The Happy Lazarus of Rock 'n' Roll
Lots of rock stars succumb to drugs, but few have nose-dived as publicly as David Crosby. The prototypical ’60s folk-rocker began using marijuana and hallucinogens during his heyday with the Byrds and Crosby, Stills and Nash. When his girlfriend, Christine Hinton, died in a car wreck in 1969, he says, he began turning to harder drugs. A decade later he was headed toward the abyss. In 1982 he wrecked his car, and police found a .45pistol and a free-base pipe containing cocaine residue in the vehicle. Three weeks later Dallas police found him with another .45, another pipe and more residue. Convicted on drug and weapons charges, he was caught with heroin and cocaine while out on appeal. Sent to a drug treatment center in 1985, he ran away. He grew fat and splotchy, and even his best friend, CS&N co-founder Graham Nash, despaired of helping him. “I’ve tried everything—extreme anger, extreme compassion,” Nash told Rolling Stone in 1985. “I’ve gotten 20 of his best friends in the same room with him. I’ve tried hanging out with him. I’ve tried not hanging out with him.” Said longtime friend Neil Young, “Freebasing is the worst addiction. It’s not too late for him to come back. Either that’s going to happen or he’s going to die.”
Crosby spent 11 months in Texas jails and was paroled last August. He says he’s been straight now for 16 months, and even Nash believes the change is fundamental and genuine. “I always prayed that David would come back from the land of the dead,” says Nash. “Now he’s 100 percent with us—none of this going away for 10 or 15 minutes. It was insanely difficult to be his friend, but I feel as if I’ve been paid off in spades.”
Crosby himself has the zeal of the born-again. He’s living in a rented two-bedroom house in Los Angeles, writing music for the first time in years, and on May 16 he’ll tie the knot with his steady of eight years, Jan Dance, 35, who is also a recovering drug user. He’s now delighted that Donovan, 12, his daughter from an earlier relationship, is finally getting to see him in his right mind when she visits.
Crosby, 45, talked to reporter Todd Gold about his addiction and recovery.
Most people who go as far as I did with drugs are dead. Hard drugs will hook anyone. I don’t care who you are. It’s not a matter of personality. Do them and it’s a matter of time before you are addicted. You can give me any rationalization you want, I know better. I have a PhD in drugs. Fool with them and you’ll get strung out. Then there are about four ways it can go: You can go crazy; you can go to prison; you can die; or you can kick. That’s it. Anything else anybody says is bull.
I kicked a huge freebase and heroin habit, but it didn’t start out that way. You don’t sit down and say, “Gee, I think I’ll become a junkie.” When I started out doing drugs, it was marijuana and psychedelics, and it was fun. It was the ’60s, and we thought we were expanding our consciousness. There was no harm in it. It wasn’t interfering with anything.
But after my old lady, Christine, was killed, I was unable to handle it and the drugs became more for blurring pain. I was very much in love with her, and she just never came back from the store. That incident was just one contributing factor to my problems, but that was when I got more into hard drugs. I’d been doing coke for a while, but after Christine died, I started doing heroin too. You don’t realize you’re getting as strung out as you are. It sneaks up on you. And I had the money to get more and more addicted.
The biggest alarm, I think, was that the drugs made it harder and harder to make music. I worried about that. I was still able to play and sing, but not as well, and it became more and more difficult for me to work with the other guys. It slowed my writing down too. Anyone who tells you that hard drugs increase your creativity is full of s—-. I noticed I wasn’t writing music, believe me. It’s my life’s work, man, but when you are severely addicted, you don’t really have control.
I got busted a couple times, and there were a couple of car wrecks. The most serious was in 1982 on the way to a show in Southern California. I wrecked my car and had a gun with me. For a long time I used to carry a gun. I like guns. I don’t have any now, but as a kid, I was a member of the National Rifle Association. When John Lennon was shot, I said, “See. We draw nut cases like flies, and when it gets so crazy that a guy will shoot somebody as harmless as John, you have to think about protecting yourself.” Twelve years ago two guys in ski masks with guns showed up at my house in Mill Valley [Calif.] to rob me. I shot first and they left. But for a long time after that, I couldn’t go to sleep until it got light. It was very frightening.
So I had a gun on me that night the car crashed. I don’t think I had any drugs. I think all they got was some residue in a pipe. But that counts the same. I was busted, taken to jail, then released in a couple of hours. Later they dropped the charges. But these things weren’t registering much. When you’re in that state of mind, man, you don’t really accept the data. People whom I love would say to me, “David, this is really bad,” and I’d say, “Hey, I don’t tell you how to live your life.” That was total bull——. Their lives weren’t screwed up and mine was.
A short time later I was busted again. I was playing Cardi’s, a small club in Dallas. They busted in and caught me red-handed, pipe, gun, all of it. The cops knew. By that time my habit was a matter of national knowledge. I went to jail, was out in a few hours and then went through a long legal process. The judge gave me five years. I thought I was being made an example of. Now I think the judge was very fair to me. He let me appeal the sentence and gave me a chance to straighten myself out in a hospital. But I blew the appeal when I was busted for drugs after I ran away from the hospital. Finally the judge said, “That’s enough. You’re going to jail.” I spent four months in jails in New York and Texas. I came out and went straight back on drugs. When you’re as strung out as I was, your life is primarily just trying to find drugs, figure out a way to get the money to get drugs and hustle and beg drugs.
