Classic Rock Review

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Long Time Gone by David Crosby & Carlos Gottlieb (1988)


David Crosby had the good sense to enlist help in writing this book–lots of help–and the result is stunning. Instead of a typically self-absorbed druggy memoir, it becomes part oral history, part biography, part raree show–all in all a sweeping portrait of a man and an era. The list of celebrities and hangers-on who contribute their recollections is long, too long to give here. Among the most amusing is David Geffen, the producer, who was, in his own words, “a formidable figure always”. Not formidable enough, however, to keep himself from being bullied by Crosby into taking an envelope of weed through airport security and being handcuffed and jailed.

Geffen had already begun to have doubts about his business relations with the singer after Crosby talked him into financing a movie in which “a tribe of nomads arrives at a campsite, spends a night and a day, and moves on, leaving the environment lovingly unblemished”. The script was written by Crosby and an equally stoned partner. Geffen perceived at once that the film would be something less than a blockbuster, and pulled the plug on it even as Crosby was scouting locations.

But this sort of thing was quite mild compared to the hilarity of Crosby’s hard drug phase, which followed his soft drug phase. Marijuana gave way to cocaine, and cocaine led to the breakdown of the barrier between his nostrils. As a precautionary measure, Crosby switched to freebase cocaine, which is smoked rather than snorted. This effort at health protection was in vain, however, as freebase turned out to be one of the most addictive substances on earth, demanding tribute from its hapless user virtually round the clock. So fierce was his desire to get the stuff into his lungs that he excused himself from a crisis intervention featuring such stars as Jackson Browne, Graham Nash, and Grace Slick, to go to the back room to be alone with his pipe.

And, with a propane torch for the odd procedure which turns ordinary cocaine into “freebase” Crosby slipped many times, leaving his body not “lovingly unblemished”, but rather covered with burns and impetigo. By the eighties he was consuming thousands of dollars worth a day of the drug, and his life became a dizzing round of nightclubs, treatment centers, airplane rides (paying no attention to the illumination of the No Smoking sign), and binges with the ever-present torch and pipe in operation even while driving. “‘I’m the best no-hands knee-steering driver in the world,’ he would reassure startled passengers.”

That may have been true, but in 1982 he passed out from coke overload while on his way to a demonstration at a nuclear power plant, and smashed into the center divider of the San Diego Freeway, and was busted by the Man. Here is laid bare the dilemma of the addict/activist: in order to save the people from radiation, he must at the same time endanger the people by driving while comatose. Law enforcement, after a couple more such incidents, decided he was a clear and present danger.

Yet he hung on for another 4 years, struggling to live as a functioning addict, even as his friends abandon him and the long arm of the law reaches ever closer. Obdurate to the point of psychosis, Crosby continues to cling to his guitar and torch and pipe until he has nowhere to turn but the nearest police station to make a clean breast of things. He finally kicks his addiction for good, not in the plush confines of Betty Ford, but in a solitary confinement box in a Texas prison, and emerges about a year later, with a greater knowledge of himself and of mattress fabrication procedures.

If there ever was a story about which the phrase “cautionary tale” is not a cliche, this is it. I’m surprised Geffen hasn’t made it into a blockbuster.

May 16, 2013 Posted by | Book Long Time Gone by David Crosby & Carlos Gottlieb | , | Leave a comment