Playlist: David Crosby

The 67-year-old singer shares with us the songs that soundtracked his colourful past and, ultimately, kept him alive

David Crosby fluttered with the Byrds and cooed with Crosby, Nash, Stills and Young, and his past is a patchwork of drug addiction, liver failure and belated fatherhood. Here, the 67-year-old describes the songs that account for his colourful past, including being reunited with his adopted son and how John Coltrane once interrupted him on the toilet.

Crosby, Stills & Nash - Delta
It's possible that this is the last song I wrote. I was in a pretty terrible state at the time (1982), which you can tell from the song; it sounds lost. Jackson Browne came by the house where I was; I didn't have a piano so I just sang him what I had and he said, "Jesus, that's a really good one David, you need to finish that". I was in the middle of a downhill slide involving freebase cocaine. I didn't especially want to go outside because I didn't want to bother with anything except taking more drugs. But Jackson really insisted and brought me to Warren Zevon's house where there was a piano. He sat me down at that piano and pulled this song out of me. Whenever I wanted to get up to go to the bathroom and take some more dope, he would say "No, no, finish the song" and he kept me there until I did it. Now when we sing it I thank Jackson for helping me get it out.
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Steely Dan - Deacon Blues
In the depths of my addiction, I let drugs become the most important thing in my life. More so than making music, more so than almost anything. But somehow the music hung in there for me and it's what kept me alive. I was listening to this song an awful lot at that time because it's spectacularly strong: "They call Alabama the Crimson Tide, Call on me Deacon Blue." That whole record (Aja, 1977) helped me stay alive at that point.
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Josh White - Strange Fruit
My family used to play a lot of folk and classical music when I was growing up. I remember hearing the Brandenburg Concertos a lot because my mum used to play that stuff all the time, but I remember folk music most vividly. She once played me a Josh White recording called Strange Fruit, and I couldn't understand what it was about. When I asked her she started crying and sat me down and explained it was black people being hung from trees in the South. Learning the word "lynching" was my introduction to racism. I was a little kid and it scared me, as I didn't know human beings did that to each other.
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Graham Nash - Cold Rain
This one of Nash's has particular significance for me. In that song you hear how this kid said to himself that life in this gritty, industrial city of Manchester just wasn't going to be good enough for him and he was going to find a way to play and sing his way out of there. You can hear exactly where he came from and how he decided to lift himself up by his own boot straps and get out of there. It's a revealing song and if you really understand it, it makes you love Graham. Nash and I can read each other's minds, when we're singing harmony we're like a pair of spitfires doing stunts. We've had arguments before but it's very, very rare. I argued a lot with Joni (Mitchell), she's easy to argue with, but Nash has always been a true gentleman.
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Everly Brothers - All I Have to Do is Dream
This was one of the things that convinced me I really wanted to sing harmony. I learned both parts of the harmony, Don's part and Phil's part, and I used to sing along with this record every time it came on. The Everly's wrote the book on harmony singing, which this song epitomises. It really affected me very strongly and made me want to do it.
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James Raymond - Lay Me Down
This is the moment where my son James and I are united musically. It's a stunner. Graham and I were getting ready to make a record and James says, "I think I've got a song for the album", and sits down and plays this devil for us. It was mind-blowing, as if he was inside our heads when he wrote it. James and I started writing together soon after he got in contact with me. James was adopted shortly after he was born in 1962 and we had had no contact until I got a letter from his adoptive parents around the time I was having my liver transplant in 1995. I was very close to death. They told me they knew I might not make it, but if I did, would I meet my son? As soon as I could stand up and walk I did. There could be others out there. I have six children that I know of, but I think there might be a seventh one, a girl, but I have no way to find out.
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Pink - Dear Mr President
If you listen to the radio now you won't hear any protest music. You used to be able to get some - songs like Ohio or For What It's Worth, but you won't hear anything like that now. This song of Pink's is a strong anti-war statement, a strong anti-George Bush statement. If you go to Neil Young's website there's something like 2,500 protest songs on there, all written by fans, by the public. People are still writing them but they're mostly being excluded from the mainstream. This song by Pink is a rare thing: a mainstream pop song that's also a protest song.

If Obama loses, I'm tempted to leave America. I don't know how I'd earn a living any place else, but I'd happily work for Obama to get him to win. My worry is that we're handing him a bucket of shit and expecting him to make biscuits. The United States is in a terrible situation. It's all Bush's fault, and the big corporations behind him that make money out of war.
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Death Cab for Cutie - I Will Follow You Into the Dark
I love Ben Gibbard's writing. I wasn't so keen on that eight-minute-long single, but I heard this song on the radio - it was just so compelling, simple and amazing that it was on the radio. Such a beautiful statement; I will follow you into the dark. Simplicity like that is rare now, everything is so overproduced but this is direct and strong.
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John Coltrane - My Favourite Things
When I was a young folk player in Chicago, me, an English guy named Floyd and his girlfriend, a little German hooker named The Duchess, went down to a club in the south of the city. We were the only white people there and we were very, very high, we'd taken everything we could find. Coltrane was on stage, and after he'd soloed for a while he walked off stage, still playing to himself. Then the two bass players started playing for a while and finally Elvin Jones started playing a drum solo.

The music and the drumming was so intense that I was pushed right against the back wall of the club, it was that overpowering. I ducked into the bathroom, rested my head against the wall trying to come down from this intense high. As I was trying to do this, the door crashed open and Coltrane busted in, still playing like a demon. My mind ran out my nose into a puddle. That moment is engraved in my brain forever.

Coltrane was a pretty strong influence, and I translated that to Roger McGuinn (The Byrds), which directly influenced that solo on 8 Miles High. It's a shame he doesn't want to work with me again because he and I could do some Byrds stuff and it would be really good.
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As told to Charlie Gilmour

The GuardianTramp

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