I got busted again a few months later in Marin County, and was sent back to prison. And frankly, although I hated prison, I don’t regret it. Before then my life was horrible. On tour I functioned badly. There was constant paranoia. I knew I was doing the wrong thing. I lived with a great deal of guilt and loneliness because I’d isolated myself from everybody. My daughter wanted very much for me to get off drugs. She’d come to visit and I’d spend most of the time in the bathroom.
At the peak of my consumption I was doing anywhere from an eighth of an ounce to a quarter of an ounce of cocaine [$500] a day and at least a half gram of heroin [$200] a day. When you’re as well known a junkie as I was, it’s easy to get the drugs. Dealers come right over. They’re faster than a pizza delivery. Over the years I spent millions of dollars, although I never reached the point that I was broke.
I was constantly feeling the weight of disapproval of all my friends. Some of them just finally backed off. They couldn’t stand to watch me go down the tubes. One time Jackson Browne, Paul Kantner, Nash and a bunch of my other friends did what’s called an “intervention.” They all confronted me and got me into a hospital. What happens is that you have short periods of lucidness, when you know you are doing the wrong thing, and you say to yourself, “I’m going to beat this somehow.” But I left the hospital the next day. I did this six times.
The prospect of going to prison was devastating. I was so afraid. But I was more afraid of having to kick the drugs. I thought I would die if I didn’t have them. Rather than go to jail, I became a fugitive. Jan and I fled to Florida. There was a warrant out for my arrest and we were going to get on my boat and leave the country. Jan also had a drug habit, and we were going to sail away and try to kick on the boat. We knew we had to beat it, but we couldn’t face doing it and we couldn’t face going to prison and we couldn’t face being split up. But the plan was totally ridiculous.
When we got down there I realized, “I can’t be this guy.” Music was my life. I couldn’t run away and not do any more Crosby, Stills and Nash. I couldn’t not see my daughter again. I had one of those lucky moments. From somewhere I finally had the courage to do something. I called up the FBI in Florida and said, “You have a warrant out for my arrest. Don’t anyone freak out. I’m coming in and surrendering.”
They took me to Texas, and I spent the next four months in solitary in Dallas County Jail. My cell was about 6 by 13. They fed me through a little hole in the door. There were two big fluorescent lights above that never went off. I slept very poorly. I was kicking coke and heroin under the worst possible circumstances. They wouldn’t give me an aspirin. I did it as cold turkey as you can do it, and it was hell.
After four months the judge gave me the choice of staying in County Jail or going to the Texas Department of Correction. I chose TDC. I couldn’t stand being alone anymore. Also I knew that if I went to prison, I could play in a prison band.
It turned out not to be as bad as I thought. I’m not saying the Texas prisons are nice. There was a great deal of violence and cruelty of every sort. There are a lot of guys walking around like loaded bombs, so you have to be very careful. People related to me in every way, from, “Wow, are you really …? ” to “That sonbitch, Dave Crosby. He’s got more money than I ever seen. Kill that sonbitch.” But I never got beat up. I had to get up at 5:30 every morning and make mattresses for the next six hours, measuring and cutting material. Man, that’s not fun, but there’s lots of talk and it kept me from being bored.
Ironically, the main thing about prison for me was that I had more freedom. I got to be out and move around. And my friends could send me books. My cell turned into a library. I could also play guitar, and I got into a rock ‘n’ roll band. We did shows for the inmates and had a good time with it. Jan and I would write each other constantly. She went through detox in a hospital, then recovery in a rehabilitation place for a long time. We used to keep each other alive with letters.
It took me about six months to wake up. I hadn’t written any music for nearly three years. When the words started to come I knew I was on the way back. I started to be able to think again, to be able not to have dreams about drugs all the time. It felt the way I imagine it would feel if you took a sparrow, tied a five-pound weight to its feet for about 10 years and then untied it.
I got out of prison last August 8th and spent some time in a halfway house in Houston. Graham came right down and did a gig there so we could play together and I could have the feeling of going back onstage. He’s that kind of friend. My real friends, like Neil, Stephen Stills, Jackson, they stuck by me. A lot of people had written me off. The general feeling was, “We lost him. He’s going to die or stay in prison.” Wrong. I’m writing like a fool now. A couple of the songs are about my experience with drugs. In the last four or five months I’ve turned out a couple songs that Nash says are among the best things I’ve ever done. Nash loves me, but he won’t give me a quarter inch unless I earn it.
Crosby, Stills and Nash are going on a tour this summer, and we’re getting back with Neil to make a record. We seem to be bigger than ever. Stills, Nash and I recently did an acoustic tour in the East and found half our audience was between 15 and 20 years old. I’m not complaining but I don’t understand it. Who told them?
Sure I regret the missed years and the music that didn’t get made, but I don’t beat myself over the head about it. I’m ashamed of some things. But you have to learn from the mistakes. I had time to think, believe me. In a prison cell, you have a lot of time to think.
When I got out of prison I was in very bad shape. My health was trashed. Since then I’ve lost 30 pounds and I’m losing more all the time. I work out and I’m on a diet. It’s getting better all the time. I’m a growing person. I grew into drugs, I grew through drugs, I grew out of drugs. I’m now growing into being a parent, being the best writer and performer I can be. Also, Jan and I are getting married on May 16. Through all the hardship, we never came unglued.
I learned a great deal from all this. I learned that instead of instant gratification, I needed to learn patience and humility. I learned that music, love and friends are more important than getting high. But the biggest surprise was that I could quit drugs, that I had a choice. I thought I was going to die on drugs. When you’ve been as severely addicted as I was, you’re real surprised to be alive.