“The 80s? A lot of hard drugs, cocaine, heroin, people dying. And disco. I mean, how bad can it get?”: the epic life and times of David Crosby

David Crosby posing for the camera in 1976
(Image credit: Gijsbert Hanekroot/Redferns)

The late David Crosby was one of rock’s great survivors. When Classic Rock sat down with the then-65-year-old former Byrds/CSN/CSNY legend in 2007, he had come through heavy-duty drug addiction, motorbike accidents and a liver transplant. Gracious, funny, smart, Crosby had an opinion about everything. Classic Rock threw at him topics and names from his eventful life, then sat back and listened. His passionate and candid responses paint an illuminating picture of the man who was once introduced on stage by a bandmate as ‘The Sperminator’.

Metal Hammer graphic line break

The 80s

[Laughs loudly] The 80s is a great place to start. As a period: a real wasteland. You’re talking about dance music – real bad dance music. The 80s was not a good time for me because I was completely out of my head on hard drugs. So were a lot of people. The 70s and 80s were when all of that blossomed. And it really went downhill during the 80s. I got into hard drugs: a lot of cocaine, a lot of heroin. A lot of people going down the tubes. A lot of people dying. And disco. I mean, how bad can it get? 


You know, it’s an interesting thing. I never thought I would. And if you had asked me when I was 25: “What are you going to feel when you turn 65?” I’d think I would be decrepit and not at all happy about it. But I was supposed to be dead 11 years ago, which changes how I feel about that entirely.

I’m not dead. And I’ve had three kids since then: my son Django, who I’m raising, and the two kids with Melissa [Etheridge] and Julie [Cypher], Beckett and Bailey. None of those kids would be alive and I would never have seen my son born. My wife was pregnant with my son while I was dying in the hospital waiting for a match [for a liver transplant].

So, truthfully, at 65 I’m grateful. That’s how I feel. I feel very grateful to be alive because I came very close to not being. I have this wonderful son – he’s 11 now – and I’m having a great time raising him. I’m in a really good band. I’m really in several good bands, and I’m still able to sing and play. I’m having a blast. That’s how 65 is.

Graham Nash

He’s a wonderful man, a true renaissance man. A guy who boot-strapped himself up out of one of the toughest industrial cities in Europe [Manchester] into being a world-class authority on art and photography, and one of the best singer-songwriters there is, and arguably the finest harmony singer in the world. He’s an honourable man, which is rare, very rare. He’s been as good a friend to me as a human being could be. I love him. And rightly so.

David Crosby with The Byrds in 1967

David Crosby (left) with The Byrds (Image credit: Mark and Colleen Hayward/Getty Images)

Eight Miles High

[Laughs] No, really, we were writing about the airplane. No, really, ha ha! Honest. Airplane flight. Really. Ha ha ha!

Monterey Pop Festival

The strongest image I have of Monterey Pop is all of us standing there incredulous, saying: “You can’t break up a drum set!” “He’s breaking that guitar!” “He lit it on fire!” We were all kind of shocked at Jimi Hendrix and The Who. We’d never seen anything like that. We didn’t know anything like that existed. Hendrix just blew our mind with being able to play like that, let alone having all that great showmanship to go with it. And The Who just completely destroyed our mind along with all their equipment. 

The 90s

[Long pause] Interesting times. Musically the occasional bright spot, but not a whole lot. In ’94 a lady shows up at my house and says: “Hi, we’re taking your house. I’m from the IRS.” We said: “Like hell you are. We pay our taxes.” Turns out the accountant had swiped the money and not paid the taxes. And then, when we were fighting to keep the house, the earthquake knocked the house to pieces. So then we let them have the house. 

Then there’s the two doctors’ appointments. First doctor’s appointment, they say after five years of trying, my wife Jan is finally pregnant. The next doctor, very shortly thereafter says: “David, I don’t like to tell you this but you’re dying. And you’re going to die quite soon if you don’t get a transplant. It’s the hepatitis C. We’re going to try and get you a transplant, but if we don’t you better get your affairs in order.” Interesting juxtaposition: you’re pregnant; you’re dying.

