Photo: Anna Webber
David Crosby On His New Album 'For Free' & Why His Twitter Account Is Actually Joyful
The music community murmurs about David Crosby's Twitter account like it's a mythical sea monster. To many people online, he's the consummate curmudgeon, an octogenarian sourpuss who shares his dislike for hip-hop and shared his disapproval of the Phoebe Bridgers guitar smash on TV. (Bridgers' retort: "Little b****.") While that vibe is certainly present, a cursory look at Twitter reveals the opposite: An 80-year-old rolling around with his dogs, digging into tacos by the pool and giving thanks for the gift of life.
"It's a game I'm playing, really," Crosby tells GRAMMY.com from his Santa Ynez, California, home on a "stunning" day. "I love my friends and my family and I'm trying to be a decent member of society. I've got no problem with me right now. Since I am here today, all I want to do is use today to do whatever I can to make stuff better." Despite a series of recent, brutal tests, he sounds lighter than ever over the phone — and his new music is his bounciest and most galvanized to date.
We're talking about For Free, his new album which arrives July 23 and represents the brightest star in his recent constellation of albums. (In the 2010s, he put out the good-to-excellent Croz, Lighthouse, Sky Trails and Here If You Listen.) Aside from the elegiac closer, "I Won't Stay For Long," the mood is inexhaustibly upbeat, whether he's covering his beloved Joni Mitchell on the title track or teaming up with his hero Donald Fagen on "Rodriguez for a Night."
Ahead of his performance at the GRAMMY Museum, GRAMMY.com spoke with Crosby about what Twitter teaches him, why he recently sold his catalog and why he's not really a grumpy contrarian, but a man enamored with music and human beings.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
How are you, David?
Elderly and confused! No, I'm fine, man. I'm sitting up here in central California and it's a stunning day. I'm a very happy guy. How are you?
I'm good. I'm originally from around your area. Is the heatwave still happening?
No, it's not real drastic, no. It's OK. It's in the 70s someplace.
Some people tend to paint your Twitter account as being cantankerous, but I find it to be the opposite. It's all about appreciating life as you just described it. It's a very joyful account to me.
To me, it is too, man. Every once in a while, I take a shot at somebody I don't like when they get really pretentious and blown-up. The Kanye Wests of this world, I'll occasionally stick a pin in their balloon. But mostly, I'm not trying to be Howard Stern. I'm really trying to just have fun here. I like people. I think they're fascinating. I like communicating with people.
The other thing about Twitter is that if someone tries to pick a fight, you just delete them. You don't have to deal with it. I don't have to engage in a fisticuffs battle with someone who thinks QAnon is real, for God's sake. If you're that dumb, I don't have to waste my time with you! I like that a lot. It makes it more fun.
It's interesting that you willfully open yourself up to both good people and the lowest common denominator of your fanbase.
Well, some of them are fascinating. You've got to remember: There are both kinds on here. There are Trumpers and other kinds of people who just don't understand what's going on. But there are a ton of fascinating people there too, man. People I've found up being friends with. That's where I met Steve Silberman, my friend from San Francisco. I met him on the Net.
You do meet people. It takes a while. You have to watch what they say and then you get a glimpse of who they are. Then, you test them out. You send something, they respond to it and you eventually suss out who's who. I have actually found some very fascinating people there, and I enjoy it. I like it.
I've seen Steve's tweets. He seems like a sweet guy.
He's a really bright guy. He used to write for Wired. He wrote the best book that anyone's ever written on autism. It's called NeuroTribes. It's a very scientific book, but it's written so well. It reads like a mystery novel. He won some awards with it and stuff. If you're interested in autism, I highly recommend it.
You recently sold your catalog to Irving Azoff. I've seen a lot of opinions out there as to why artists are doing this in droves, much of it misguided. Beyond the financial reality of it, what do you think this deal might do for your catalog and legacy?
It doesn't enrich my catalog or my legacy. I didn't want to do it. I did it because I had to. Here's what happened: We had two ways of making money: Touring, records. Streaming came along; streaming doesn't pay us. It's like you did your job for a month and they paid you a nickel. You'd be pissed. We're pissed. It's a wrong thing.
They threw half of our income away. Half. Gone. So then, we're trying to keep our heads up and we say, "OK, we'll be grateful we can still play live because we're paying the rent and taking care of our families. It's all good." And then, here comes COVID-19, and we can't play live!
