Sometimes you gotta hit bottom before you can bounce back up
Rock superstar David Crosby came of age in the 1960s, a decade that was, according to interpretation, either the rise of a golden age or the descent into a leaden one. During these heady times, Crosby tried just about every drug available, because it seemed the hip, countercultural, libertarian thing to do. In fact, Crosby was known to have the best dope around, particularly pot and psychedelics, and his home in L.A. became a mecca of Southern California hedonism and experimentation in alternative lifestyles.
Of course, Crosby’s musical career took off like a Lear jet during that time, sailing “Eight Miles High,” as it were. He played guitar in the Byrds, America’s answer to the Beatles, so the hype went anyway, and then he joined Crosby, Stills and Nash, poster dudes for the so-called Woodstock Nation.
Then Crosby started hitting the pipe in the middle 1970s, that party-hardy decade, about the time people began realizing that cocaine was something considerably more dangerous than a relatively harmless recreational drug. By the early 1980s Crosby was freebasing just about all the time and eventually resembled the picture of excess and decay, a kind of hippie-gone-bad joke. People just couldn’t believe how bad Crosby looked!
The busts came too, of course. David Crosby was popped more times than Keith Richards, and that’s a feat of some magnitude! John Lennon said, “It’s amazing how low you go to get high.” Yeah, ask David Crosby about his descent into drug flakiness squared.
But, hey, at least he survived to tell the tale!
In the prologue to David Crosby’s autobiography, Long Time Gone, Crosby, when asked by a student if he was ever stoned onstage, he replied, “The answer to that is that never once, until I got out of prison, did I ever record, perform, or do anything any way except stoned. I did it all stoned.”
All quotes in this article are taken from Long Time Gone.
Crosby wanted to be a rock star like the Beatles
The first time Crosby inhaled anything was in high school when he took a hit of some helium and said in the typical, helium-induced, high-pitched voice, “I want to go to the moon,” cracking up everybody within earshot.
At 16, Crosby first tried drugs when he downed cough syrup and some Heavenly Blue morning glory seeds, giving him a kind of psychedelic high. About the same time, he had his first sexual experience.
Then, in the early 1960s, when Crosby began his folk career, singing songs such as “Summertime,” folk singer Travis Edmonson turned him onto his first marijuana cigarette. “I loved it from the very first,” he said.
In 1964, after David saw the movie A Hard Days Night, he knew what he wanted to be in life: a rock star. And from then on, when the Beatles came to Los Angeles, Crosby found them the best weed and acid, which he always seemed to have. In fact, Crosby was a marijuana connoisseur, knowing even the growing area, the harvest time and the probable mode of transport for virtually every vintage or varietal, such as Panama Red, Acapulco Gold or Mexican Green.
Crosby’s first rock band was the Byrds, which churned out numerous hits in the middle 1960s. But they kicked him out of the band by the fall of 1967. Even Columbia, the Byrds record label, no longer wanted Crosby. In a sense, Crosby got even with the Byrds because once he left, the band went as limp as a wet doobie, and then he helped form Crosby, Stills and Nash, pioneers of the so-called California Sound and certainly one of the most successful rock assemblages of all time.
But that was the much sunnier part of David Crosby’s life.
Crosby’s first of many busts came in 1969 while he was producing Joni Mitchell’s first album. While driving along, the cops stopped Crosby because they claimed they had smelled him smoking pot as they drove by him in the opposite direction. When the police searched Crosby’s car they found a kilo of marijuana and a loaded handgun. But Crosby’s lawyer quickly got the charge dismissed because of an illegal search.
In those days, Crosby carried a loaded handgun just about wherever he went, and he continued doing do so, particularly after John Lennon was murdered by a gun-wielding assailant in December 1980.
One to use drugs in any particular situation, when Crosby’s girlfriend, Christine Hinton, the first love of his life, died in an automobile crash in September 1969, Crosby snorted some heroin, but it didn’t relieve his grief.
Grateful Dead guitarist, Jerry Garcia, who consumed his share of drugs such as cocaine and heroin, had this to say about drugs: “Drugs were our war. That’s partly because drugs have always been part of music, part of poetry, part of art. Cole Porter sings about cocaine. Cocaine and hard drugs were certainly no strangers to the jazz musicians of the forties, thirties and twenties.” Then he went on to say, “Everybody has their thing. Part of it is the pressure of playing publicly. Part of it is the keeping your spirit fresh.”
