David Crosby: Here to make you boogie

Croz Courtesy davidcrosby.comThe legendary folk-rock musician David Crosby will visit Harvard for a public forum conversation with students and a music professor. The conversation starts here with our blogger. 

By Isa Flores-Jones '19 

There’s no stopping David Crosby: In October, the storied folk-singer, song writer and activist will release his fourth album in as many years. The evocatively named Here if You Listen comes after the meltingly produced Skytrails (2017) and the jazz-fused Lighthouse (2016). Since producing an album each year seems like the musical equivalent of writing a dissertation every semester, I asked Crosby how he made it all happen.

"Well," he said, “I think I might just be the luckiest son-of-a-bitch alive.” Why so lucky? Because, Crosby explained, of relationships. A new generation of sound-makers, including son, James Raymond, are providing Crosby with the fuel for new creations -- although the old generation of sound-makers are still very much on his mind. Alongside bandmates Graham Nash, Steven Stills and Neil Young, David Crosby’s songwriting

Crosby Raph_PH - DavidCrosbyCarmel041117-33
David Crosby Wiki Photo: Raph_PH - DavidCrosbyCarmel041117-33
in Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young provided a soundtrack to the Vietnam and countercultural protests of the late ‘60s and ‘70s. In 1991, Crosby achieved the American equivalent of knighthood via his first induction into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame, for work with The Byrds. (Years after Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young had played Woodstock, CSNY would also be honored, transforming the knighthood into American rock n’ roll lore)

Crosby will be in conversation with students and Professor Ingrid Monson, 5-6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 25 at Sanders Theatre. The event is free and open to the public. In an interview last week with the Harvard Arts Blog, Crosby discussed his new projects, the modern counter-culture and aspirations for a musical revolution.

What excites you most about your recent work?
Any time I’m writing, I’m happy. To do music, it’s a lifting force. Any time I’m creating songs, it feels like I’m doing a good thing. I’ve fallen into some good relationships recently, first off with my son James Raymond. Then into a relationship with a man named Michael League, who’s a band leader and composer for a project called Snarky Puppy. He introduced me to Becca Stevens and Michelle Willis, to the Lighthouse Band on the album that’s about to come out. It’s pretty startling chemistry. You have to figure I’m just about the luckiest son of a bitch alive, to keep on falling into wonderful chemistry with people that bring out work.

The work seems so joyous.
I think it works like this. Competitive effort ends up with war. Collaborative effort ends up with a symphony orchestra. That’s definitely my end of things. I love working with other people to create stuff. It’s right in my wheelhouse.

Any words for young artists trying to do the same?
Don’t do it if it’s an idle or even a mild thing. If you want to make art, particularly music, these days, you’ve got to want it desperately. You can’t not want to do it. You know, it’s that ten-thousand-hour rule. That’s how it is; it’s not a mystery. If you want to get good, you’ve got to put in that much time. There’s no school, no short cut, nothing you can buy on the net. It’s just years. The only motivation is one that you can provide, and you’ve just got keep on at it.

You were present for some of them most definitional moments of the countercultural movement of the ‘60s; can you talk a bit about what the difference between activism now and then?
I can’t lie, I’ve been pretty discouraged [recently]. But then the Women’s March happened - and it really made me feel better. And then the March for Our Lives happened. You know when we get together, I really think that democracy has a chance. When I see the behavior of our disaster president, then I’m worried about the future of democracy in the United States. When we’re working together, that’s what it takes.

Does a counterculture, in the way you know and knew it, exist in 21st century music?
I think there’s a widespread philosophical movement. I think there’s real good singer-songwriter music being made that’s doing it. But is it pop music? No, that’s shallow stuff.

Has the way Americans consume politics changed the way we consume music -- your own, and others?
It’s changed drastically. I do think still that songs are a great way to communicate those ideas, and I myself have been trying to write a song about our current really bad situation - and if I can’t I hope somebody else does. I said that a while ago on Twitter. We need We Shall Overcome. We need Ohio. We need a song to sing, to get out in the streets. Because things are not good, in the United States in America right now.

In a conversation with Rolling Stone, you say the new album will be centered around some political pieces. Do songwriters have an obligation to write those songs?
A little. Our main job is to make you boogie. Our main job is to take you on emotional voyages, little trips. That’s our main job. Every once in a while, our job is to take on the role of the troubadours of the Middle Ages, you know, the town criers -- the 12 o’clock and all is well. Every once in a while, our job is to be a witness, to say, “Hey -- the U.S. is killing its own children. They just shot four of them for protesting illegally. They shot ‘em.” It’s our job to be the witness to that. Every once in a long while, it’s our job.

The Harvard event with David Crosby is made possible by the Bernard H. and Mildred Kayden Artist in Residence Fund through the Office for the Arts at Harvard, the Blodgett Distinguished Artist Fund, the Provostial Fund for the Arts and Humanities, the Elson Family Arts Initiative Fund and the Program in General Education.