Then I went through the process. And I was one of the lucky ones, I got a match. And I lived through the operation, which people sometimes don’t. So personally it was pretty wonderful. Django was born, I got a new liver and I got a new chance all at the same time. 

Being a sperm donor

A very interesting experience. What I came away with, the important thing, the thing that really stuck in my head, was my wife Jan and what a kind soul she is and what an act of generosity that was.

They [Melissa and Julie] were visiting us. They’d been wanting to have a kid, and seeing Django triggered the conversation. We said: “You should.” And they said: “We want to.” We said: “It’s the best thing we ever did. We heartily encourage you to do it.” They said it’s a little tougher if you’re a lesbian couple, you know; people kind of freeze up on the co-operating part. So my wife volunteered me. I was taken aback for a moment. And then I thought, ‘You know, there’s a lot of love here’.  


Interesting drug. It’s really the ‘everything’s okay’ pill. 

“Hey, your leg’s broken!”


“Your house is burning down!”

“Right, right. Okay.”

You don’t care about stuff like that. It’s an unfortunate place. I got involved in it because I was in a great deal of pain emotionally and it seems to help you through that. What it actually does is stuff it. And stuffing emotional trauma doesn’t deal with it at all, it just festers. Which is what happened. So I wish to hell I hadn’t done it. It is what it is, and I got past it and I’m very lucky to have got past it. Most people don’t.

George W Bush

Let me ask you this: don’t you think there should be a law that you cannot have control of nuclear weapons unless you can pronounce the word ‘nuclear’? I think that would be fair. I’m just asking for fair. I just think, you can’t shoot ‘em if you can’t speak ‘em. 

What do I think about George Bush? I think he’s an idiot. I think he’s not a very bright guy. That’s patently obvious. I think he’s a very dishonest guy. I think he’s got us in a tremendous amount of trouble. I think the people that he works for have got us in a tremendous amount of trouble. He’d never been outside the country until he was president – great guy to design our foreign policy. You know, I just don’t have one good thing I can say about him. 

David Crosby with Crosby Stills And Nash bandmates Stephen Stills and Graham Nash in 1970

David Crosby with Crosby Stills And Nash bandmates Stephen Stills and Graham Nash in 1970 (Image credit: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Stephen Stills

You know Stephen and I have never gotten along well. We butt heads pretty regularly. I love him. I’ve been through too much with the guy not to love him. He’s not an easy person. I love his music. I think the guy wrote some of the best songs that have ever come out of the United States. But he and I disagree about just about everything; about how to live our lives and what matters and where to go left and where to go right. Whatever we do agree about, we try to concentrate on. Because I love his music, man.


Sailing has saved my life over and over and over again, because it’s real and the ocean has never heard of Crosby, Stills And Nash or anybody else. You either have your shit together or you don’t. It’s absolutely beautiful out there. I’ve been doing it since I was 11. That’s 54 years I’ve been sailing. And it really speaks to me. I would love to do a lot more sailing. I’m getting to the point where I’m not strong enough.

I won’t be able to do it too much longer, but for another few years I will and I’m going to. It’s a wonderful thing. It’s the real world. I want to do it long enough to turn my son Django on to it. He likes the boat and he likes being anywhere around the water; he likes to dive, fish, sail, surf, snorkel. I still have my sailboat and I’ve just rebuilt it again, and the plan now is to sail it to Hawaii in the next year.


You know, when I grew up, where I grew up, when you turned 12 you got a .22 and you learned how to shoot. It was just part of a normal child’s upbringing. Now you talk about guns and it’s gang bangers with 9mm and automatic weapons. And obviously there’s no justification for that and it’s a bad thing. People carrying guns is a bad thing – which I have been busted for doing, and it was a mistake when I did it. Absolutely wrong. But I do think that people should have the right to own a weapon. And I do think it imposes a responsibility on them to teach their kids about it.  

The Byrds

It’s funny. It’s two things at once for me. I’m very proud of it. I think we pushed the envelope a lot. I think we did a lot of really good work, made some wonderful music. And I’m left with a really bad taste in my mouth because I have asked Roger [McGuinn] repeatedly if he and Chris [Hillman] and I could get together and play some Byrds music, because we could and because it’s wonderful music. All we need is a drummer and we could go out and do it.