What the hell was I supposed to do? I've got a family. I've got a home. I didn't want to lose my house. I don't want them to throw me out in the street. Are you kidding? I take this responsibility seriously. I love these people. I'm trying to do my job. So I did the one thing I could do: I sold my publishing.
Now, the reason everybody did it at the same time is a little more prosaic. A little more grubby. Everybody did it when they did it not because they were out of money like me, but because they know their taxes are all going to be different next year. In the case where you're doing a deal like $300 million, well, you're talking a $10, $20 million difference in taxes. So of course, they did it when they could get that advantage.
Regarding streaming, do you think the other shoe will drop?
I do not. I do not think it will change. I think all content — audio and video — will be streaming.
What happened, man, is they thought the technology up. They went to the record companies and they said, "Imagine no physical object." The record companies, who are not stupid, said "That'd be wonderful! No packaging? No pressing plants? No shipping! No returns! Nothing! We just send a signal and collect the money?"
They said, "What do we have to do to do that?" The streamers said, "You have to change the pay structure. You're paying all that money to these rich rock stars. You have to pay it to us instead." The record companies said, "We can do that! All you'd have to do to get us to do that is give us a piece of your company!" And they did.
The reason the record business is doing just fine on paper is they're making a f***ing ton of money. Except they're not sharing it with the people who make the music. So, that's why we did it. I didn't want to. That's the one thing that I own. I didn't want to sell it. Of course, I didn't.
The Cameron Crowe documentary Remember My Name showed how you live modestly in a comfortable home. You don't live in the lap of luxury.
Yeah. It is comfortable, and you're right, it's not grandiose. I live in a little adobe house in the middle of a cow pasture, in the middle of a clump of trees. But it's really pretty and really peaceful and really sweet. We've been planting these plants and trees for 25 years and we love it a whole lot. So, yeah, we didn't want to lose it.
Clearly, having to sell your sailboat was heartbreaking.
Yeah, that hurt. I've had a lot of painful stuff in the last couple of years. Things couldn't go right.
Leaving CSN, I feel, was a very good thing, but very hard. I didn't like the guys. Nash and I were really not getting along at all.
So, I'm kind of glad I did it, but the following couple of years have been hard. Financially hard, physically hard — a lot of physical stuff going on. I lost a son, which was just painful to a level that's hard to describe. And I, frankly, am very worried about my country. I think we're in a lot of trouble. I think it's better than it was, but I think we've got some real problems.
But, you know, I'm not whining and sniveling here, man. I'm lucky that I'm alive. Let's start there. There's a very good chance I wouldn't be. And I am, and I'm grateful for it. I'm lucky that I get a family that's wonderful, and I love them.
I'm lucky that I can still sing. That's sheer luck. I did everything wrong. There's no excuse. And yet, here I am and I can sing. What do I do? I don't know if I've got two weeks or 10 years. I do know that I'm here right now. And if I concentrate on that, I can still have a lot of fun right now, today, making art that's good.
Frankly, man, the world is in kind of s*** shape. There's a lot of stuff wrong. Music's a lifting force. It makes things better.
That's what I feel when I listen to For Free. The music is so bouncy and galvanized. It seems like a tribute to the way music can be a counterweight to boredom and suffering.
Yeah, that's the idea. Yes, the record does feel like that, mostly. We didn't have a plan, man, but we certainly like it. That's what we certainly want to do: Be as joyful as we possibly can.
The best song on the record isn't joyful. It's thoughtful and sad and spooky and beautiful: "I Won't Stay For Long." There's a joy to that, too: That's how good [my son and collaborator] James [Raymond] has grown up to be.
And that seems like another part of the record's essence: Your love and admiration for your family, friends and fellow musicians.
It's a thing that happens to me, man. I wrote "Wooden Ships" with Stephen Stills and Paul Kantner. At the time, it just sort of happened. But in retrospect, I realize that's really a good thing. The other guy always thinks of something you didn't. It widens your palette of colors. It widens the possible reality that you're addressing. It's an excellent idea.
Most people take all the credit and all the money and they play it that way. [affects smarmy tone] "I'm the one who did it. Just me." I think my willingness, my joy at writing with these other people have extended my useful life as a writer for about 10 years, 20 years. And that's really a good thing, because here I am. I'm 80 years old, I've got a really good record ready to drop and I'm working on two more.
How has James developed as a songwriter and musician over the years?
He's written a ton of good songs with me. Frankly, a lot of the best stuff I've done in the last 20 years — Crosby & Nash; Crosby, Stills & Nash; the Croz record; the Sky Trails record; and now this record. He's matured as a writer. That's the best song on the record, "I Won't Stay For Long." No question.
