The World According to David Crosby
Revisiting our 2019 interview with the iconic musician
Update: 1/20/23: News broke yesterday that David Crosby died at the age of 81. So we’re looking back at our interview with him from 2019, where he shares his thoughts on everything from the American Dream to his favorite curse word and the great L.A. vs. New York debate. He will be missed.
Welcome to “The World According To,” a new series in which we solicit advice from people who are in a position to give it out. Think icons like David Crosby, who has a resume that we probably don’t need to show you because you probably already know it: he spent time with the Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, Crosby, Stills & Nash as well as Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young, and has enjoyed a healthy solo career since the early-1970s. At 77, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member doesn’t really show any signs of slowing down. In the middle of another big tour and making another record, the man with the greatest mustache in rock took a little time to talk to InsideHook about his favorite curse word, how to make love stick around, Ella Fitzgerald and, of course, weed.
What’s one piece of art that changed the way you view the world?
If I had to choose the image that was the strongest, most shocking that had the biggest effect, it would have been those Life magazine shots at Kent State.
What’s something that you have kept with you through all these years?
I used to be a hard druggie, so you don’t keep anything. If you have any valuables you trade them for drugs. If you don’t have anything valuable then you lose what you do have. I have at least one guitar that I’ve had since before I was in the Byrds. It’s a D-18 Martin that I bought with my own money, rode a bus out to the suburbs of Chicago and bought it at a guitar store there. Played it for many years and had it converted to a 12 string. It’s now a really fantastic 12 string.
Where is the most interesting place you’ve visited?
There are parts of nature that I have seen that surpass even the famous cities I’ve been to. I’d say, probably, Grove of the Titans in the Redwoods is probably the single most impressive place I’ve ever been in nature. Followed closely by Yellowstone and Big Sur.
What would you have dedicated your life to if music didn’t work out?
I used to think maybe a professional pilot. I’ve been a sailor my whole life and I really like being on the ocean. I’m comfortable there. I could have been a teacher. I love that moment when the student gets that spark, you know like when you touch two wires together and there’s a connection. That really pleases me.
What does music give you that you can’t get anywhere else?
It gets you a lot. It gives you joy. It’s a lifting force. Same way war drags the human race down, it’s the same way that music lifts it up. It gives you a lift, it gives you information, it gives you joy, it gives you an emotional voyage to go on. It gives you just rhythm to boogie to. So much of life’s experience can be transmitted in music. So many ideas can be transmitted through music.
What’s your go-to creative ritual?
Smoking a joint and picking up a guitar. When you’re high and you’re happy, it’s a space that’s conducive to music.
When did you first smoke weed?
When I was a young folkie wandering around on my own, roaming around, learning to be a singer.
What do you feel is the most important aspect of the eventual full cannabis legalization and decriminalization?
First of all we have to consider the human consequence of it all. It’s a really good thing that no more people will be put in jail for smoking flowers. It’s like beer and wine. There shouldn’t be any consequence to it at all. It’s absolutely nonsense that it was ever made illegal in the first place.
It’s going to get legal very fast. A whole lot of the money that gets distributed by states to their constituents comes down from the federal government. For health, education, welfare, that kind of money. But this government that we’ve got in D.C. right now doesn’t like to give money to black, or brown, or poor, or young, or old people, or really any people except rich white guys. So they’re choking off that money that goes to the states as fast as they can. They want to give it in tax breaks to the big corporations who are their main controllers. So the states are hurting. And they’re all looking to Oregon and Colorado, who can build a hospital tomorrow, or fix their roads, or build five new schools because they decided to. They can do their job, they can help their people. That’s what’s going to make it legal everywhere right away, it’s tax money.
When you’re high and you’re happy, it’s a space that’s conducive to music.
Marijuana is an equal opportunity employer. It helps everybody without regard for who they are. I know a ton of people who use it to help them go to sleep. I know a ton more who use it for the CBD within it to help them with pain. I don’t think it’s any more damaging than beer or wine. So I think it’s a good thing.
What’s your worst habit personally or creatively?
I’m working on sugar. I think it’s the most addictive substance on the planet and I’m trying to avoid that.
I’m doing real well creatively, man. I’ve made four records in the last four years, and I’m half way through a fifth one. So creatively, I’m fuckin’ smokin’. I’m beating everybody I know.
Is the great American experiment working anymore?
I think it’s pretty broken right now and the key block is money. The corporations got so big and so wealthy that they could buy the government, and they did. They bought congress. Most of the people in congress have been given so much corporate money to be re-elected that they do whatever the corporations tell them to. Corporation calls them up and says, ‘Hey, how are ya, remember that 10 million we gave you last cycle? Ok, so our quarterly reports are down and we need a boost, so we need you to start a war so we get a little war money, ok?’ Politician says, ‘Yes sir, what time would you like it? Where? What color, how many pounds?’ I think the democracy is broken. That’s not democracy. It’s Citizens United. They’ve consolidated their power and they are in charge. It’s a corporatocracy, and I don’t like it. We have to retake control of congress. We just need the other half of it.
How do you make love stick around?
Work at it. Treat it like it’s the most important thing, because it is. I’ve been with my wife for 42 years so I have a pretty good idea of how to make it stick around. You care a lot and you show that you love them. You consider them, make them important in your life. It’s doable. It takes a lot of work, but it’s totally worth it.
L.A. or NYC?
New York, as many problems as it has is better than L.A.. L.A.’s a pit, man. It’s a group of small towns linked by freeways with too much traffic and no character at all. It sucks. I was born there, I can say it.
Money is just a tool. It’s a very good servant and a very poor master.
Who was the first person you ever remember admiring who was not related to you?
First person I remember admiring was probably Ella Fitzgerald. First record I ever bought with my own money was Ella and Duke Ellington. I remember thinking she’s got to be the best singer in the whole world. She damn near was, yeah.
What do you think is the key to sustained motivation in a long career?
Not basing it on money. If you base it on more serious values like the quality of the music and the quality of the ideas that the music is able to transmit, those are serious. Money isn’t. Money is just a tool. It’s a very good servant and a very poor master.
What do you fear most about the future?
It’s not a mystery, global warming is a real problem. We have polluted the atmosphere and we do have a problem with global warming, that’s a fact. We have a guy in charge of our country right now that does not operate on fact. He operates on profit only. Personal profit. So the facts of global warming elude him. He’s also not very smart. He’s one of the dumbest guys we’ve ever had. Our problem is that by not addressing global warming we are doing great harm and possibly consigning to death all the people on the freaking planet which is pretty bad. We have to address it if we want the human race to survive. And we’re supposed to be the leaders. We are the most developed country. We’re supposed to be the ones in the front of that fight. Not the one’s dragging our heels because we’re trying to find a way to steal some more money. So that distressed the shit out of me. And it’s the main reason we have to beat this motherfucker and get him out of office, and beat these assholes like Mitch McConnell, and get them out of office and make the government be answerable to the people. It is desperate. It is a life and death fight.
Favorite curse word?
Words for your tombstone?
He made some good music.
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