Then Crosby was busted again, this time near Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. While friends were out sailing in Crosby’s 65-foot schooner, the Maya, some vigilantes boarded the boat, looking for marijuana. When they didn’t find any, they produced their own evidence! Over at the jail, Crosby paid off the chief of police, about seven dollars per person, got to keep the “evidence,” and everybody went back to the boat and partied.
It seemed that Crosby couldn’t avoid trouble even at home. One time some armed burglars tried to break into the bedroom of Crosby’s house, while he and his girlfriend, Debbie Donovan, lay in bed. Crosby pulled out his trusty .45 automatic pistol and fired at the intruders, chasing them off. Crosby theorized the burglars were probably looking for some of his dope.
Crosby’s gunplay continued when a parking attendant told Crosby he couldn’t park his car in a particular spot. When Crosby said he was parking there anyway, the attendant pulled out a pipe and threatened him with it, until Crosby withdrew his .45 and stuck it in the man’s ribs. By the time a security guard showed up and investigated, Crosby had stashed the gun and said, “What gun?”
Having snorted coke for about ten years, by 1976 Crosby had developed a perforated septum. So, no longer able to snort the stuff into his nose, Crosby began dropping the stuff into liquids. Then, a short time later, he began freebasing; that is, preparing the cocaine with ether, so as to make a base for smoking. It wasn’t long before Crosby was smoking as much as an ounce of cocaine per day!
About freebasing, Crosby wrote, “The nature of smoking is that once you get started, you do it a lot. After your first taste, the next day you do it a lot. It’s a peculiar drug that way. You become obsessive with it immediately. It doesn’t take a week and it gets worse. You get obsessive and want to do it until you fall out.”
Having put up with Crosby’s heavy drugging for years - Crosby would even freebase while in the recording studio - his good friend and fellow singer and musician, Graham Nash, had finally had enough; he told Crosby he wasn’t working with him again. “We don’t want to work with you anymore,” Nash said. “You’re out.” This declaration devastated Crosby, though not enough for him to stop getting loaded.
Eventually Crosby began smoking heroin as well, some stuff called Persian Brown, which Jerry Garcia was also doing in those days. And, given time, Crosby overcame his fear of needles and injected some from time to time as well.
During a tour in 1981, Crosby had his first drug-related grand mal seizure. While smoking with his girlfriend, Jan Dance, Crosby began flopping around like a beached flounder and eventually bit his tongue, the blood squirting out of his mouth. Fortunately Crosby’s friend Mac Holbert helped Crosby through this terrible episode. Then, the following night, Jan Dance had a seizure, while Crosby watched!
Nevertheless, Crosby didn’t stop his drugging.
Crosby gets by with a little help from his friends
Some friends, including Graham Nash who put down $3,500, finally got Crosby and Dance to enter Scripps Hospital in Carlsbad, California, hoping the staff could treat their drug addiction. They stayed one night and then left the following day. The hospital couldn’t keep them without their permission. (Incidentally, Nash lost his $3,500 deposit.)
Then, Crosby’s friends, thinking that it would be easier to treat Crosby or Dance if they kept them separated, tried to do this, but their attempts were unsuccessful. About that, Crosby wrote, “The truth is that I turned Jan on to base, not the other way around. It wasn’t her fault. We were coaddicted and we had no intention of being slit up.”
Now, once again, Crosby was arrested. Crosby, while driving his car on the freeway, had another seizure and collided with a center divider fence. The investigating officers found in his car a small quantity of drugs and paraphernalia and his loaded .45 and then arrested Crosby for those charges as well as driving under the influence of drugs.
Two weeks later, Crosby was nailed again, this time in a Dallas, Texas nightclub, where the arresting officer found Crosby with some cocaine and his .45 Colt automatic. This bust would eventually prove the costliest for Crosby.
Then, while appealing this charge, Crosby was busted in San Rafael, California for drug possession, possession of a handgun and driving with a revoked license.
Crosby’s musical career was going flat as well. While touring as a solo act, Crosby played at some college in the Boston area. Not taking care of themselves, Crosby and Jan Dance looked like a pair of hobos. To make matters worse, many students in the audience were getting loud after swilling beer. Not sensing the roughness of the crowd, Crosby played “Guinnevere,” but the crowd didn’t like this soft tune. So Crosby got mad and told them to quiet down. Well, the crowd didn’t and Crosby left the stage and the college as well, the crowd growing irate and booing and yelling “You’re washed up, Crosby! You’re a has-been!”