It gave me shivers earlier.
Oh, my god. It's a beautiful song. He nailed it. Am I proud of him? Yes, I am. Am I grateful that he's still my joyful pal? Yes, I am. I just got off the phone with him. We're a really good match. The only weird thing about the relationship with James is that he's the adult and I'm the kid.
Well, there's a rumor that I was going to grow up, but it just didn't really pan out. I'm not really a very adult person. I'm sort of like the nine-year-old in the relationship and he's the 30-year-old. He's the designated driver. He's a much more serious person than I am and definitely smarter.
David Crosby performing with the Byrds in 1965. Photo: CBS via Getty Images
On the topic of your family — and feel free to not broach this at all — I was thinking about Beckett and the saddening news about him. Losing a child is tragic on any level, but I was thinking that it must have kicked up extra-complicated emotions since another couple raised him.
Yeah, very tough. He was a nice kid. If you'd have known him, you would have been devastated, because he was a shiny, brainy, funny, laughing, curious, sweet, extremely bright kid. He and his sister, that was me and [my wife] Jan [Dance] trying to be good human beings and share the joy that we had.
We had Django; that was a stunning kid. Melissa [Etheridge] and Julie [Cypher] came to visit us and said "Oh my god, how do you get one of those?" Jan pointed at me, and they said "Wha… you kidding?" And she said, "No, he'll do it." I thought it over and I said "Yeah." We liked them a lot. They had been together for nine years or something. They looked stable and good. It seemed to us that lesbians have just the right to have kids as anybody else.
So, we volunteered to do that and the kids were stunners. Bailey [Jean Cypher] is just an absolutely brilliant girl, and beautiful. Beckett was the same. Bright and beautiful. Well, it didn't go well for that family. They wound up fighting each other, Melissa and Julie. That's not good, and he wound up being unhappy and he went out in the world and ran into some fentanyl that killed him.
It's a bitter pill, man. There's nothing you can do to make it light or funny or good. It's just awful.
Well, the joyful thing I can think of is in Beckett's life. You mentioned your insatiable curiosity about the human condition, which stretches through your work. I imagine the apple didn't fall from the tree with those kids, since you describe them as so brilliant.
Mm-hmm. Yep. The visits here were a lot of fun. They got along very well with Django and we were a joyous bunch together.
From Croz to Lighthouse to Sky Trails to Here if You Listen to For Free, the throughline, to me, is you holding onto life kicking and screaming: "Please give me more years on the planet. Don't take music away from me. I love my house and family and dogs and horses. The world is largely a beautiful place."
That's a really clear read on it, man. That's good. You can do my eulogy. It is like that. It's just like that. I'm very grateful and I'm going to keep working until I drop. It's more fun than sitting around waiting to drop.
All these people are like, "Crosby's such a bitter old man!" and I'm like, "What are you talking about? He's more positive than anybody my age!"
I try to be, man. There's a certain curmudgeon thing that's fun to do. To be a crabby old man. [affects geriatric voice] "You kids don't know nothin'!" That kind of thing. It's fun and I'll do it to a degree, but it's a game I'm playing, really.
I feel good. I feel good about the choices that I make and I feel good about my life. I feel good about what I think is valuable. I'm behaving relatively sanely. I have a good time. I smoke a little pot; it doesn't seem to hurt anything. I love my friends and my family and I'm trying to be a decent member of society. I've got no problem with me right now. Since I am here today, all I want to do is use today to do whatever I can to make stuff better.
We're arguably living through the most turbulent era since the '60s, but back then, someone like CSNY would write "Ohio" and it'd be on the radio within days. It doesn't seem like culture is stepping up to produce work that reflects or shapes the times. Do you feel that way, and if so, is it frustrating to watch?
Yeah, to a degree, I do feel that way. I wish the art were addressing the situation more. You see people being very brave. This Greta Thunberg girl is so brave out there telling the truth.
You think, "Geez, why aren't the adults going along?" Well, we've got a whole bunch of people in our government who don't even believe global warming's real and couldn't care less anyway. They want power, and they're going to try to stop everything Joe Biden and the Democrats want to do to address it. Not because it's wrong, but because they want to stop everything the Democrats want to do. It's about power. It's not about the subject at all.
And in so doing, they're ruining us and the rest of the world, many of whom are trying to do the right thing. It's a tough situation. Tough. I don't know how it's going to play out. The point is, if you can read and think, you'd better get down to your voting office and vote as often and as responsibly as humanly possible.