I know Chris could do it and would do it, and I know that I could do it and would do it. And Roger won’t, and it’s probably my fault. I think it’s because he doesn’t like me. I think it’s partly that and partly that his wife doesn’t want him to do it. But he doesn’t want to do it and that’s a bitter pill for me. I own the name. I can’t do anything with that name without Roger McGuinn because he was at least 50 per cent of The Byrds and everybody knows it – me especially.

David Crosby performing onstage in 1974

David Crosby onstage in 1974 (Image credit: Ron Pownall/Getty Images)

The 70s

The 70s? That’s when the 60s happened, ha ha! And that’s really the truth of it. The 70s were pretty interesting times. Creatively, a very, very exciting time. We had not gone too far down the long downhill slide of coke and heroin. When I say ‘we’, I’m talking about the entire music business when I’m talking about cocaine. Everybody went down the tubes buying that. Everybody in all the companies. Everybody in all the agencies. Everybody in all the management companies. Everybody in every band. They all went down the tubes with it. And some of us came back up. It was really great time in the 70s… 

I got distracted there. I was talking about the 80s later, about the drugs. In the 70s there was such an explosion of good creativity and good music and good writing. It was a pretty wonderful time for me.


I love America. I love the idea of America. The Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights are the finest defence of freedom that’s ever taken place. They are direct descendents of the Magna Carta and the French Constitution, and they are the light of the world for trying to give the ordinary man freedom, and protect him against the power of kings, dictators. 

America was built on the best ideas that we had, by absolutely brilliant men. Since then greed, in the form of corporate power, has severely damaged what those guys laid out. The damage to America in the last six years is astounding. You can hardly catalogue it all. They just disassembled so much of our constitutional rights. And they have done such damage to it that I don’t know if it will recover. But America is worth fighting for, and I have been fighting for it all the way along. I’m an American, I’m proud of it. 

Liver Transplant

The most complex, dangerous operation that human beings are currently doing. I have hepatitis C. There is no cure for it. It takes about 20 years for it to destroy your liver. When it had destroyed mine I was lucky enough to get a transplant. I had insurance. If you don’t have insurance and you get hepatitis C, you’re not going to get the transplant. That’s kind of an unfair thing, but it is the truth. It’s so expensive that it doesn’t happen any other way unless you’re ridiculously rich. 

I’m intensely grateful to the guy who signed the paper, who saved my life by being the donor. People die every day because there’s no organ to transplant. Children die every day because there’s no organ to transplant. Please sign the donor card.


God has a sense of humour. Women have been a delight in my life. I have been with many women, usually not overnighters. Usually for long periods of time. I’ve been very adventuresome and that was a lot of fun. And I lived in this little period of time, right after the invention of the birth-control pill and before the onslaught of Aids. That little slot of time was really a lot of fun. 

It’s an odd thing, I have more women friends than men friends. I like women a lot as friends. I wind up being friends with a lot of women. [Adopts southern drawl] They’s sure are pretty! Fascinating creatures.

September 11, 2011

Interesting wake-up call. Pretty much inevitable. The government in this country wanted to convince themselves that their view of the world was the one that was going to prevail. But it isn’t. That was pretty much inevitable. It was going to happen. There are some other, worse things that are going to happen. 

Freebase cocaine

The most dangerous substance on the planet. The most addictive. The fastest greasy slide to the bottom that there is. If you want to die, go ahead and do it. If you don’t want to die, and degrade yourself and fuck everything up in your entire life, specially your family, don’t do it. 


Very educational experience. Not the way you want to kick drugs. These guys are not what you call sympathetic drug counsellors. It’s a horrible place. People die there. Every day. 

The particular part of the Texas prison system I was in was maximum-security prison: machine-gun tower, razor wire, the whole deal. It was a helluva place to try and kick cocaine and heroin at the same time, which is what happened. So I have funny, mixed feelings about that too. I feel this was an awful, dreadful experience, but at the same time that’s where I woke up from this long, long nightmare of coke and heroin. That’s where I achieved consciousness again, remembered who I was, in a cell. That’s a tough way to do it. Avoid it if you possibly can.

The 60s

They slurped over into the 70s. The 60s were so innocent, man. They were such pungent, strong-flavoured times because of the civil rights thing already going on. People were already dying and having the crap beat out of them, fighting for black people’s right to vote in their own country. Hello? 

