David Crosby knows a little something about time.
Nobody has as much time as they think they do.
“It’s not about finding time,” he said. “Your situation with time is only going to get more intense. The older you get, the less time you have, and the more time means to you.”
The pinch people feel, feeling rushed or harried, only ever gets worse, not better.
“So, you need to stay focused on spending your time on the stuff you want to spend time on,” Crosby said.
Because the other stuff just isn’t as important.
The Rock & Roll Hall of Famer, who performs Thursday night at the Clay Center in Charleston, has had a lot of time to think about what’s important to him. The 77-year-old has been part of the American music scene for almost 60 years.
He came up through the folk-pop scene of the 1960s with influential bands The Byrds and Crosby, Stills & Nash (which later became Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young).
He helped write or wrote songs like “Eight Miles High,” “Guinnevere” and “Wooden Ships” and was a counter-culture icon, but his path to fame wasn’t an easy one.
He’s publicly battled alcohol and drug problems, poor health and spent time in jail for bad behavior.
Outspoken to his occasional detriment, Crosby was a critic of the Vietnam War and conservative politics, but he also has defended the right to bear arms.
Some of his comments and actions have alienated him from friends and musical partners — most recently Graham Nash and Neil Young, which has effectively dashed any hopes of a reunion as Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young or Crosby, Stills & Nash.
Crosby said he is frustrated about that, acknowledging that they are still mad at him, but that he doesn’t really know what he could do to fix it. So right now, what’s important to him is singing and writing music.
“I’m singing really well, right now,” he said. “My best friends are telling me I’m singing as well as I ever have in my life.”
To him, that means he needs to be singing as much as he can, for as long as he can. He has a family to support, besides. Touring and performing pays the bills. Music royalties don’t.
Record sales have declined sharply from what they used to be. First, there was illegal online file sharing, but that has been replaced by legitimate streaming services like Spotify or Apple Music, which make money through a monthly subscription fee or from direct advertising to the consumer.
Streaming has been lucrative to the tech companies that provide the service, but it has done little to help heritage artists like Crosby.
“Streaming doesn’t pay us,” he said. “Streaming ruined my life.”
Crosby said he had to scale back the way he lived.
In 2014, he had to sell “The Mayan,” his 59-foot John Alden-designed schooner.
Purchased in 1969, Crosby has said many of his best-known songs, including “Wooden Ships,” were written while aboard the boat, which he’s called his “nautical muse.”
“I had to sell my boat,” he said. “The single object I loved more than anything else in this world, I had to sell it.”
The loss still stings, but otherwise, Crosby said he’s doing well for a man of his years.
“Would I like to be younger, richer?” he asked. “Would I like to be better looking? I can give you a list of things that could be better, but I’m pretty happy. I’ve been writing a lot of music, which is usually a good barometer of my soul.”
Words and music still flow out of him — every day.
“I keep a guitar on a wall next to the bed,” Crosby said. “I keep several guitars in the bedroom in different tunings because I like to play in different tunings.”
The instruments are for the music. With lyrics, Crosby said he learned a long time ago to write down his stray thoughts or phrases that seem to mean something.
He got into the habit after Joni Mitchell chided him over being careless. Crosby said they’d been talking, and he said something to her. He didn’t really remember what it was, but she told him, “Write that down.”
Crosby replied, “Write what down?”
Mitchell told him, “What you just said.”
“I said, ‘What did I just say?’”
Mitchell, flustered, said, “You said something really good and you do that all the time, you dummy. You said something other people would work a month to get, and you don’t even remember what you said.”
“So, now if I get four words in a row I like, I write it down,” Crosby said.
He writes the phrases on whatever he has handy and then puts them into a scratch file on his computer. He routinely goes through that file, mining ideas and thoughts for a song.
“Anything can set you off and get you going,” he said.
Crosby’s current band, the Sky Trails Band, is essentially his CPR Band, with guitarist Jeff Pevar and Crosby’s son, James Raymond, along with bassist Mai Leisz, keyboardist Michelle Willis and drummer Steve DiStanislao.
The band has been touring through the spring and is scheduled to be one of the heritage acts at Woodstock 2019 in Watkins Glen, New York — if it happens.
The festival has been on again and off again several times in the past couple of months.
Crosby performed at the original Woodstock in 1969 with Crosby, Stills & Nash (and then played it again in 1994), but he was ambivalent toward the mystique of the festival, which has become legendary.
About 100,000 people bought tickets to the first Woodstock music festival. Another 300,000 showed up and walked onto the property, but millions have claimed to have been there.
Crosby said, “It’s a different thing for me. Woodstock is kind of like reverse perspective. The farther away we get, the bigger it looms.”
The original festival was a gig. The new festival is a gig.
“It will be a good gig,” he added. “We’re going to be one of the legacy acts there, one of the reasons people want to be there in the first place.”
Crosby said they’d be going to play their hearts out.
He thought they’d blow everybody else off the stage.
It’s a boast, but Crosby believes in his music. It’s the best thing he has to offer anyone.
“Music is a lifting force,” he said. “It makes things better. It’s the only thing I can do to make things better. It’s my obligation — my calling, if you will.”
It’s also what he wants to do, anyway.