Crosby then entered the Fair Oaks Hospital in New Jersey, hoping to kick his addiction. He stayed there for about seven weeks and then suddenly left without permission, complaining that they wouldn’t let him play his music or records. Of course, as soon as he got out he went and got loaded. As it turned out, Crosby could have avoided jail if he had stayed there.
Over the months, Crosby went to several other hospitals or treatment centers, hoping to conquer his drug addiction, but it never seemed to work out.
As incredible as this may seem, Crosby was busted once more, this time in Mill Valley, California, for hit-and-run (he hit a fence and left the scene), as well as possession of freebase paraphernalia and that same .45-caliber pistol!
Since there was a warrant for his arrest in Texas, Crosby, rather than face going to jail, sold his last remaining possession, a baby grand piano for $5,000, and then he and Jan Dance fled to South Florida, hoping to eventually sail the Mayan to Costa Rica, which had no extradition laws, and there they would spend the rest of their lives.
But, like the poignant moment near the end of some cinematic tragedy, when they found the Mayan they saw to their chagrin that it was in a deplorable state of disrepair and definitely not seaworthy. During his years of drugging, Crosby had neglected his beloved schooner, leaving her to rot, much like what he had done to his own body. Finally, having smoked his last pipe, so to speak, Crosby turned himself into the FBI.
Rock star David Crosby, the fallen spiritual leader of the Hip Generation, now 44 years of age, entered the Texas penal system in time for Christmas in 1985. Judging from Crosby’s autobiography his stay in the joint was a constructive one. He didn’t use any drugs while locked up, even though the stuff was available – for a price. He also read lots of books and fan mail, wrote many letters, penned lots of songs and played guitar in the prison band. As a job, he made mattresses. However, after a few months, Crosby was still undergoing withdrawal from base. He thought about it all the time and dreamed about it every night.
Meanwhile on the outside, Crosby’s lover Jan Dance was going through drug rehabilitation at the Steinbeck Clinic in Salinas, California. Dance told Crosby she was confident that her quest for abstinence would be a successful one.
Because Crosby behaved himself in prison and because there was a problem with overcrowding, he was granted an early parole in August 1986. Crosby would soon marry Jan Dance, with whom he would eventually have a child, and continue his musical career with Stephen Stills, Graham Nash and Neil Young. He also had the Mayan completely rebuilt. And, as far as anyone knows, he no longer gets loaded. Although as recently as March 2004, Crosby was arrested for possession of marijuana. Well, as long as he sticks with that stuff . . . .
The David Crosby story proves that anyone can give up drugs and once again live a normal life, as well as continue to explore the artistic world. Crosby would probably admit that if he had stuck with pot and psychedelics he probably wouldn’t have made such a mess of his life. He was also smart enough to know what hard drugs such as cocaine and heroin could do to a person. In a fashion, Crosby was a product of his time – the drugged-out generation, if you will. They had to find out, some way or another, they just had to.
Now we know better. There are no more excuses.
Let’s hope David Crosby continues to live a sober, productive and happy life.
© 2009 Kelley Marks
Kelley Marks (author) from Sacramento, California on October 02, 2019:
Please keep in mind that most of the events in this article relate to Crosby's point of view as written in his autobiography, "Long Time Gone," while the people who attended such events, concerts or recording sessions or whatever, may have experienced something entirely different. Later!...
Kelley on November 18, 2017:
Hey, jmiku, thanks for reading my story! Since I no longer own a copy of Crosby's autobiography, I had to search Wikipedia for backup regarding that figure of $3,500, for which Nash paid a deposit for Crosby to enter a rehabilitation facility, and then Crosby skipped out, causing Nash to lose the deposit. But I couldn't find anything to back up my claim; nevertheless, $35,000 seems way to much for just a deposit. If you can find something on the Internet to back up your claim, please let me know and I'll change the amount. Later!
jmiku on November 17, 2017:
Nash lost $35,000 trying to help Crosby...not $3,500...fix the typo or re-read Crosby's autiobio.
Luke on April 19, 2017:
Thanks for the story. Somewhere between Crosby's liver and Garcia's heart there is a warning to the kids: stay away from the powders. Stick with the green.
