Last time I Wire With David Crosby It was a year and a half ago. He was an amazingly busy man. The 80-year-old Laurel Canyon legend recently released his fifth solo album in seven years – Free – but his mind kept busy with dozens of other projects and ideas from which he could not get rid of.
At the time, Croz was in the middle of editing and polishing a live album he had recorded on the road with the band he was recording with Lighthouse. In addition, he was working to get the tarp line out of the ground during the closing of AD Million dollar sale for the rights to his massive publishing catalog. In between, we found time to chat about UFOs, sci-fi novels, parasitic music streaming services, and his all-time favorite band, Steely Dan.
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Until his dying breath, David Crosby remained a singularly restless soul. He was someone who flatly refused to rest on his laurels, which is probably why he enjoyed the amazing second, third, fourth, and fifth works in American Life that elude everyone else. It is this very fact that makes his unexpected death last week so infuriating. For all that he has managed to achieve and accomplish throughout his improbable life, Crosby is not finished with creativity. The man had his hands on a thousand different projects as he plotted his way through a truly unprecedented late career renaissance.
Crosby was already thinking of the next song. next album. Next round. next band. While the rest of his fellow baby boomers settled into stable, good-for-money comfort — “Turn up the lights and smoke machine, go out there and play the hits,” he would sneer. Crosby never stopped getting out into the world to meet new people and see where the action is. He just couldn’t help himself.
This fact became all too clear to me during a chilly September evening in 2014. I was at an open-air winery just north of Seattle checking out a Crosby, Stills & Nash party. Somehow I had never seen them before and was so excited. It turned out to be a great show full of amazing vocal harmonies, epic guitar solos, and really good vibes. The seat next to me remained open the entire show, so I sat next to someone’s service dog for the entire two and a half hours. Interception, a black schnauzer. No complaints.
The trio played all of their famous hits—”Wooden Ships,” “Déjà vu,” “Almost Cut My Hair,” and “Carry On”—but halfway through, Crosby took the solo spotlight and played a song I’d never heard before. It was just him, alone on an acoustic guitar, picking up notes with some weird tuning I couldn’t decipher. Immediately, I loved it.
I tried to find the song on the Internet after the gig, but it turned out that he hadn’t released it. I tried to remember the last time I saw any sort of classic rock act debut unfinished material during a public show mid-tour, but I came up blank. I thought “pretty balls”. The song was called “What Makes It So,” and it stuck in my head for months. It was like an itch I couldn’t scratch, slowly driving me insane.
Just over a year later, CSN was completed. The group played their final show together at the annual tree lighting ceremony at the White House in front of then-President Barack Obama. The whole thing was a disaster on many levels. When it ended, CSN sharply disintegrated, as it had so many times in the past.
I was shocked at first, but also excited. CSN was I tried and failed many times to make a new record together about a decade ago, but we just couldn’t get it together. A proposed covers project produced by Rick Rubin almost got off the ground, but then fizzled out over a disagreement over how many Beatles tunes to include. I knew David Crosby had at least one good song left in him, because I had heard it myself. And I really wanted to hear it again.
Lighthouse, Crosby’s next solo record, dropped in 2016 and I finally got my wish. Significantly, “What Makes it So” was not the best song on the set. That honor went to “By the Light of the Common Day”, the album’s closing track. It was a duet – Crosby’s voice was always at its best when expertly mixed with others – that he sang with a pair of extraordinarily talented young singers named Michelle Willis and Becca Stevens. Just amazing stuff. Snarky Puppy jazz frontman Michael Legge served as producer, arranger, and performer, and kept things pretty abstract to highlight just how amazing Crosby’s voice has remained despite several decades of hard living.
Stevens and Willis sang with Crosby again on his next full-length record, Sky Trails, just one year later. Musically, it was better than its predecessor. The title track in particular will rip your guts out on a silent night when the moon is full. Sky Trails Produced by James Raymond, Crosby’s long-lost son and close collaborator in recent years. Raymond was adopted in 1962, when Crosby was 21 years old. Father and son got together in the ’90s, just before Crosby went under the knife for an emergency liver transplant. The operation was a success and they have been studio collaborators ever since.
League returned to Here if you listened In 2018—”Buddha on the Hill” is a gem to hear—before Cruz reunited with Raymond again for the release of his latest record, Free, after the COVID lockdowns started to wear off. There, Crosby was finally able to fulfill his lifelong desire to record a song for Steely Dan when Donald Fagen gifted him the lyrics to a song called “Rodriguez for the Night”. Dan’s feelings spill over into “River Rise” thanks to a little vocal help from Silver Yachting’s captain, Michael McDonald.
As an outside observer during the last decade of Crosby’s life, I was struck not only by the quality of the music but also by how far it seemed to flow from the man. This was the territory of the SoundCloud rapper. A seventy-year-old man with a launch schedule that could make Future raise eyebrows. It wasn’t just that Crosby had apparently been smothered too long within the confines of the CSN machinery – he really had a lot to say. Most importantly, he found the perfect group of people to help him get it all out.
There are a lot of artists out there who claim to be talking about music. And many start this way! But then the machine snaps at you. Success. fail. fame. cash. Life. death. It all must be very heavy. It gets hard to make it about music forever. To find non-cynical inspiration. It’s hard to remember why you got into all of this in the first place.
David Crosby forgot this passion several times throughout his life. But he always came back. No matter how many times he’s been counted, Crosby has always returned, usually with a bunch of new songs to show you too. At the end of the day, what really matters are the people you love, the art you create, and the people who keep you inspired.
As Crosby said to me, “Famous doesn’t mean jack shit. Fame doesn’t mean jack shit. Money, honestly, apart from the fact that you need it to take care of your family, doesn’t mean shit. What matters to me is the songs. It’s a place where you can talk to people.” “You can communicate — in fact, communicate on a very high level. Very multi-level, textured, weird, beautiful level. I love it. I love being able to do that. And I’m grateful for that.”
Rest in peace Cruz, and thanks for the inspiration. No one will forget your name anytime soon.
To see our list of the 100 Greatest Rock Stars of All Time, click here. click here.
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