Where do you start with David Crosby? Anyone preparing to interview the iconic musician from Crosby, Stills&Nash will encounter stories about Woodstock, Monterey and Altamont; drug excesses, arrests and revolving doors of rehab; sperm donations to lesbian singer Melissa Etheridge; a life-saving liver transplant; a long-lost son and, of course — let us not forget — the music.
It’s almost as if you need a footnote for any David Crosby story that says, “See ‘VH1: Behind the Music’ for the rest,” then you can get on with the topic of the day — like nuclear energy.
“It’s such a poor idea, man,” said Crosby, who will perform at Cal Poly on Monday with old band mate Graham Nash. “And I’ll give you three really good reasons: One is, human beings are screw-ups. That’s Three Mile Island and Chernobyl — those were human error. Two is, nature can kick your butt — that’s Japan. And three is, they still don’t have any place to put the nuclear waste.”
It’s no surprise that Crosby would delve into a political topic like nuclear energy. Crosby, Stills & Nash (sometimes joined by Neil Young) was politically charged from its conception as a super group in the late 1960s. And their songs, Crosby points out, remain topical, whether they were recorded a few years ago or a few decades ago.
“We’ve got one called ‘They Want It All’ that’s about politicians, who are, in general, a lower form of life,” he says, about a Crosby& Nash song from 2004. Then he refers to some of the CSN oldies. “We have ones that are anti-war — things like ‘Military Madness’ and ‘Long Time Gone.’ ”
There’s also a Crosby & Nash song called “Don’t Dig Here,” which they will perform Monday, about a fictional sign placed on top of the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste disposal site.
“Nuclear power is not green, not a good idea and should not be messed with,” said Crosby, who has lived in Santa Ynez, about 70 miles southeast of the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant, for the past 16 years.
Born the son of an Academy Award-winning cinematographer, Crosby
dropped out of drama school to pursue music. After a short stint as a solo performer, he went on to join two future Hall of Fame bands — The Byrds and CSN.
“I like singing harmony — always have,” he said. “I do enjoy working by myself — and I do it every once in a while — but it’s more fun to do it together.”
While he helped pioneer psychedelic rock with The Byrds, his relationship with that band grew strained as the end of the ’60s neared. While many stories have cited a couple of incidents — Crosby’s politically charged speech at the Monterey pop festival, and the band’s unwillingness to record his song “Triad” — as the catalyst, Crosby said the split resulted from a culmination of things.
“I think we just grew apart,” Crosby said. “I think we had different aims, and we were writing different kinds of stuff. And I don’t think we were getting along well.”
The split actually benefited Crosby, who went on to co-found CSN, which performed its second gig at Woodstock as acts like The Who, Jimi Hendrix, The Band and Jefferson Airplane, excitedly watched the highly-anticipated event backstage.
Despite The Byrds’ influence, Crosby thinks he’s had a greater impact on music through CSN — particularly when Young was with the group.
“It was just bigger,” he said. “The more people you reach, the more influence you have.”
While CSN became spokespersons for the era, Crosby’s tumultuous life rivaled that of the turbulent ’60s. After battling addictions for decades, his name became synonymous with rock ’n’ roll drug excess.
Yet, through it all, his band stuck with him and helped him by “staying my friends and by having faith in me that I would manage to somehow pull myself out of that nose dive,” he said. “That’s a particularly appropriate phrase. And I did (pull through). And they were all proud of me, and they’ve all been good friends.”
His relationship with Graham Nash has been especially strong, as evidenced by the numerous albums they’ve recorded as a duo since the ’70s.
“It’s sort of like a pair of fighter pilots, who’ve been flying together for a long time, who kind of know where the other guy’s wing is,” said Crosby, who recently re-released the 1970 Crosby & Nash live album “Another Stoney Evening.” “We can fly tighter than most people just because we’ve done it a great deal. And we’ve always had a very close relationship.”
In recent years, the band has been aided by Crosby’s son, a longtime musician who had been placed for adoption as an infant. Sixteen years ago, when Crosby was near death from liver disease, that son — James Raymond — connected with his father. Crosby eventually had a life-saving liver transplant, and the two quickly worked to make up for lost time.
“We are having a blast,” Crosby said. “We are writing together a lot, singing together a lot. He’s producing my solo album.”