David Crosby is not only one of rock’s great songwriters; he is also one of rock’s great raconteurs—always ready with a story, told as only he can tell it, about life in not just one, but two of the most influential bands of the 1960s, the Byrds and Crosby, Stills & Nash and sometimes Young. Few people have lived a life as colorful as his and lived to tell about it. Even fewer possess Crosby’s wit and eye for detail.
He came by his wealth of anecdotes at a significant cost, however, to himself and the people around him, as he readily admits in the newly released (on Blu-ray) Cameron Crowe-produced documentary Remember My Name. Now a wizened 78-years-old and still prolific and raising hell (on Twitter, at least) Crosby reached far back in the memory vault to tell the tale of his life, from childhood to his 60s heyday to his stints in jail and rehab and through every sordid stage of full blown addiction.
Drugs will seriously mess up your life, says Crosby, in no uncertain terms, but it’s also clear his life would have been much less eventful, and less interesting, without them. Take the story he tells of running into John Coltrane in the men’s room of the South Side Chicago club called McKie’s in 1963. Incredibly high, Crosby finds himself blown out of his seat and against the wall by Elvin Jones’ drum solo. He retreats to the bathroom and promptly hits the floor. “I’ve got my head against this puke green tile,” he says in the clip above from Remember My Name (see the trailer below).
While Crosby tried to pull himself together, who should walk in but Coltrane, still playing:
He never stopped soloing. He’s still soloing. And he’s like burning in this bathroom. He doesn’t even know I’m there. He never even saw me. I’m thinking I’m gonna slide right down this tile. I’m thinking my nose is gonna open and my brain is gonna rush out onto the floor. It was so intense. I never heard anyone be more intense with music than that in my life.
Crosby gets into more detail in an interview with JazzTimes. Coltrane, he says, “played in the [restroom] for a couple of minutes because the sound was good—it was echoey—and he was… as good as you think he was.” He also talks at length about his long relationship with jazz, from his discovery of late-50s records by Dave Brubeck, Chet Baker, and Bill Evans, to Miles Davis recording a version of his song “Guinnevere.” (Davis was apparently instrumental in getting the Byrds signed to Columbia Records.)
The influence of Davis and Coltrane on Crosby’s songwriting is perhaps less evident than in, say, the work of Joni Mitchell, but Crosby admits that his “phrasing and melody choice” derived from “really good horn players.” It’s interesting to note just how much impact late-50s/early 60s jazz had on not only Crosby and Mitchell, but also 60s icons like Grace Slick. Listening to these classic rock survivors describe how Miles and Coltrane helped shape their sound shows just how much the mid-century jazz revolution fueled the rock revolution that followed.
Now that he’s sober, Crosby’s stories don’t involve nearly as much floor tile and brains sliding out of noses, but they’re still full of jazz encounters, including his recent collaborations with Wynton Marsalis and jazz collective Snarky Puppy. Read more about his recent projects and history with jazz over at JazzTimes.