David Crosby thinks America can’t be wiped out by one bad president

David Crosby has a lot on his mind.
David Crosby has a lot on his mind.
Image: Anna Webber
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“So, I hear you want to talk about the Orange Disaster,” rock legend David Crosby says with a hearty laugh when we catch up to discuss his new album, Sky Trails. Never one to hide his politics, Crosby knows I’m game to discuss the current climate. In fact, the last time we met, at a Brooklyn recording studio to discuss his 2016 album Lighthouse, the effervescent, aging rocker couldn’t contain his disdain for the then newly elected occupant of the White House.

It’s now one year later, and things feel as grim as ever. “The daily barrage of outrage is exhausting,” Crosby admits. Still, before we dig in to his views on the current state of the nation, Crosby is all too happy to talk about the late-career creative purple patch he’s enjoying. Beginning in 2014 with Croz—Crosby’s first proper solo outing since 1970s astonishing and groundbreaking If I Could Only Remember My Name—he’s delivered one excellent album after another. Shorn of his 60s compatriots in The Byrds, and his fellow legends Stephen Stills, Graham Nash, and Neil Young, Crosby has spread his creative wings in glorious, if unexpected, ways.

“There is a different thing going on with me, psychologically, I guess, and it’s different than people have always told me it’s supposed to be,” Crosby says. “People always say that you have to be in turmoil to create great art. Well, I’m at the happiest and most stable point in my life, and yet I think I’m creating the best music of my career. The best! Better than The Byrds or CSN or even CSNY. And it feels great, all the time.”

Crosby puts his burst of fresh inspiration down to new creative partners.

“I think it’s the writing with other people, because its very inspiring to work with the people I’ve chosen to work with,” Crosby, who’s in the midst of a tour in support of Sky Trails, explains. “I mean I’m busy as hell, man, and picky, too. I don’t just write with anybody. But I’m writing with people who are inspiring. They make you love songwriting, because they’re good at it and they’re all different and come at it from slightly different places. You know, I’d just hit a wall creatively, sticking to greatest hits—which we could do really, really well in CSN and CSNY, by the way—or turning out music that was, frankly, just okay, and I just had kind of a meltdown.”

Surprisingly, Crosby doesn’t seem to miss the glory days with Stills, Nash and Young, though he says, “I’d play with The Byrds in a heartbeat!” Instead, he’s focused on the here and now, and his new collaborative endeavors.

“It’s been quite a run, starting with Croz, and then Lighthouse and now Sky Trails,” Crosby explains. “But the truth is that I write all the time, though I don’t write for a specific record or project, usually. These days I just really enjoy writing for the individual song itself—that moment of creation—and to enjoy the concept of partnership writing, especially because I had come from a place of being not happy.

He says the work he’s created recently, in collaboration with Snarky Puppy’s Michael League, Becca Stevens, and his son James Raymond, has been some of the most rewarding of his career.

“Imagine that you’re a painter, and you’ve got a palette that has seven colors on it,” Crosby explains. “Then imagine that you partner up with somebody, and now you’ve got fourteen colors. It’s a better painting. Michael and Becca and James, they always think of something I didn’t. It makes for a wide array of styles and material, and a lot of material at a point when I wasn’t expecting it. It’s been a joy.”

What hasn’t been a joy, however, is watching the man Crosby refers to matter of factly as “the Orange Disaster” undo all the progress that had been achieved during the Obama years, changes that Crosby felt made America a better, more compassionate beacon for the rest of the world.

“We had a problem going into the situation,” Crosby explains, giving deft context to the position our country finds itself in. “We had the worst congress in history. It had never done anything but destruct and obstruct. So people in the United States saw that the congress was not doing anything for them—that there’s nobody in Washington working for them—and that’s all of us, on the right and the left. So the people who have been on what they imagine is the outside—because Obama was a black guy and a lefty—those people felt really left outside, even though we all felt left outside. They felt more left outside and they wanted to throw a grenade in the pool. They wanted to change everything. So they did.”

Still, Crosby feels it’s a case of getting what you wish for and finding that the result isn’t what you expected.

“I think they threw the wrong grenade,” he goes on. “I mean, the guy is a child. He’s never had a job. He’s not smart at all. He’s never had to have discipline or even really much intelligence. And he’s driven by points and stupidity. He’s a dangerous guy who’s got a big ego, and he is very dangerous to us all in the position he’s in. He’s doing great harm to our democracy, and especially to our reputation in the world. But the one thing that really upsets me is that he’s damaging the ability of our children to believe in the idea of democracy, because they’re seeing it not work. And I want them to see it working, because it’s a good idea.”

As for the rest of the administration?

“They steal anything that isn’t screwed down, because that’s the type of people they are, and they are going to be bad news in terms of damage to our institutions,” Crosby continues. “Even so, I may be foolish, but I have a lot of faith in the strength of our democracy as an institution, and I don’t think they can wipe it out with one bad president, even though I do think they can do it a lot of harm. Between redistricting, playing games with our votes and rights and freedoms, and allowing things like the Russian hacking to take place, there are a lot of things that are really deadly serious.”

Of all the misdeeds of the current administration, Crosby thinks the immediate impact the current environmental policy is probably the most damaging.

“I do think the biggest harm—the worst part of the whole thing—is that he and his crew are all climate deniers,” Crosby says, growing more exasperated as he goes on. “And it’s only because they don’t want to have the environment get in the way of their quarterly reports. They just want the money.

“Climate change is just what Al Gore said it was: it’s an inconvenient thing,” Crosby continues. “The problem with it is that they’re not just hurting us or our democracy or our country, they are doing a disservice to and hurting the entire world. All the people on planet earth. And I don’t know how to square that one. I’m appalled by it, especially because they’re doing it for the cheapest and stupidest and shallowest of reasons, but that’s what they’re doing and that’s why they’re doing it. So I despise the guy; I really do.”

Ever the optimist, Crosby is trying to find the bright side, in the huge demonstrations by a mobilized resistance over the past year, and the recent wins in Virginia and New Jersey and at every level of government around the country earlier this month. And, as an artist with a distinct world view, he wants to reflect what he’s seeing and feeling in song.

“I’ve been trying to find a song to say what I’m saying right now, clearly, but I haven’t found it yet,” he says. “But I’m working at it. And I’ve asked other people to speak up via their art. I’ve put it out on the Net, just to anybody to see if there’s a song. Because we need it. And I believe in the action of exemplary humanity by people who are really good human beings, because I do believe that one really good, stand up human being could make a huge difference right now, just the same way one really good song could make a huge difference right now. So, bottom line, we need a revival of the kind of outcry we had—especially in the arts—in the 60s. We need a fight song!”