Singer, songwriter and two-time Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member David Crosby feels death approaching.
In the recently released documentary movie “Remember My Name,” Crosby estimates that he only has about two more years to live. One of the ultimate classic rock survivors has eight stents in his heart — the stent limit, he says — and he expects another heart attack within that time frame.
Crosby, back on the road for a late-summer tour and headed back to Jefferson Center for a Thursday show, will likely have to discuss his impending death multiple times in upcoming interviews for both the tour and the well-received documentary.
“It’s not easy, but it is the truth, so it’s OK,” Crosby said in an Aug. 2 phone call. “I think people don’t talk about dying because they’re scared of it, and nobody has an instruction booklet, and there’s so much b------t around it.
“The real truth of it is, we don’t know how much time we’ve got. Maybe you’ve got two weeks. Maybe you’ve got 10 years. What you do know is this: The significant part about that time, however long that time is, is what you do with it. It’s how you treat it. Is it valuable? Yes, it’s valuable. It’s the most valuable commodity you have — time. What you do with it? Well, that defines who you are.”
He wasted years of it in a haze of hard-drug addiction and frequent lawlessness; neither Crosby nor the documentarians, including Cameron Crowe, gloss over that aspect of his life. In recent years of relative sobriety (Crosby, a liver transplant patient, no longer drinks, but does smoke cannabis), he has become a creative firecracker and artistic collaborator, with four albums released since 2014. In the phone conversation from his California home, he sounds nothing like a man who is on the clock. In fact, he sounds about 20 years younger than 78, enjoying a late-life creative peak.
“I think music is a lifting force,” he said. “I think it makes things better. I think it sheds a little light. That’s what James Taylor says, and I believe him.
“I think it’s not only my job but my destiny to try and do that — try and make music, try to make it lift, make something better in what seems to me to be a very dark time in the United States of America. A very dark time.
“We’ve got an idiot for a president, who’s doing enormous ... harm. We’ve got Mitch McConnell, who if I had a magic wand, I’d make him into a real turtle. We have a problem, and it’s dark times, and so shedding some light, making music, is the only thing I can do with the time that I’ve got. And that’s what I’m doing.”
If time — both wasted and used wisely — is a central theme of “Remember My Name,” so is friendship, particularly its loss. Crosby has had a history of saying the same kinds of things to and about friends and associates that he says about the politicians he despises. Crosby laments in the documentary that his fellow Rock Hall members from two bands, The Byrds and Crosby, Stills & Nash (and by extension, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young), will no longer speak to him.
The movie shows Crosby struggling to understand why they hate him, but also shows him saying that “the biggest mistake I make is getting mad.”
It’s a beast he still works to tame, he said.
“Yeah, I’m doing a lot better at it than I used to,” he said. “I used to get mad every day. Now I get mad once a month. I’m very happy about that. It took a lot of work. And it also had to do with back then I was doing a lot of hard drugs, and they cancel a whole [boatload] of your consciousness, and now I’m not, so I’ve got a few more brain cells to work with.”
Verbal self-laceration is at the heart of the documentary. In the same scene in which he describes The Doors’ frontman Jim Morrison as “a dork,” he describes his own personality in that same era — “big ego, no brains, goofy, stoned.” He opens up about getting multiple women involved with hard drugs, and a selfishness that alienated him from one after another. The movie opens with him leaving his wife, Jan, for yet another road trip from which he might not return alive, as she tells the camera that she had hoped he would choose to stay with her.
“I love singin’, but I hate leavin’,” Crosby says as his bus pulls out for another road trip.
Crosby is proud of the movie.
“Most documentaries are shine jobs,” he said. “They just say, he’s so wonderful, and he’s so big, and oh golly, he was such a star, and then he discovered Hollywood, and then he discovered electricity. And isn’t he cute? They’re about as deep as a bird bath, and they don’t tell you anything about the person you’re trying to find out about.”
He, producer/interviewer Crowe and director A.J. Eaton agreed to be honest, and not be “half-ass,” Crosby said.
“I think the reason that it’s getting such rave reviews and being such a hugely successful documentary, is that everybody else is lying,” he said. “All the other stuff out there is I-can-tell-a-bigger-one than-you-can, ha ha! And nobody gives a s- — after a while.
“It’s really honest, and it’s really skillfully done, and these guys know how to make you feel stuff during the movie, and we didn’t lie.”
Nor would anyone care if the central character wasn’t so compelling. Crosby was at the center of major musical movements. The Byrds, starting in 1964, scored with “Turn! Turn! Turn!” and “Eight Miles High,” the latter a Crosby co-write. Crosby, Stills & Nash’s and Crosby Stills, Nash & Young’s repertoire, beginning with a 1969 debut, includes “Teach Your Children,” “Our House,” “Ohio,” “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” and Crosby songs “Guinnevere,” “Almost Cut My Hair” and “Long Time Gone.”
Using archival footage of Neil Young, Crowe and Eaton show that Crosby was a driving force of creativity. Speaking of the song “Ohio,” which Young wrote about the 1970 shootings at Kent State University, he credited Crosby with sparking his creativity.
“Crosby always has a way of bringing things into focus,” Young says in the footage. “That’s what really woke me up.”
He retains the ability to marshal creative forces.
“I have a skill or a talent or something in musical chemistries,” Crosby said. “I know one when I see it. I generally kind of understand how they work, because I’ve been in a bunch of them now.”
He used it to build what he calls the “Lighthouse” band, created to make an album of the same name in 2016, then “Here If You Listen,” in 2018. It features Snarky Puppy leader Michael League, who played a variety of guitars and basses, sang harmonies and co-wrote five of the album’s nine songs with Crosby. He used it also for the “Sky Trails” band, which is the group that will back him at Jefferson Center.
The “Lighthouse” band hit Jefferson Center in December 2016. Thursday will be the “Sky Trails” band’s first time at the venue.
Crosby’s musical partners on this show will be drummer Steven DiStanislao, bassist Mai Leisz, guitarist/vocalist Jeff Pevar, keyboardist/vocalist James Raymond and Michelle Willis, a keyboardist and vocalist who is also part of the “Lighthouse” band.
“She’s so good a singer, man, I asked her to be in both of them. You hear her sing, and you’ll totally get it. She’s just crazy good,” he said, with a big laugh.
Given that his history is all about harmonies, it’s crucial to have vocal talent to blend with.
“I really do love it,” he said. And [Willis is] as good at is as anybody I’ve ever sung with. She’s an immensely talented singer/songwriter also. ... I’m sure Michelle will be doing a song [of her own], maybe a couple. She’s too good to ignore.”
Crosby, Stills & Nash played Berglund Performing Arts Theatre in 2014, but is unlikely to reunite. That leaves Crosby with two bands of younger performers, and plenty of creativity still in the tank. The “Sky Trails” band, which sprung from CPR (Crosby, Pevar and Raymond), was the core of the 2014 album “Croz,” and it leans more toward rock and the type of jazz-inflected rock that Steely Dan has done.
“That’s my favorite band,” Crosby said.
The focus, live, is on music from “Croz” and “Sky Trails,” he said.
“Those are the ones that James produced.”
Raymond, by the way, is Crosby’s son.
But the band will visit songs from The Byrds; Crosby, Stills & Nash; Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young; Crosby & Nash; and more.
“There’s really no rules, and there’s really no limits to it,” he said. “We go anywhere we want. The musicians in the band, every single one of them is better than me, and they are all eager for a challenge. ... There’s no two nights that are even vaguely the same.”
And there will be new music, from a record that is about halfway done, he said.
New music — definitely the best use of remaining time.