It was an amazing time. Vietnam looming larger every day. Civil rights thing going on. Heavy conflict. Incredible music blossoming. The Beatles. We’re talking about The Beatles: every time they put a record out, waves would ripple out across the world, to the rest of us going: “Aw! Listen to what they did this time. Holy shit!” Pretty strong stuff. For us, incredibly creative times, and with a certain kind of innocence at the same time.

David Crosby in suit and tie at the 2020 Grammy Awards

David Crosby at the 2020 Grammy Awards (Image credit: Emma McIntyre/Getty Images)

Neil Young

I love Neil. He’s almost like a force of nature. He’s so strong that he’s like having the wind in the band or the ocean in your band. He’s very intense. He really loves music. He only really cares about music and his family. Nothing else really registers. 

He’s a delight to play with – but you had better be able to come up with your best shit. If you’re on stage with him he’s going to get intense. And he’s going to do his best, which means you better come up with your best or get the fuck off the stage. And that’s good. He’s always leading forward into what’s possible. He’s not satisfied. I don’t know if he’s ever been satisfied in his life. All of these things make him a great friend to me. They make him someone I admire tremendously and he has been consistently a good friend to me. And I love him.


Yeah, I’ve spent a lot of time with that. Regrets are a kind of baggage that you don’t want to carry too long. What you want to do with them is sit down, look at them, be as brutally honest within yourself as you can, figure out what it is you regret. In my case it was time that I wasted. “How did I waste it? Well, I became addicted and it derailed my life. How did I make that choice? Mmmm…” So, you get to go back and look. So that’s largely the reason I wrote the first biography, and the second one because if you have regrets, the thing to do with them is look at how you got there, how you made those choices; learn from it and then set them down and walk away. Because if you carry a great huge satchel of regrets around with you, you can’t get any forward motion. 

Jimi Hendrix

So far the greatest guitar player that’s ever lived. I think Stevie Ray Vaughan came close, Stevie Ray was right up there, but I think Jimi was the best. There is probably some kid – some half-African kid in southern France – who can play even better, but we haven’t heard him yet. 

Jimi was a really nice guy. Most people don’t know that he was in the 101st Airborne. And most people don’t know what a quiet guy he was off stage. He was a very quiet guy, not rowdy or rude or loud or demonstrative at all. But get him on stage… Phew! He’s a fireball.


What a wonderful subject. We could talk all night. To some people religion is… what did the communists say? The opiate of the masses. To some people it’s just something people invented because they were scared of dying and they needed to have some kind of system that they could convince themselves that something else was going to happen after they died.

To me, I think having a spiritual part in your life is good, but I don’t like organised religions – I don’t like any of them. If I were going to pick one to be close to it would be Buddhism, no question. They are the closest to the real world to me. 

Religion makes a lot of mistakes, man. Very often organised religion just does stuff that I really can’t handle. Instead of just trying to help their supposed flock, they are out there manipulating them in the most self-serving ways possible. So religion’s a tough one for me. 

I see someone like the Dalai Lama and he makes me really, really, really think that there’s something wonderful to be had from spiritual teaching. This is a really good man. He has no baggage. He wants nothing. He’s not afraid of anything. That’s a mantra for me: I want nothing. I’m afraid of nothing. I’d like to get to that.

David Crosby

Croz… I still have things I want to learn. I still have places I want to sail to. I’m kind of beat up; I’ve got a lot of scars. My health isn’t all that great. But I’m really happy with my kid and my wife and my grown-up kids and my job. I think I’m very lucky to have a job at my age. I think I’m going to run until the wheels come off if I can. I’m going to work until it’s not fun, then I will stop. But currently there is a need for light in the world and if I can make any, then I’m gonna. Does David Crosby like David Crosby? Yes, I do now. That took a lot of work.

Originally published in Classic Rock issue 105

Kevin Murphy is a writer, journalist and presenter who's written for the Daily Telegraph, Independent On Sunday, Sounds, Record Mirror, Kerrang!, Metal Hammer, Noise, Select and Event. He's also written about film for Empire, Total Film and Directors Guild of America Magazine.