David Crosby talks survivor's guilt, CSN fallout, and why Mayor Pete is 'the smartest man in politics'

Lyndsey Parker
Editor-in-Chief, Music

Early on in the documentary David Crosby: Remember My Name, produced by Cameron Crowe and directed by A.J. Eaton, the famously cantankerous Crosby notes that back in the ‘60s, his soon-to-be-former Byrds bandmates weren’t too thrilled with him spouting his political views onstage or to the press. But a half-century later, Crosby is as unapologetically uncensored as ever — even giving his 2020 election endorsement to Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg.

“My favorite is Mayor Pete. I love the guy. He's the smartest man I've ever seen in politics ever, of all. He's smarter than all the rest of them put together,” Crosby says while sitting with Crowe at Yahoo Entertainment. “He's brilliant, and he's honest, and he's dedicated, and he's brave. Do you know how much guts it takes to go in the military when you're gay? Volunteer and go because you think you ought to, you don't want to be a privileged guy and get excused? Do you know what kind of morals it takes to do that? Yeah, I want him to be president. I really want him to be president. … Most politicians will turn around and tell you anything that you want to hear, to get you on their side, and then do completely other stuff when they get in there. Mayor Pete, I think, would not do that.”

As for anyone who might argue that musicians and celebrities should stay out of politics — as he’s been told for the past 50 years — Crosby barks wryly, “I tell them to shut up. I tell them, ‘I got the microphone. You ain't going to win this one.’ And I also usually ask them, ‘Whose concert do you think you were going to?’ I mean, what the hell? If you're going to complain about politics, you went to the wrong guy.”

Watch David Crosby and Cameron Crowe’s full Yahoo Entertainment interview:

Crosby and Crowe met in 1974, when Crowe, who was only 17 at the time, interviewed the folk-rock supergroup Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young for Crawdaddy magazine. “When he showed up, he was an extremely bright kid, and we all liked him a lot,” Crosby tells Yahoo Entertainment. The two struck up a friendship — ironic, given Crowe’s own warning in 2000’s Almost Famous that music journalists and rock stars should never become friends — despite the fact that Crowe “lovingly” wrote at the time that Crosby was looking “more like Bozo the Clown every day in his purple flares and sneakers.”

That closeness pays off in Remember My Name, which hardly presents what Crosby calls the typical “shine job” of most rock docs. Crowe conducted most of the Crosby interviews for the film and no topic was off-limits, from Crosby’s tempestuous relationship with Joni Mitchell, to the tragic auto-accident death of his girlfriend Christine Hinton, to his acrimonious falling-out with all of his CSNY bandmates. “We didn't bulls*** you,” Crosby says plainly. Crowe colorfully describes the viewing experience as “boiling in a bathtub of Crosby honesty — and it feels good!”

David Crosby and Cameron Crowe at the premiere of 'David Crosby: Remember My Name' on July 18, 2019 in Los Angeles. (Photo: Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images)

“I trusted [Cameron], because I knew that he would go for the meat of the matter and not surface-y stuff. … He is a searching and highly skilled interviewer. He also knows me really well, and knows where all the bones are buried,” says Crosby, who actually tears up onscreen during some particularly intense Remember My Name conversations. “He asked me hard questions. Life is hard. Mistakes are hard. Death is hard. There's lots of hard s*** in life. And we didn't want to duck any of it.”

Crosby frequently refers to himself as an “a**hole” and “difficult cat” in Remember My Name, and he seems pained by his estrangement from Stephen Stills, Graham Nash, and Neil Young, who won’t even speak with him nowadays. But he says his expressions of remorse and regret in the film aren’t his attempt to extend an olive branch to them, or to initiate a CSN or CSNY reunion. “No, it's not a flag-wave to them. It's more trying to clear my own head. No, I don't have a beef with those guys, I like them. They're OK guys, and we did really good work. I'm trying to apologize to everybody that I wronged in any way in my life, to some degree. … You can make amends to people that you need to, but I'm more trying to clear my own decks than wave anything at them.”

