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David Crosby a long time gone

Updated: Dec 8, 2023

Earl Fowler

Neil Young used to joke that his song “Don’t Let it Bring You Down” was guaranteed to bring you right down. “It sorta starts off real slow and then fizzles out altogether.”

Beyond question, the list of rock(ish) musicians who started off 2023 real slow and then fizzled out altogether is a downer. This tally is by no means comprehensive, but let’s go with: Jeff Beck, Robbie Bachman, Van Conner, Gary Rossington, Lisa Marie Presley, Jim Gordon, Tom Leadon, Tim Bachman, Linda Lewis, Rita Lee, Andy Rourke, Pete Brown, Tina Turner, George Tickner, Randy Meisner, Sinéad O’Connor, John Gosling, Gordon Lightfoot, Sixto Rodriguez, Robbie Robertson, Steve Harwell, Geordie Walker, Jean Knight, Shane MacGowan, Chad Allan, Myles Goodwyn, Denny Laine … and if there’s a rock’n’roll heaven, well, you know they’ve got a hell of a band.

It was the January death of David Crosby at age 81, apparently due to complications from COVID-19 compounding a long illness, that hit me the hardest. Not because it wasn’t expected. I remember reading a magazine article in a 1985 issue of Spin titled “The Death of David Crosby” and marvelling even then that the “American Beatle” who had crafted such enduring classics as “Guinnevere” and “Long Time Gone” wasn’t already a long time gone.

By that time, Crosby had been arrested four times on drug and weapons charges, was facing a five-year jail sentence (he would eventually serve nine months in a Texas state prison), owed the IRS $3 million, had one or more hotel room fires to his credit and had barely escaped torching himself to death while freebasing cocaine.

Journalist Edward Kiersh described his first impression of the (barely) living legend during his harrowing visit to the backwoods California house where “Croz” was holed up at the time:

A door bangs shut and a disheveled, unshaven figure staggers into the living room. David has finally appeared. His stomach is bloated; his thinning, frizzy hair leaps wildly into the air. A few of his front teeth are missing, his pants are tattered, and his red plaid shirt has a gaping hole. The most frightening thing is his pale, swollen face, riddled with thick, white scales, deep and encrusted blotches that aren’t healing. Looking at him is painful. A 14-year addiction to heroin and cocaine has caused David to resemble a diseased Bowery bum. The spiritual leader of the Woodstock Nation is now a vision of decay.

Billion-year-old carbon carelessly rigged up as a 44-year-old wastrel, Crosby seemed to have taken one of his 1967 Byrds tunes way too literally: “Everybody’s Been Burned.”

That he was then only slightly past the midpoint of his tumultuous life and would go on to salvage his voice and his career, become a two-time member of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame (being inducted as a member of the Byrds in 1991 and supergroup Crosby, Stills and Nash in 1997) was nothing short of a miraculous renaissance.

That he would suffer from type 2 diabetes, undergo a liver transplant, be left with eight stents in his heart following major cardiac surgery, help develop the craft cannabis brand MIGHTY CROZ, do a bit of acting and still have the stamina to sire two sons and two daughters (two of whom were given up for adoption, one of whom was raised by her mother, one of whom was raised by Crosby and his long-suffering wife, Jan Dance) in addition to serving as the sperm donor for the two children raised by Melissa Etheridge and her partner, film director Julie Cypher … well, it all seems a bit eight stents high. And when you touch down, you’ll find that it’s stranger than known. Who can blame those peacocks, milady, for wandering aimlessly underneath an orange tree?

Tragically, Cypher and Etheridge’s 21-year-old son, Beckett, would die of an opioid addiction in 2020. Here in the 21st century, in a visceral way unimaginable when Young was writing about heroin addiction among musicians and roadies back in the Seventies, we’ve all seen the needle and the damage done. A little part of it in everyone. (Of course, in the 1970s we were looking at Mother Nature on the run instead of humanity. The table has turned on that one.)

There was a paragraph in Crosby’s obituary in The Guardian, written by Adam Sweeting, that took me by surprise:

One of his regular musical collaborators was James Raymond, his child with Celia Crawford Ferguson, whom Crosby had left pregnant in California in the early 60s, and who had given her baby up for adoption. She later moved to Australia. Raymond met his birth mother in 1994, then in 1995 introduced himself to his biological father at UCLA medical centre, where Crosby was having treatment following his liver transplant. An accomplished musician and composer, Raymond played in the jazz-rock band CPR with his father and Jeff Pevar (they released four albums between 1998 and 2001), was music director for Crosby’s solo live shows and also became a member of Crosby, Stills and Nash’s touring band from 2009.

(Like CSN, the appellation CPR — whose existence had somehow escaped my attention — was based on the members’ names, but it does seem like a particularly inspired choice considering the medical history of the prodigal father.)

Through all the drama, one thing never changed: Crosby’s crusty, unapologetic irascibility. Half a century and a million miles away from those helicopter days of peak CSNY popularity — even after he came to resemble a rumpled old-poop cross between Will Geer, the grandpa on The Waltons, and actor Wilford Brimley, who shilled for Quaker Oats because “it’s the right thing to do” — Crosby’s penchant for alienating pretty much everyone who ever loved him made him the quintessential curmudgeon of the disillusioned dawning of the Age of Aquarius (now down to rusty roach clips and mildewed tie-dye schmattes festering under cow patties at Max Yasgur’s dairy farm).

