Singer David Crosby is lucky to be alive. After co-founding the Byrds and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, the singer-songwriter went from big hits like “Eight Miles High” to the shocking lows of heroin addiction and months spent in prison on narcotics and weapons charges.
“I was supposed to be dead 20 years ago,” David, 77, admits. Nearly every wild turn in his life has been captured in the new documentary David Crosby: Remember My Name. As the film hits theaters, David exclusively opens up to Closer Weekly in the magazine’s latest issue, on newsstands now, about his turbulent affair with Joni Mitchell, fathering Melissa Etheridge and Julie Cypher’s children via artificial insemination, and the unlikely hero in his story: his wife of 32 years, Jan Dance.
“I’m better at loving Jan than I was the others,” David confides. “She’s not perfect, and neither am I, but we do really love each other, so there’s a magic there.”
Scroll below to read our exclusive Q&A with David!
Your new film is a pretty intense ride. What did you think of it?
It was gritty, but I’m pretty happy with it. [Producer/interviewer] Cameron Crowe’s known me since he was 15. In [his film] Almost Famous, he was the kid, we were the band. So he’s seen it all, right? That meant there was a high degree of honesty — he gave me nowhere to hide.
Until I saw the film, I had no idea you were close with the Beatles…
They knew about the Byrds as soon as we had a hit with “Mr. Tambourine Man.” They knew that we were trying to change things, so they were extremely kind to us. They said a lot of really kind things about us that helped us get started, and when we went to England, they befriended us and had us over. We had dinner, we talked, we jammed…
Amazing. How’s your relationship with your ex Joni Mitchell these days?
I had dinner at her house a couple months back and we talked. And I love her. I don’t think she’s happy with me, but I don’t think she’s really happy with anybody. I love her dearly, and I think she certainly was the best singer-songwriter of all of us.
In the film there’s a great story you tell about how she broke up with you by playing a song at a dinner…
“That Song About the Midway”— it was her goodbye song to me.
What do you recall from that moment?
The look on her face when she finished singing the song, looking right at me, and then she started and sang it again.
Did you just know that, oh, it’s over?
Yeah, that was a very definite message there. She’s quite a lady.
You’ve had big falling-outs with Stephen Stills, Graham Nash and Neil Young. Is this film an olive branch to them?
No, definitely not. I think all of us were horrible to each other many, many times. And we probably should all apologize to each other repeatedly.
It does seem like an on-screen apology.
Some people read it that way. I’m not really … I’ve already apologized to those guys for most of the things that I think I should have apologized for — the biggest one, of course, being me turning myself into a junkie. That was the worst thing I did to any of them. But I don’t think there’s an entity there to apologize to. That band is history. It’s done. We did good work. I’m proud of it and I’m doing what I’m doing now. I’ve got no bad stuff in my heart for any of those guys. They’re all OK and I wish them well. I want them to have good lives.
Given all your drug and alcohol abuse, how has your voice stayed so good?
My friends who are really good singers, people that I really trust, tell me that I’m singing probably better than I have in my life, and they’re as baffled by it as I am. None of us can figure it out.
You’ve also made a lot of music lately.
I’m certainly not a candidate for having four albums in the past four years, but that’s what’s happened, and I’m halfway through a fifth one. Yes, it doesn’t make any sense. What? Why? How? Who? [Laughs]
What was your inspiration?
I think it’s that I didn’t have a welcoming place for the last 10 years of CSN. We weren’t friends, and I didn’t feel I could take songs there, so I had some songs saved up. Then I started writing with my son James, and he changed everything. And then I wrote with incredibly talented young people who are brilliant writers. I’m a very lucky guy.
Did you always know you’d make music?
I wanted to be an actor ’cause my dad was a cinematographer. It sounded good, ’cause girls liked actors. Then in my middle teens I started singing in a coffeehouse in Santa Barbara. That was it, boom.
What are you proudest of?
Well, my kids, I guess.
What are they up to?
Erika has three kids, lives in Florida and is an incredibly smart, wonderful woman who I visit regularly because I love her dearly. Donovan doesn’t really talk to me. Django lives with me and is an absolute joy. I don’t parent Bailey and Beckett, the two with Melissa [Etheridge and her ex-partner Julie Cypher], but I do love them. Beckett’s somewhere in Colorado and Bailey just graduated from NYU today.
Addiction can be genetic. Did you worry any of them might follow in your path?
They all apparently learned from my mistakes, because none of them are interested in hard drugs. I think they saw what happened and have avoided it, which certainly is a wonderful thing.
Do you know why you survived?
I think a lot of it has to do with the French code of raison d’être — it means “reason for being.” A lot of people don’t have a really good, strong reason that they believe in for their life to go forward. Me, I do. I’ve got a wife I love and a family that I love and a job that I love. So I had every reason on Earth to beat the dope and get to here.
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