Interview: David Crosby talks Joni Mitchell, old bandmates and 'stupid' Donald Trump

Postelection, David Crosby, who began making music in the ’60s and doesn’t demur from still being considered an activist, feels “really badly for, let’s see, just about everybody but fat, white males.”
Postelection, David Crosby, who began making music in the ’60s and doesn’t demur from still being considered an activist, feels “really badly for, let’s see, just about everybody but fat, white males.”
Published Nov. 23, 2016

Ask David Crosby how he's feeling in the wake of the Election That Changed Everything, and you'd better settle in deep for his answer.

"Devastated," he said in a recent phone interview. "I feel very badly for our country. I feel very badly for the women in our country, who just got kicked in the gut, or some other part of the anatomy. I feel really badly for, let's see, just about everybody but fat, white males. I certainly wouldn't want to be a Muslim in America right now. I think all of the blacks and Latinos are thinking, Holy s---, they pulled the rug out from underneath us again!"

Crosby presses on, hammering President-elect Donald Trump on climate change: "You live in Florida? Tampa? Well, the prediction is you're going to go underwater, and this guy doesn't believe that." Foreign policy: "He is so stupid that Putin can play him like a piano, and will."

"Now, okay, it isn't Pearl Harbor," he said. "It's about as bad as 9/11, or maybe worse, because the consequences are much longer-reaching. So it's really devastatingly bad."

How worried should we be that Crosby, a formative flower child whose cherubic smile and willowy white mustache cemented him as a living embodiment of '60s idealism, feels this way about America? As a founding member of the Byrds and Crosby, Stills & Nash (and sometimes Young), he's among the era's iconic musical figures, and a co-writer of some of its most harmonious anthems (Wooden Ships, Guinnevere, Deja Vu, Almost Cut My Hair).

Crosby's intimate new solo album, Lighthouse, was produced by Snarky Puppy's Michael League, who coaxed from the singer some of those classic, immaculate CSN harmonies. The new music and a tour, which hits Clearwater's Capitol Theatre Nov. 27, have so energized Crosby, 75, that he says he's ready to tackle the world head-on, no matter how troubled he finds it.

"I'm frustrated, I'm angry, and I'm not so constituted as to be able to roll over and surrender," he said. "So I got a big uphill fight on my hands."

Here, Crosby cuts loose on politics, Joni Mitchell and the future of Crosby, Stills and Nash.

Do you still feel like an activist?

Oh, sure. Hell yes. C'mon, it's not something you give up.capitol

Is there anything about the world today that reminds of you of the late '60s, early '70s?

Yeah, tons. The racism, which has been festering this whole time, and (Trump) tore the scab off. Every black person in this country knows perfectly damn well he hates them, including the president, who's been a gentleman about it. Obama is roughly four times as smart as he is.

You've been against gun control legislation for a while. Have incidents like the Orlando nightclub shooting changed how you feel about guns in this country?

No. Here's the thing: No matter what your moral stance is about guns, you have to understand, if you back off and disconnect from the emotions connected to it, it's just a piece of metal with some expanding gas throwing another piece of metal. It doesn't have any goodness or badness to it. It's the person holding the gun. And you can't give me enough background checks or restraints on selling guns. That's totally fine with me. What we have to do is somehow work on saning up the people that have got them, and that's a matter of education. And the people in charge have been dumbing down the education as much as they can to make people more controllable. And it works.

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I don't want to spend the whole time talking politics, although we certainly could. But I do want to talk about Lighthouse. You've suggested you actually have a couple of albums' worth of material ready to go.

It's not a suggestion. I'm looking at my computer, where I have the next album already sitting there.

So what's the plan with it?

Spring. The next one is called Sky Trails. It's produced by my son James, who produced (2014's) Croz. You like this record?

I do. There's some wonderful harmonies on Look in Their Eyes and The City.

This next one, if anything, is even better.

So how did you divide them? Why did Lighthouse feel like an album, and why did Sky Trails feel like an album?

Michael League produced Lighthouse, and he and I wanted it to be an acoustic record, so we didn't use any drums. We were deliberately sparse in instrumentation. He wanted really good vocal stacks, really intricate, beautiful acoustic guitar. James and I produced records that are large, fully developed, full-band tracks. Big deals. Sky Trails has one fully acoustic thing of me and James, just voice and piano, doing Joni's Amelia. But the entire rest of the record is large and hugely varied and big.

Aside from all the technology, did it feel like recording an album 40 years ago?

Not at all. Nowhere near. Back then, we didn't even know better than to not go in the studio until you had all the songs. We were trying to write them in the studio, and that's a really basic mistake. The technology now allows you such facility with this stuff. The editing process is so sophisticated and so science fiction-y.

Is that good?

Yeah, it's good. It makes it easier to catch that moment, and the moment is what we're after. The main thing is not the technology, it's the songs. You have to have a song where you can sit down with that song, sing it to somebody and make them feel something. If you can't do that, you don't have a song.

You mentioned covering Joni Mitchell's Amelia. You keep tabs on her health these days?

Okay, you know the story, right? She had an aneurysm, right? You got that far? The aneurysm caused her to lay there for an entire weekend. There was nobody in the house. She's having to struggle back from a pretty tough place. However, she is a very tough girl. And very determined. So I would bet on Joni.

You met her in Florida.

I did, yeah. I walked into a coffeehouse in Coconut Grove, and she was standing there singing those songs, and I just was gobsmacked. I fell for her. Immediately. It's a little like falling into a cement mixer. She's kind of a turbulent girl.

A word I keep hearing when I talk to people about her is "unattainable," like there's something about her you keep hoping to reach.

Oh, no, she's not unattainable. I attained her pretty good. (laughs) We were together for about a year. And I produced her first record. She's brilliant and tough and opinionated and slightly crazy and incredibly talented. She's the best singer-songwriter that we've had in the past 100 years. She's as good a poet as Bob (Dylan), and a way better musician.

We're only a couple of years out from the 50th anniversary of Woodstock. Has anyone already approached CSNY with an offer?

Not going to happen, buddy.

You don't think you'll ever play together again?

There's a thing that happens to almost all bands. You start out very excited with each other, and very, very excited with the music, and even though it's not really important, excited with the fame. But it slowly devolves into Turn on the smoke machine and play your hits. Because that's the path of least resistance, and that's where the money is. And that's just not good enough. There's just no joy of music there. And I can't do that. I'm proud of the stuff that we did, and I don't hate those guys at all. I have no beef with them. But what do I want to do? I want to make new music.

Over your life, you've been through a lot of these "end of an era" moments, whether it's with a band or lifestyle or some ineffable idea like "the '60s." Are you conscious of those doors closing when they happen, or do you feel, in your life, that doors don't really fully close?

I don't really look at my life or my history the way other people do. I don't go back and listen to that stuff, hardly ever. I haven't listened to a Byrds song in 10 years — and I would love to be in the Byrds again. I would love it if Roger (McGuinn) wanted to do it, because I know exactly how to fly wingman to that guy. But my aim is, what do I have to do today? What am I supposed to do tomorrow? What could I do next week? What would I like to do this year? That's it. That's how I look at it.

Contact Jay Cridlin at or (727) 893-8336. Follow @JayCridlin.