Yes, Virginia, there was a Santa Croz.

The cocky, obstreperous, upper class society kid who was booted from the Byrds when bandmates Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman balked at recording “Triad”, Crosby’s lusty paean to a ménage à trois, never sugarcoated his opinions about anything — or anyone. The signature highlight of the 2019 documentary David Crosby: Remember My Name is the part where he describes rock demigod Jim Morrison as “a dork.” Break on through to the other side.

Colleagues said nice things about Crosby after his death, as people usually do about difficult departees. But the year before, even Graham Nash — an unusually kind and faithful fellow counterculture luminary who had spent decades helping Crosby deal with his self-inflicted drug, health and legal nightmares — had arrived at a point reached long before by most of his peers. “My patience, my love for him, it all just stopped,” Nash told an interviewer. “When he goes on social media, says I wasn’t a friend, and all I was in it for was the money, that’s fucking heartbreaking for me.”

In 2014, Young vowed that CSNY would never tour again after Crosby called Daryl Hannah, Young’s new partner, “a purely poisonous predator.” There would be no tears left for Crosby, Stills and Nash’s touring band. And anyway, what’s so fun about peace, love and misunderstanding?

What was it Stephen Stills, whose feuds with Young are the stuff of legend, had so passionately told us in 49 Bye-Byes (a title which is also getting way too literal as our social calendar fills up with funerals)? Oh yes, I remember it well: “We gotta keep on keeping on, because if we don’t do it nobody else is gonna. And if we can’t do it with a smile on our face, you know, if we can’t do it with love in our hearts, then children, we ain’t got no right to do it all. Because it just means we ain’t learned nothing yet. We’re supposed to be some kind of different, ahhh …”

In reality, the wild children who materialized out of the mystic (as Van Morrison imagined) when the soldiers came marching home from the war, love looks in their eyes — Young, the youngest of the four in CSNY, was born two months after Japan surrendered in September 1945 — those wild children still ain’t learned much of anything and turned out to be some kind of same.

Aw …

So it has to be said. David Crosby was a mess. A grousing, growling, grumbling grump. But the one-man Statler and Waldorf of folk rock and psychedelia (with his round parchment face, white hair and bushy moustache, Croz was definitely more Waldorf than Statler) sure wrote some pretty songs and put on some magical harmonies with his buddies.

The California sound and hippie aesthetic of the early 1970s that Crosby, Stills & Nash — turbocharged and electrified as Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young when joined by Stills’s old sparring partner from Buffalo Springfield — has been in decline pretty much since their hara-kiri drug habits and internecine warfare (like that of the Beach Boys and the Eagles), coupled with the Manson Family madness, saw the idealism of the Sixties swept away by tin soldiers and Nixon coming.

But if anywhere is ripe for a revival, why not a place where everyone is lying in bed, just like Brian Wilson did? As the war babies enter their eighties and the earliest boomers line up behind them while carting assisted-living cafeteria trays, swingin’ and swayin’ and earbuds playing, glancing at the beets, there comes a time when this old room keeps spinning round here at the Everyone Knows This is Nowhere Retirement Community.

Unlike us, rust never sleeps. Seagulls circle endlessly, throwing shadows on our eyes. And you know, it makes me wonder what’s going on under the ground.

So if there’s a rock’n’roll haven, you know they have a hellaciously updated CSNY set list:

Riding on the Marrakesh Express Elevator (Whatever you do, don’t let it bring you down)

Suite: Gooey Blue Thighs

Almost Grew Some Hair

Rocking in the Free Chair

(Four Dead in) Casino

(In this) Harvest (Crunch)

Medley: A Man Needs a Change / Déjà Poo (I feel like I’ve been here before)

Just Mahjong Before I Go

Glove the Nun You’re With (If you can’t be with the one you love, can you at least remember her name?)

(Screw that.) If I Could Only Remember My Name

Wooden Hips

Roll Another Number (for the hall)

Medley: Down by the Liver / Heart of Mould

Old Man (Look at my life, I’m a lot like you were)

Flying Underground is Wrong

The day before he died, Crosby posted a short message on X about his take on heaven. His querulous sense of humour was intact, petulant as ever: “I heard the place is overrated … cloudy.”

It had been a long time coming. He’s going to be a long time gone. And it appears to be a long, long, long, long, long time before the dawn.

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Quinn McIlhone
Quinn McIlhone
Dec 06, 2023

Flagship U.S. TV news programs love ascensions to rock and roll heaven. ABC World News Tonight plays them in the final slot, and anchor David Muir mercilessly teases the identity of the deceased throughout the show: "We say goodbye tonight to a little drummer boy from the British Invasion who once played the Ed Sullivan Show."


I think it's worth mentioning their songs were mostly insipid, vacuous, their LPS best used as Frisbees. Four Dead in Ohio should've been called Four White People Dead in White America. I wonder if there are still two cats in the yard of his very very fine house.

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I have to admit I preferred reading Scott Young than listening to his son Neil. "Pa send me money now, I'm going to make it somehow, I need another chance." Too bad he gave it to him.

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