“To sing the blues you’ve got to live the dues.” Stephen Stills wrote the lyrics to Carry On, a love song and generational call for perseverance on the 1970 Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young album Déjà Vu. None of the four paid the price more than David Crosby, a free-spirit indulger, angry imp, trouble-making cat and world-class harmony singer with CSNY and the Byrds, who ended up in a Texas jail for drug possession and gun charges in 1983. A survivor and working musician at 77, Crosby is the intriguing subject of the new documentary David Crosby: Remember My Name, which opens Aug. 2. He spoke to The Globe and Mail about his estrangement from Neil Young, his unaccountable career renaissance and having no choice but to carry on.
How are you?
Hmm ... my normal answer, just to be funny, is that I’m elderly and confused. But, I’m really pretty good, man. I’m cruising along.
A.J. Eaton directed the new documentary about you. Cameron Crowe co-produced it and handled the interviews. But because of your candidness, you did all the heavy lifting. I almost feel like you should have been paid as the interview subject. Were you?
Absolutely not. The satisfaction is in the catharsis. Being able to tell, as close as you can, the truth, and getting it off your chest – that’s where the payment is.
Your tone is often apologetic. Is that what the film is, an apology for your past behaviour?
It wasn’t intended to do that. If there was an apology, it would be made to the women who I was not kind to.
Not to Neil Young or other former bandmates?
CSNY, you know, we were horrible to each other. All of us were, over and over and over again. I did apologize to Neil about saying bad things about his girlfriend [now wife, actor Daryl Hannah]. But the truth is that we all owe apologies to each other, massively. I mean, Neil leaving Stephen Stills in the middle of a tour? Just cutting out on him, with no warning? We’ve done horrible things to each other, but apologies aren’t what’s at stake here. There’s a long, bitter competition between all of us. I don’t think we really care about each other that much.
It doesn’t sound like a reunion is coming any time soon.
I don’t hate those guys. I certainly have no beef with them at all. Truthfully, though, I really can’t stand around and wait. I gotta be making music while I’m still here, alive.
You display a high level of self-awareness in the film. Is that something you’ve developed over the years?
I don’t know where that came from. I think it’s a positive effect. It makes some people uncomfortable, but I think it works well for me.
You seem to have the respect of younger musicians. Did you earn that reverence and reputation for being wise?
I hope you’re right about that being how it is. I think I do have some respect from a lot of younger artists though. I try to focus attention on them, because it’s difficult on them. If you think it’s hard on someone like me, who can actually earn a living playing live, imagine what it’s like for young people who are trying to earn their way up and they can’t make any money on records at all.
You just landed a gig as an advice columnist for Rolling Stone, and, in addition to this film, you’re a big part of Jakob Dylan’s documentary about the ’60s music scene in Los Angeles’s Laurel Canyon. Can you explain the continuing fascination with you?
I don’t know if I can. I mean, it doesn’t make any sense. It doesn’t make any sense that I can still sing, I did it all wrong. I’m not supposed to be here. All I can do is, if this is how it is, is to be very grateful, and to work the hell out of it.
In the CSNY song Carry On, there’s the line about love coming to us all. When you guys were singing it, did you believe it?
I did, yeah. You know, a number of people have been asking me lately about what happened at Woodstock, and why it was such a magical thing. It was hope. We looked around and saw people behaving like human beings.
That was 50 years ago. How’s that hope now?
Damaged. It’s really hard right now, man. Things are [rotten]. It’s one of the reasons I want to play my music so badly.
How does that help?
It doesn’t fix everything, but it makes you feel better. That’s why I feel the need to, as James Taylor says, shed a little light. That’s it. That’s what I feel we need to be doing right now.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
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