The last time CSN performed together was in 2014, with a surprisingly off-key rendition of “Silent Night” at the White House’s Christmas tree lighting ceremony. Eaton tells Yahoo Entertainment that Crosby didn’t actually want that footage of that disastrous performance in the documentary, but ultimately it made the cut, keeping with the warts-and-all ethos of the film. “There were some technical problems that they were experiencing and all that, but basically it was what happened onstage with symbolic; it what was happening in their personal life,” says Eaton. “We had to keep that in the movie.”

However, Crosby says there’s one circumstance under which he would consider a CSN reunion, and that brings us back to the subject of politics: If CSN were willing to perform at a voter-registration event. “I'm going to have to do something about this next election, because we cannot let it go on the way it is,” Crosby says.

“I see several people running that would make a great president — at least probably four,” Crosby continues. “Elizabeth Warren would make a great president. Kamala Harris, make a great president — and it's time for a woman to be president. Women are half of the people in the world, they deserve half the power. Get it through your head; it's just how it is. Beto [O’Rourke] is a good man, and he's trying very hard to do the right thing.

“Once we have a candidate, oh yeah, I'm going to work for them. I can't leave it the way it is,” Crosby continues, as fired up as he was in the ‘60s. “[Donald Trump] is like a spoiled child who's broken into his dad's office, and he's running around peeing on all the papers, because ‘I'll show you!’ He's just a bad kid, and he's doing great harm to this country, man, not just to our democracy, not just to our rep in the world. But as long as he's denying global warming and keeping us from being the leaders in fighting it, he's doing harm to you, and you, and you, and you, and every other human being on the planet. Get that. That's not OK.”

As for whether Crosby ever considered, or would consider, running for office, Crosby, who spent nine months in prison on drug charges in 1982, quips, “I'm a convicted felon. I can't. A little minor detail!”

“Which makes you want to vote for him, right?” Crowe chuckles. “I want my president to come from that, not go to that, as we have going on now.”

David Crosby at his film's Los Angeles premiere. (Photo: Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic)

A Crosby documentary seems long overdue, given all he’s been through. “It came because of a really odd circumstance,” he explains. “Now, I'm 77 years old. I'm supposed to be wandering off into the sunset hand in hand with my wife: ‘It's been great. Loved you all. So pleased, have a nice life.’”

"’Keith Richards and I will see you down the line,’” Crowe interjects jokingly.

“Yeah, exactly. But I'm not. I've made four records in the last four years,” says Crosby, who loves working with young musicians (he actually met Remember My Name director A.J. Eaton in after collaborating with A.J.’s guitarist brother, Marcus Eaton, on 2014’s Croz, his first solo album in 21 years). Crosby even says he’s love to record with everyone from Bleachers’ Jack Antonoff to Chance the Rapper in the future. “I'm full of songs, I'm full of life, I'm having a blast. I'm singing as well as I've ever sung in my life. I'm writing really well. I've got tons of really great writing partners. The music is just flowing out of me. … I did have a head of steam built up, because the last 10 years when we I was in CSN, we weren't really friends, and I didn't feel I could take songs there.”

“I told him, ‘I want you to be shooting footage of this, because this is just not the way that things should be going,” Eaton says of what he calls the surprising “third act” of Crosby’s career. “You know, normally people at this point in their career would be sitting back in their rocking chair saying, ‘Them were the days.’”

Crosby knows that he, like the above-mentioned Keith Richards, has baffled many people simply by staying alive, let alone continuing to make great music at a faster pace than most artists a third his age. Along with his rampant drug use, Crosby has battled multiple health issues, including undergoing a liver transplant and having eight stents put in his heart. He even addresses the oft-asked incredulous question “How is he alive???” in the cold open of Remember My Name. But after experiencing a “creative rebirth” at age 72, he’s making the best use of the time he has left.

“I'm a little baffled about it,” Crosby admits. “It's called survivor's guilt. It's a known thing with people. It's not just that [other rock stars who died much younger] were my compatriots — they were my friends. Cass [Elliot] was maybe one of my best friends in my life. Janis [Joplin], Jimi [Hendrix], really good friends. Those are the first three that jump out of my mind, but there were a lot. Yeah, you wonder, ‘Why me?’ I don't have an answer to that. But I figure the answer is, ‘OK, well, I don't know why — but I'm here.’ So then, if you are given the lifetime to do something with, then do something worthwhile.”

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