David Crosby's Drug Days
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.
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© 2009 Kelley Marks