I had more than my share [of sex], man. I think we can agree on that.”

“That mustache must have some stories,” Howard joked.

“Many tales to tell,” David agreed with a laugh. “Keep that mustache quiet—‘Shut up, mustache!’”

Love the Band You’re With

The one job Howard really hoped his guest might return to was making music with Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young. The band hasn’t performed together since their 2015 fallout, but Howard was curious if time healed any of those wounds.

“Neil [Young has] a legitimate beef because I dissed his girlfriend. I get it. I apologized for it with you,” David told Howard. “[Graham] Nash kind of seems to think that I’m responsible for everything wrong since the Korean War.”

Thankfully, Crosby’s relationship with Stephen Stills has remained far friendlier. “I’ve got a lot of hero worship for Stills. He was the best guy in the band … and wrote all the hits,” David said. “Every time the guy touches a guitar, everything swings right away.”

“I have no beef with any of them, man. I hope they’re all okay,” he continued. “I am a little surprised that they’re not putting out music, but … whatever they’re doing, I hope they’re happy.”

“Have you reached out?” Howard asked.

David had not. “I’m busy,” he explained. “I’m in two bands and making music that I love. I don’t want to be involved in another psycho drama.”

“I’m not looking for them to absolve me of my idiocy,” he continued. “You gotta understand, man, I let all three of those guys down totally by becoming a junkie … and for that I’ve apologized a million times.”

Howard saw Crosby’s point but remained dismayed one of rock’s most influential acts might never reunite.

“The real significance in CSNY, or any great band, is the songs—and we did make beautiful songs,” David reminded him.

Still, Howard predicted the band’s final chapter hadn’t yet been written. “I believe you, Graham Nash, and Stephen Stills, will have a reunion, and you will perform again,” he told Crosby before offering to place a call to Nash and beg him to bury the hatchet.

David was all for it. “What harm could it possibly do?” he laughed. “I don’t think you’re gonna succeed, but I certainly think it’s a wonderful thing for you to do, man. It proves that you’re a good-hearted guy.”

David Crosby’s “For Free” arrives July 23.

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