David Crosby’s passing last month prompted a number of the usual post-mortem statements of praise for his music and talent. Stephen, Graham and Neil were very gracious with their words about David, in spite of the fact that he had managed to royally piss them off.
David had a reputation for being a difficult and divisive figure in the music industry, with many of his former bandmates having criticized his behavior and attitude over the years. The Byrd’s Roger McGuinn has criticized Crosby for being “insufferable,” suggesting that his ego and behavior caused tension within the band. Nash has also been critical of him, claiming that Crosby “treated me like shit” and “single-handedly tore the heart out of” the group’s music. Crosby’s relationship with Neil Young was also rocky. Young “had a legitimate beef” with Crosby because, according to Crosby, he had dissed Neil’s girlfriend, actress Daryl Hannah.
David once said “While I was an addict, I didn’t write anything, I didn’t have the attention span or the will”. That’s the David Crosby I knew. I worked with CS&N for 6 years and David was a complete and total mess at the time. I once told somebody that I knew my days as a PR man were numbered when David Crosby almost threw up on me. True story. And that was enough to leave an indelible impression on my consciousness. Yet I couldn’t help but feel sorry for the guy. He was so pathetic. It really broke my heart to witness this, as it did to everyone who came into contact with him. David, like all addicts, knew it and took advantage. He was a master manipulator.
Frankly, I, like so many others, was surprised that David lived as long as he did. So, I thought I’d write what could best be called an “alternative obituary.” What follows is a completely honest and true account of a few experiences with Crosby that you won’t find in the New York Times, Rolling Stone, or People Magazine.
David was so hooked on freebase, that it completely ruled his life. His connection was a San Francisco Hells Angel who was also his personal manager. A sign of David’s good judgment and business savvy. Once the manager, let’s call him Joe, ran out of dope and David (we were touring at the time) was without his medicine for a week, maybe a little more. You can’t imagine how sick he got. Everybody on the tour, musicians and crew alike, were praying that Joe would appear soon to ease the pain—not only for David but for everyone else as well. Stephen and Graham were at wits end, but somehow David managed to go onstage every night and sing.
During that period the band did a gig in Norfolk, VA. Everything was going as normal as could be expected. I was sitting in one of the dressing rooms backstage with my wife at the time, just the two of us, when David walked in, laid down on a Naugahyde couch moaning and writhing in pain. All of a sudden, I hear the band doing a Graham song that I knew was not a part of the show. Then a few seconds later, Stills came barreling into the dressing room, steam coming out of his ears. I don’t think I’d ever seen Stephen that angry, and I had witnessed him really rip on a number of occasions. As he burst through the door, he grabbed the closest thing in reach, which was a gallon of water. He then threw it across the room at Crosby, barely missing him and hitting the wall just above and behind the couch he was lying on. Stills had lost no velocity on his fastball. The container was full and burst when it hit the wall, completely drenching David. And then Stephen went off on him. One thing about Stephen—he is a pro and David had committed a cardinal sin. If you don’t believe me, Graham wrote about the incident in his autobiography. David managed to get up and go back onstage, completely drenched from head to toe. Needless to say, the audience was flummoxed. It was like Crosby had taken a quick trip to a nearby water park.
When the band was on tour, David, Stephen and Graham each had their own tour bus. Everybody in the band rode with either Stephen or Graham. Nobody would set foot on Crosby’s bus. The only guy other than David, and occasionally Jan, his now widow then girlfriend (also an addict), was a very nice guy named Randy. He was David’s combination bus driver, security man and tour manager. David had his works set up in the bedroom of the bus. The freebase rig consisted of a giant propane tank with an acetylene torch attached. Of course, the bedroom was located directly above the fuel tank and everyone was just waiting for David to fire up and pass out on the bed with the torch in his hand. On top of that, David had to have the bus parked close to his side of the stage during each show just in case he needed to fire up between tunes.
Speaking of propane tanks, there was the time that David checked his bag through on a flight. Only issue? He packed a small propane tank in his luggage. Then there was the time that Jan, who happened to be with David on this particular leg, held up a flight departure because she had left her smokes in her suitcase. Airport personnel rummaged through the baggage compartment until they found her bag. When Jan opened the bag, David’s pistol popped out. That was unique.
Truth be told, Graham was David’s savior for decades. Crosby was consistently broke and always needed dough. Nash had his back and did his best to see that David would make it through. It’s been said that Graham was the glue that kept the band together and working for more than 50 years. A hundred percent true. Nash stuck with David after he had gotten straight. So when Graham washed his hands of Crosby a few years ago, I was completely gobsmacked. I never dreamed that would happen.
There are so many more stories that I don’t have the time nor inclination to go into at the moment, but I think you’ve gotten the message by now. Crosby was such a walking disaster area that he should have been wrapped in police crime scene tape. We always used to joke that when Gene Clark of the Byrds wrote the song, “I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better (when you’re gone)”, he was talking about Crosby.
What’s interesting is the mind of a freebase addict. David Crosby was nothing short of a pathetic human being. Everybody felt sorry for him. Everybody. And, as I mentioned previously, he knew just how to manipulate them. This was driven home in the documentary “David Crosby: Remember My Name”. It documented David’s rise from the ashes, with David openly talking about his years of assholeishness and how he had become a renewed human being, which was great. I’m far from being a Crosby hater. But when I left the theater that night, I couldn’t help but feel that I had been manipulated. Again. Once an addict… and yet I felt sorry for him. Still do.
As Nash said, “So much time to make up everywhere you turn. Time we have wasted on the way”. That encapsulates the David Crosby story.