He used to sing about teaching your children well. At age 78, David Crosby is on the floor in his California home with his new kiddos. “Daddy is here. Don’t worry. I’ll miss you so much,” Crosby says to a captive audience who couldn’t care less about his rock icon status.
They don’t even want to borrow the keys to his tour bus.
The founding member of two classic bands — the Byrds and Crosby, Stills & Nash — plays to an audience of three on a sleepy weekday. His two beloved border collies and Labrador retriever plop at his feet. “Dogs love you. Period. They’re a gift from God,” Crosby says.
This soft side of Crosby — who lives in the country with hawks, dogs and cats — is far removed from his tumultuous rock ’n’ roll days. “Above all, I’m lucky to still be here and still be singing,” he tells the Review-Journal in an exclusive interview. “Nobody can figure it out. I should be dead.”
He’s still drawing crowds and receiving the best reviews of his career. He’ll perform at Red Rock Resort on Sept. 13. His mission in Vegas: “We’re going to rip it up.”
Review-Journal: What is your idea of a great Sunday?
David Crosby: There is nothing better in life than a neighborhood barbecue on a Sunday. Everyone just wanders over in the late afternoon. You’re hangin’ in someone’s backyard with a bunch of friends, kids and dogs around. That’s about as good as life gets. I’ve had some of my happiest times being with friends on those Sundays and just cooking, yakking and playing with all kinds of dogs and kids. Nothing is going to make me happier.”
It might still be in the 100s when you hit Vegas for your show. Can you handle the heat?
I heard it was 108 in Vegas the other day. That’s why God made bathing suits.
Tell us about your show at Red Rock.
It will be good. I have a great band. Last night, we had eight standing ovations during the concert. I stood there on stage thinking, “Eight ovations. It’s working out pretty good.” That kind of feedback makes you feel like you’re doing the right thing. You’re moving people. That’s my job. Beyond that, I want to make you dance.
Is that the job of a singer-songwriter, to move people?
Yes. Singers should move emotions. We should make you want to dance. Every once in a while, our job is to be a witness to history and put those feelings into a song. You gotta reserve that for when it’s really crucial.
When was the first time you played Vegas?
Man, I was young. I was with the Byrds. If not the Byrds, then it was with Crosby, Stills & Nash. I remember thinking that Vegas was really exciting. You could feel it. I’ve played Vegas a bunch of times in my career and found that it was actually a tough place for a musician. The audience you get is half there to see you and half whoever is in Vegas on that night and they want to see a show. We’ve beaten it and brought those two sides together. I’ve had some really good audiences in Vegas, but you have to pull the people in. My advice to bands just starting out who are playing Vegas is to play small and you’ll get the natural fans.
What have you done in Vegas for fun over the years?
I’ve driven up to see Hoover Dam, which was cool. I really think the high desert is beautiful. I love the Red Rock area. But the truth is, we don’t really have much time to see the sights when we’re on tour. Usually, we roll in and out. That’s the rock life. You play the gig and roll out.
How do you approach rocking and aging?
In two years, I’ll be 80. The hard thing is, you lose some of the stamina. I used to walk 10 miles a day. Now I can walk three blocks. Aging is a very strange deal for anyone — rocker or not. Like I said, I’m lucky to still be here. There is no way I should be able to sing the way I’m singing now. I’m ancient! I must have done something good, thank you.
How does it feel to stand on that stage now?
I’m completely happy. I’m in heaven. I love the audience. I love my band. I have a great time. The flipside is that shows beat the crap out of me at this age. My wife, who I love so much, then slowly puts me back together.
Tell me about your documentary, “David Crosby: Remember My Name.”
My part was just not to lie. I actually think they did a great job with my life story. Most documentaries you see are a bunch of (expletive) and shine jobs. If I see a documentary, I want to know what you love and who you would lay your life down for and what you fear. I don’t want to know the BS surface that’s about as deep as a birdbath. That’s crap. Tell me who you really are.
What was the toughest part to remember and then put into a film?
It’s hard to be naked in public, but that’s what you must do. I have a checkered past. I’ve made mistakes in front of the world. But I found when you talk about it, it does lighten the load.
What do you wish you could do over?
I used to do hard drugs. I would definitely tell my younger self to never do that again. They very nearly killed me. Just so much wasted time, but here I am. I’m the luckiest guy I know. I would also tell my younger self that only a few matter: the people and dogs you love, music and my country.
You’ve been vocal about global warming.
We are the brightest and richest country in the world. We should be leading the fight on global warming. We’re piddling away our time. I’ve been told that we still have a chance to make it a livable world. The best scientific friends I have tell me that we might still make it if we start now.
What do you think about marijuana being legal in many states including Nevada?
Weed is like beer and wine. It’s mild. … God knows we need the money for important things and I think legalizing it has the ripple effect. Plus, I had a conversation last night with two sheriffs from another state who said, “I hope they legalize it here, so we can deal with real crime and not just bust kids for reefer.”
You’ve always been an activist.
I’ve been fighting racism ever since I encountered Dr. King and black musicians. I’ve also been fighting for women. You’re half the human race. You deserve half the power.
What is your advice to younger bands?
Go do it, but remember that streaming isn’t wonderful. Streaming cuts my income in half. But if you feel compelled to do it and music is the only thing that makes you happy, then do it. I didn’t do it for money in the first place. I wanted to leave behind something worthwhile.
What does music mean to you now?
Music is a lifting force that makes things better. Just in the same way that war is a down force, music is the exact opposite. War brings out the very worst in the human race. Music brings out the best of our humility, compassion and love.
How would your dogs describe being treated in the home of David Crosby?
Are you kidding me? They would say, “Royally! We’re treated royally. The guy is amazing.”