September 08, 1986 12:00 PM

The plans for a reunion were an open secret, but even so security around Rockefeller’s nightclub in Houston was tight enough for a witness-protection program. Bouncers were ordered to bar TV cameras at the door and to throw out anyone shooting photos, while reporters were told there would be absolutely no interviews. All the hush-hush measures had the audience of 400 rapt with anticipation, and when Graham Nash began to sing a song called Glass & Steel “for an old friend,” everyone knew whom he meant. “And it’s hard, yes, it’s hard to understand just where you’ve gone,” Nash sang. “And I know that coming down can’t be much fun anymore / Still, I hope you find the strength to carry on.”

As the lights went down, the crowd rose to its feet, and David Crosby, 45, stepped from behind the curtain to a roar of cheers. He was at least 50 pounds overweight, his thinning hair cut short, the replacement for his droopy trademark mustache still stubble and his pipes rusty, but the sum of those parts was more than enough. “I can’t tell you what a thrill this is for me,” Crosby told the crowd halfway through a heartfelt set with longtime partner Nash. “I have waited almost a year for this moment.”

Three years ago even Crosby’s closest friends feared such a moment might never come. Strung out and broke, the first name in the supergroup Crosby, Stills & Nash (which sometimes also included Neil Young) was sentenced to five years in prison after police found him in the dressing room of a Dallas nightclub, freebasing cocaine with a loaded .45-caliber pistol in his lap. Crosby’s imprisonment marked the nadir of his 15-year slide from Woodstock to drugs and despair. Now, after his release to a halfway house for drug offenders, Crosby’s friends are hoping his 11 months in prison have freed him from his past. “It’s been good to have my partner back and feeling so spiritually good and clean,” said Nash, 44. “I think he certainly is clearer and healthier than I’ve ever seen him. He’s a little overweight. He knows it; he has a long way to go.”

Crosby’s decline had disappointed Nash and erstwhile CSN-mate Stephen Stills. “We swore many years ago that we wouldn’t become rock ‘n’ roll victims,” Nash has said. “We saw so many friends die…Jan is Joplin, Brian Jones, Jimi Hendnrix and, of course, Cass Elliott, who was responsible for David and my meeting in the first place.” Always a volatile trio, CSN eventually broke up into solo acts, but Nash has expressed hope for a revival of the group. “I have the music,” Nash said recently. “I’m sure Stephen does and I hope David does.” But, he admitted, “There’s still an element of anger in me about how David Crosby screwed David Crosby up.”

Despite that, Nash kept in touch with Crosby while he was in prison, visiting once and writing every week. He sent him a recording of Glass & Steel, which Crosby told him he listened to tearfully in his cell.

The day after the performance, Crosby won permission to complete the remaining three years of his parole in California. According to Nash, a documentary film about his friend’s plight is in the works, tentatively titled Eight Miles High. Meanwhile, Crosby reportedly plans to work in L.A. on some of the songs he wrote while in prison. One, called Compass of My Heart, which he sang at Rockefeller’s, tells how he had “seized death’s door handle,” but of his imprisonment Crosby told the crowd, somewhat ambiguously, “I don’t regret it a bit.” One member of the audience, speaking for many, called back, “Just don’t do it again.”

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