Jean Bakula from New Jersey on June 20, 2016:
Great read, I love CSN. Also Y, my own piece on Neil Young has just been put on Spinditty as well.
Kelley Marks (author) from Sacramento, California on September 05, 2014:
Lisa, many of this article's photos can be found in Crosby's autobiography "Long Time Gone." Later!
Lisa on September 05, 2014:
PLEASE I need to know, where are this pictures from? The ones of Christine Hinton? They seem to be the only ones I can find online. Thank you in advanced!!!!!
william on June 24, 2013:
this proves that anyone can quit drugs?
yeah, if you are famous and wealthy you can get away
with anything. Paul McCartney, John Lennon, Mick Jagger,
Jerry Hal, Keith Richards, Robert Downey Jr.
But not if you are working class or not a celebrity.
L.L. on October 22, 2011:
Take care of Dallas Taylor you bum
Kelley Marks (author) from Sacramento, California on August 31, 2011:
Is David smoking pot these days? Well, freebasing it ain't. Later!
Kathleen on August 31, 2011:
Sober is sober and marijuana ain't sober. Hope he get's it together cuz I've always love him/them.
Linda Rogers from Minnesota on February 07, 2011:
Ya, it's hard to watch the Lindsays and Paris's, etc.. They have so much money but still yearn for something internal which drives them to addiction. I hope they make it.
Kelley Marks (author) from Sacramento, California on February 02, 2011:
I'm sorry about your brother, Minnetonka Twin. Some have made it throught that tough drug period while others haven't. Unfortunately, many still haven't learned about the dangers of hard drugs - Lindsay Lohan, et al. Later!
Linda Rogers from Minnesota on February 02, 2011:
Wow, what a tough life he has had but he was a product of his generation. He was a star and had money to use drugs. His story is a good life lesson that it's not worth it. I always forget that he was part of the Byrds-What a differen't type of band for him.
My brother had a similar tough life. He was a very talented guitarist and singer. The temptations coupled with a tough childhood, turned him into an addict at a very young age. He died at 39 years old. I'm glad Crosby made it through the hell of drug addiction.
Joyus Crynoid from Eden on November 24, 2010:
Great hub Kosmo. It's really amazing he was able to do all that and still put out so much great music. And stay alive! He's one of the lucky ones.
Kid on September 10, 2010:
Nice work. I love David's music. I was born in 73 and feel RIPPED OFF! None the less he's been my all time favorite since the first time I heard suite Judy when I was about 8 years old.
Kelley Marks (author) from Sacramento, California on August 13, 2010:
Yes, Denise, David has been through the drug wars, if you will, and fortunate to be alive at present. Thanks for the comment. Later!
Denise K Zimmerma from Illinois on August 13, 2010:
I remember all of Davids music. Loved everyone of them they holds so much heart and truth. We all experience downfalls if we learn from them, is a lesson in life that we can endure the embeddable and over come the obstacles in life.
Don on July 04, 2010:
Thanks for this, I just saw CSN at the Albert Hall in London and they were immense! That was a special moment! Y'know, it's really inspirational that someone can hit rock bottom and fight their way back up.
Kelley Marks (author) from Sacramento, California on April 04, 2010:
I'd like to be David Crosby's friend. I'm sure he's got some interesting tales to tell, including many drug-oriented ones, I'm sure. Later!
Steve Andrews from Tenerife on April 04, 2010:
Great hub! I was honoured at Myspace some years back under my stage name of Bard of Ely to find that David Crosby had put me in his top friends on display and he has kept me there!
Kelley Marks (author) from Sacramento, California on February 14, 2010:
Thanks a lot, Dgenr8! I'm sure we're glad David Crosby is still alive and kicking well into the 21st century. Later!
Dgenr8 on February 14, 2010:
Quite a story, very well put together. David Crosby is such an icon, this was really entertaining. I quite enjoyed it, thanks for putting this up.
Kelley Marks (author) from Sacramento, California on July 08, 2009:
Flying around with CS&N must have been fun. Thanks for the comment. Later!
James A Watkins from Chicago on July 07, 2009:
Compelling story and very well written with great pics, too. Thank you.
As a musician in that scene from 1970-1991 I have seen close up the things you discuss.
After I left the music business I ended up in the aviation business providing jet charter services to many rock and other music stars including—Crosby, Stills & Nash. I am guessing it was 1996 when we flew them around for a couple of months.