November 20, 2006 12:00 PM

He may be 65 now, but David Crosby has just finished a demanding tour with old crony Neil Young. After a liver transplant in 1994 and a 2004 arrest for marijuana and gun possession, Crosby says he’s feeling “incredibly grateful that I’m alive.” Reveling in his family—wife Jan, 54, and son Django, 11—he’s also looking forward to the release of a 52-song box set, Voyage, featuring his work from 1966 to 2004, along with 16 previously unreleased tracks.

The legendary musician also is pulling no punches: In a new memoir, Since Then, Crosby and his intimates discuss such tough subjects as the 1997 suicide of his brother Ethan as well as one of his own greatest joys: parenting. Father to grown children James, Donovan and Erika as well as Django, the author describes the experience of helping pals Melissa Etheridge and Julie Cypher become parents as well.

DAVID CROSBY: The first time [Django] put his arms around me and held on to me, I felt exalted…. Truthfully, raising a child can be the most fun thing on the planet. I’m fond of saying that I thought I had a Ph.D. in fun, but I didn’t know what real fun was until my kid said “Daddy.”

While at Graham Nash’s home on Kauai in the late ’90s, Crosby (whose wife had had difficulty conceiving) overheard a life-altering conversation.

CROSBY: I was watching Django while Jan was deep in conversation with [Melissa Etheridge and her then partner, Julie Cypher], talking about babies and conception and the difficulties of starting a family.

JULIE CYPHER: We were talking about babies and how we wanted to do it, and it was important that the father be a known entity…. And that’s when Jan blurted out, “Well, what about David?” It was so shocking and overwhelming; I would never dare to assume that someone would give such a huge gift.

CROSBY: To me it’s a no-brainer. If two couples care about each other and one couple wants to help the other couple have kids, why wouldn’t they do it? We were following our hearts, and our hearts told us that these were good people. That was the critical and deciding factor for me and Jan: We believe in love, and we believe it’s crucial.

CYPHER: I consulted Jan and David’s doctor [Dr. Richard Marrs, a fertility specialist who treated Jan in the early ’90s] about how to conceive and asked him the old turkey-baster question: “Is there any reason we can’t just do it at home?” Dr. Marrs said there wasn’t any reason not to try….

The first time, we were having our house painted, and this big black Suburban pulls up while all the painters are eating their lunch. It’s David, dropping off a paper bag with the sample in it. He’s wearing dark glasses, and he looks like a drug dealer, comes in the door with the bag, gets back in the big black car and he leaves. I felt for sure the painters thought it was a drug deal.

The next time, Crosby met Cypher on a street corner, handed her a sack and asked her for a lift to rehearsal. On the way he asked if she could give Nash a ride too.

So I put the paper sack with this little thing of sperm in it between my legs to keep it warm, and we go pick up Graham…. I’m driving really carefully because the car is full of history if I get in an accident and I’ve got this secret paper sack tucked between my legs.

On her second attempt, Cypher became pregnant. Daughter Bailey Jean was born on Feb. 10, 1997. Soon thereafter, the couple decided to try for another child.

CROSBY: Again I agreed to be the secret donor. The logistics remained the same…. Julie would be ovulating, and I’d have to stand by to make my contribution.

CYPHER: David was on tour, and trying to hook up with him was hard. Whenever it was time for me, I had 24 hours to find him.

In early 1998 Cypher tracked Crosby to the Carlyle Hotel in Manhattan.

CYPHER: I checked in … and called David’s room. Twenty minutes later he shows up at the door: knock, knock, knock. “Nice to see you, how are you?” hands me the paper sack … and Beckett was conceived, just me in the hotel room. I still have the robe; he should have been named Carlyle.

Beckett was born on Nov. 18, 1998. But not until Jan. 10, 2000, when Crosby posed with Etheridge, Cypher and kids for Rolling Stone, did the world learn of Crosby’s role.

To Crosby’s dismay, Etheridge and her partner split up seven months later and now share custody of Bailey and Beckett. Cypher is married to Matthew Hale; Etheridge to actress Tammy Lynn Michaels, who recently gave birth to twins. The father? Another anonymous sperm donor.

CROSBY: Would I be a sperm donor again? I don’t know. It’s such a personal thing. It’s discouraging how this worked out, because one of the main reasons that [Jan and I] did it was because of the love between Julie and Melissa, who have obviously transferred that affection to new partners.

But both women have brought the kids up here and been with me at different times. It’s very kind of them both to let me spend time with the kids, because our official deal was that I signed papers relinquishing parental rights of any sort after I made my gift. They’re great kids: superbright, extremely nice, beautiful, happy, wonderful children…. They’re very special people in my life.

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