Senior citizens often say that one of the great things about being older is that they don’t give a damn what others think. They speak their mind, and if you don’t like it, that’s your problem.
One of them was David Crosby, who died Thursday at the age of 81.
Americans younger than, say, 40, maybe even 50, may not know who Crosby was, and that’s too bad, because he was really something. Not just a member of two iconic rock bands of the 1960s and 1970s, the Byrds and Crosby, Stills and Nash (later joined by Neil Young), but because in his later years he became something of an oracle, sharing his often painfully earned wisdom with the rest of us.
That Crosby led a colorful life is an understatement. He was a two-time inductee into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, a Grammy-winning singer-songwriter behind three gold albums, and one of the headliners at the most famous rock concert ever — 1969’s Woodstock. He also had numerous run-ins with the law, for everything from drunken driving, an alleged hit-and-run incident, and assorted episodes involving guns or drugs.
Throw in his colorful romantic life and his years sailing the Pacific and the Caribbean in his 59-foot schooner, and it’s fair to say the guy saw and experienced a few things.
All this made for a lively advice column he had in Rolling Stone in his later years, and much of what he had to say dealt with aging.
Crosby spoke often of the enjoyment he got from work. Not so much for the money, but for the joy in continuing to create, to contribute, to do what he loved.
“[I’m] able to take chances and risks,” he told the Daily Beast in 2021. “I can be utterly, totally f—ing naked,” meaning he was free to be creative, to take chances, to push the envelope with his music. He reveled in his late-in-life freedom.
That’s a lesson for the rest of us. You know what they say: If you love what you’re doing, you’ll never work a day in your life. Crosby had his ups and downs, but the guy generally enjoyed what he did. The rest of us should be so lucky.
Usually, people grow more conservative as they grow older. Crosby didn’t, either politically or socially. He was a critic of Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon and the Vietnam War and Donald Trump, who Crosby considered deeply corrupt. But it wasn’t so much Trump, per se, but the overall era of white-collar corruption that enabled Trump — and others — to think (apparently correctly) that they could get away with anything.
Crosby remained liberal to the very end. A lifelong marijuana user, he joined the board of NORML, a marijuana-legalization group, in 2018.In one of his Rolling Stone columns he answered a letter from a recently widowed nurse who was thinking about trying edibles made with THC (the substance that helps a marijuana user get high). The nurse wrote that she wanted to “have a little fun” but wasn’t sure how much to take.
“Find one that you like,” Crosby answered. “Either a commercial one that somebody makes or that you make yourself, and take a little bit. It’s called ‘titrating.’ You take just a little bit first and see how strong it is. If it’s not strong enough, you take a little more and wait. Once you establish what your dosage is, you take that dose whenever you want. You know what will happen. I do edibles every night. I eat ginger snaps that my wife makes. They are wonderful and they get you high, which can’t be a bad thing.”
It sure wasn’t bad for Crosby, who once said that he did his best work stoned. “All those hit songs, every one of them, I wrote them all on cannabis,” he said.
But it was the aging rocker’s views on mortality that are most worth sharing. One Rolling Stone reader wrote in about his fear of death.
“Death is on my mind all the time, and I find it hard to enjoy life,” the reader said. “You don’t seem to have that problem. How can us old people enjoy the time we have left, especially in the era of Covid when it’s near-impossible to leave our homes?”
“OK, this one’s fairly simple,” Crosby responded. “You have a certain amount of time. You don’t know how much. Maybe I’ve got two weeks; maybe I’ve got two years — maybe I got 20 years! The question is not how much time you have, the question is what are you gonna do with that time. It seems to me that if you spend that time agonizing over the fact that you’re gonna die, you’re wasting that time.”
He added: “If you spend that time doing everything you can to be happy, to help other people, to create, to make new things — to make anything better for anybody — if you spend your time doing positive stuff like that, then the time that you have left — whatever amount it is — will be well-spent. And that, I think, is the key.”
It is indeed.