Naming someone a “voice of a generation” may be cliché, but when applied to David Crosby, there’s nothing trite about it. After founding The Byrds with Roger McGuinn in 1964, he left to form Crosby, Stills and Nash in ’69. Neil Young joined after the first album, and CSNY played its second live gig at Woodstock. The group’s spellbinding harmonies confronted political and social issues, and are synonymous with the hippie movement of the ’60s and ’70s. A consistent member of the famously tumultuous band, Crosby endured addiction, prison time and multiple health issues, but his ethos and sense of purpose remain strong. He spoke to C-VILLE by phone from his home in California.
C-VILLE: First, let’s talk about your new album, Sky Trails. From the political “Capitol” to the lush, beautiful “Amelia,” you are still making important music.
DC: “Capitol” we put in and take out from night to night. “Amelia” is one of my favorite Joni Mitchell songs. I was sort of afraid to take a swing at it for years. It’s such a great song I couldn’t resist it, and my son James did a great piano part.
Are you working on more new material?
There’s another new album already made. …I don’t know why I’m doing it though. Because of streaming we don’t get paid on records anymore. It’s makin’ it really hard for me, because I have to work on the road twice as much as I used to. …I can’t pay my mortgage unless I do.
But as an artist you can’t stop creating.
This is what we leave behind. This is the mark we get to make, these records. I just don’t think it’s fair that these companies are making billions of dollars, these streaming companies making zillions of bucks. And they’re not paying me, and I make the music.
Do you think music can still be an effective way to protest?
Yeah. I think so. …It’s part of our job, but it can’t be the main part because then you are preaching to people and that’s not really okay. You can do it once in a while…like the song “Capitol.”
God, we have such a crappy Congress. You know, it’s the lowest approval rating we’ve ever had, the lowest accomplishment record we’ve ever had. They’re useless and so they kinda earned that one.
What did the hippies accomplish?
A lot. We managed to end the Vietnam War. It took us about 10 years instead of about one, but we did it. We advanced civil rights in this country. Nowhere near as much as we’d hoped when we saw Obama become president because now, right there in Charlottesville, those guys with the torches sort of ripped the scab off and proved that racism is alive and well in this country, unfortunately.
But, I can’t help feeling when I see these kids marching, and the Women’s March—the Women’s March really inspired me. I thought, “My god, maybe they can save the country,” and I wish you guys would.
Who are your political heroes?
I don’t have many. I been having conversations with my friends saying “Who would you run?”. The only ones I can think of are women. I can think of four women that I like in Congress.
Will you name them?
Ahhh. No…I think it’s better I don’t.
My best friend who contributes millions to the Democratic Party says no, not a chance. [We’re] gonna have to run a white male…and we haven’t got the white male that we need yet.
That disappoints me to hear.
Kinda scary, huh? I mean, who would you run?
I love Elizabeth.
I love Elizabeth Warren. I love Kirsten Gillibrand too. I love Kamala Harris. I don’t see it yet, and I’m very suspicious of the Democratic Party cause I think they let us down terribly this last election.
What do you think the chances are that Trump will be re-elected?
I think there’s a good chance.
I was talking with a guy who I follow named [Christopher] Dickey, he’s a writer, a really good journalist, and he gave me about an hour’s lecture on why he thinks we are not gonna be able to unseat Trump and keep him from being re-elected.
Back to music…Here’s the deal on music: It’s a very tough world right now. Just as war drags the human race down, music lifts it up. So that’s my job. I’m gonna go out there and play music and make people happy. They need it.
Regarding music, the stories of infighting and breakups, all that CSNY dirt is out there for people to Google. Tell me about the good stuff. How was the magic made?
I think we did really good work. …You know when you start a band like that the other guy’s music is fresh to you and it’s very exciting. Frankly, we sounded really good. We loved each other for how good we sounded and how much fun we were having. But what happens to bands is that they devolve from that state to one in which you don’t like each other, and you all turn on the smoke machine and play your hits for the dollar, for the check, and that’s not good.
Do you see it among your friends in other bands?
Yes! Every band, everywhere, all the time.
I feel disillusioned.
Don’t be disillusioned. They are human beings. They can be inspirational and be jerks at the same time. I certainly think that at times I was inspirational and making really good music, and I also know for sure I was a jerk. You gotta look at it that way.
Your idols musically are human beings, they are not flawless. That whole stardom thing is absolutely bullshit.
You’ve been very open about your struggles. Why all the drugs?
Quite simply I had a girlfriend who I was in love with and [she] was killed in a car wreck. And I had no way to deal with it. I absolutely was unequipped. I had no way to deal with it and so I started doing heroin. Heroin is a painkiller and I was in pain. It didn’t take long for that to pretty much destroy me.
As a gun owner, what is your current position on gun control?
I think the kids are very, very right to demand a change. And I’m very proud of them for standing up and saying, “Hey it’s not okay [that] people are coming in and shooting us in our schools. You’ve gotta control this.”
The idea that you can walk into a gun show and buy a bumpstock AR-15 like a machine gun, without even showing a driver’s license, that can’t be right…you don’t need one of those. Nobody needs one of those. It’s not for hunting, it’s for people.
Now, that said, I don’t think they can do shit about it, and here’s why. There are guns in over two-thirds of the houses in the U.S. and nobody’s cleaning them up and they are not gonna. You are never going to get them to give them up…it’s never gonna happen ever.
Confederate statue debate?
I don’t think those guys were heroes and I don’t like seeing their faces. There’s one of the governor who ordered the mess at Kent State; it’s still up in Columbus. I’d like to take that one down too.
In your remarkable life, you have fathered six biological children. What’s your role as a father?
Yes five mothers, six children. I’ve only ever raised one of them. That’s Django my son who is still living here with me now. I wish I had had the chance to raise all of them because they are pretty spectacular people. I’m happy about them all. I think they’re all good and I love them all. I’ve got four grandchildren and I love them too.
What was your reaction when Melissa Etheridge asked you to be a sperm donor?
Here’s how that went down. My wife [Jan] is a very, very sweet, very good-hearted human being. And Melissa and Julie visited us in Hawaii…at the time, Django was a baby, a completely happy child. And they said, “How do you get one of those? We’ve been trying to figure out how to do this and people are very resistant to letting you adopt as a gay couple, and resistant to being donors.”
Jan just looked at them and pointed at me. She said, “No, really, that’s how.” And I said, “Okay, I’ll go along with that.” They loved each other and were nice human beings. So we donated twice—Becca and Bailey, and they are stunner kids.
With all the talented friends you have, who would you choose in assembling a supergroup?
Gilmour. [David] Gilmour is an intensely musical human being. And one of the best guitar players alive.
Bonnie Raitt. Probably the best singer alive. Just wonderful.
Bass player: Michael League.
Drummer would have to be the same guy that I pick always, Steve DiStanislao. He’s unbelievable.
Stevie Wonder. If I couldn’t get him, I’d get Michael McDonald. I love Michael.
What would it take to reunite CSNY?
Neil. That’s all. He’s the deciding factor, always has been.
I don’t think he wants to do it and I don’t think he needs to do it. He’s got a really good band. They deliver for him.
I heard a clip of him playing “Cortez the Killer” and it was some of the best guitar I’ve ever heard him play. He’s also got the Horse, but with Nils in there…Nils [Lofgren] is a force of nature, man, that guy is an unbelievable musician. A great singer, great guitar player, a great writer and a nice human being.
We look forward to having you in Charlottesville.
I look forward to being there. That’s a good bunch of people there and I think they had a horrible thing happen to them. I wanna come there and try to make people happy.