Freak Flag Flying – David Crosby’s epic podcast conversation with Steve Silberman – is a beautiful gift to humanity, generously sharing warmth, wisdom and wonderful music.
“I was fighting darkness, so I was shedding a lot of light.”
These words are spoken by David Crosby in the fourth episode of Freak Flag Flying, an epic podcast conversation with his close friend Steve Silberman. Crosby is describing the personal struggles he endured while making If I Could Only Remember My Name. This is a masterwork of a record, created in the worst circumstances. Crosby’s soul was lost in pitch blackness in the aftermath of the tragic passing of his girlfriend. But as Silberman observes, the record is somehow beautiful, joyous and uplifting.*
David Crosby’s music has a unique ability to capture the sounds of the soul, the beauty of life itself. The spirits sometimes speak and sing through his music. The phrase “ghost prints on the tape” crops up numerous times across the five episodes of Freak Flag Flying.
The track I’d Swear There Was Somebody There, “was spooky and it might be my best piece of music,” says Crosby. He describes how he felt as if his girlfriend’s ghost was there with him during the recording:
“I was standing in an echo chamber. Or maybe I was just trying out an echo chamber at Wally Heider’s – a live echo chamber, real chamber echo. And it was so good. And then something happened. I was very high. And something happened. And I thought she was there. I could see her almost.”
A permanent twinkle in the eye
Freak Flag Flying is a masterwork of podcasting. A remarkable biographical work, offering as complete a picture of and insight into the man and his music as one could ever hope for.** Crosby’s charm – the permanent twinkle in his eye – radiates from every episode, as does the warmth of his friendship with Silberman.
Through beautiful and inspired integration of music and talk, these two friends “take podcasts somewhere they might not have been before” (to quote a tweet from Envoys for Humanity***). Songs and instrumental sketches from across Crosby’s half-century plus recording career are allowed to breathe and express themselves for as long as they need. This reveals a remarkable consistency to his music, in terms of artistry, quality of output and truth in self expression.
So many obscure gems turn up. For example, without Freak Flag Flying, I’m not sure I’d ever have heard Kids and Dogs, a remarkable improvisational piece by Crosby and the Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia.
Many lifetimes in one lifetime
At 78 years old, David Crosby’s mind is alive with youthful energy. Somehow, his singing voice is almost untouched by age.
Crosby is lucky that he is still here. We are lucky that he is still here. He has truly lived many lifetimes in one lifetime. He has come close to losing it all so many times. In the fourth episode he talks about how drug addiction suppressed and destroyed his talent for years. But when forced to go cold turkey during a spell in prison for narcotics and weapons charges in the mid-1980s, he found that his talent somehow returned as strong as ever. A rebirth, a second creative life.
He is ruthlessly honest in all aspects of life. This is certainly true of Freak Flag Flying. He speaks openly about his fear of death. Life’s greatest, cruellest joke is that we only truly recognise the value of time as it starts to run out:
“The real bitch is that we don’t have enough time. We don’t have anywhere near enough time. I didn’t start figuring out who I was until I was in my 50s, for God’s sakes. Yeah. And here I am, just now finally having adjusted my life to where I’m happy most of the time – and I’m gonna die. Where the fuck is that at? It sucks. You know, it’s very tough. I got a dozen things that I still want to learn.”
Growing the day before they bury me
This is by no means an uncritical portrait of Mr Crosby. He is brutally honest about the time he feels he wasted while lost in the depths of drug addiction. He cops to Silberman’s friendly chiding about size of his ego. I love Crosby’s words about trying consciously to battle his ego so that he can embrace fresh new things, and thereby grow. I love his view that difficulty, challenge and growth keep life fresh:
“The bigger your ego is, the more you feed it, the less growing you can do. The more you suppress the ego thing – the ‘oh, I’m terrific’ – the more open you are to new shit, the more you can learn and grow. I would like sincerely like to be growing the day before they bury me. Right? I’d like to learn some new shit on my last day, and have been doing it the day before too. That’s a moral and philosophical point that I’m not really willing to compromise on.”
Crosby is oddly egoless about where his talents lie. He feels that his greatest gift is to “keep putting together chemistry” – assembling perfect combinations of musicians to amplify and get the most out of the unique talents and personality traits that each brings. Crosby says:
“I’m very good at it. I have a sense of it. I can spot it. I know what it is when I see it. I do kind of know how to work it. I can contribute to it. It helps me extend my art out to levels and qualities and amounts that I could never reach by myself. But in working with another human being, I can achieve stuff that is glorious to me.”
Luck and openness
He is also humble in acknowledging the role that luck plays in his life, and in all our lives:
“The only credit I would give my self is for being such a lucky son of a bitch. And also I’ll give myself that I was open…”
Freak Flag Flying is a beautiful gift to humanity. I would urge you to listen to it, to bask in the warmth, wisdom and wonderful music that it so generously shares.
Thank you, David Crosby. Thank you, Steve Silberman.
May you find new ways to grow each day.
May the words, the music and the friendship flow free.
May today be nothing but kind to you and yours.
* I love Steve Silberman’s take on the magic of If I Could Only Remember My Name:
“I thought it was a masterpiece, one of the highlights of all of music. I put it up there with – this is me, I’m weird – but I put it up there in my mind with Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, Miles Davis’ In a Silent Way, Bill Evans at the Village Vanguard. That was the stature that I gave it in my mind. It’s everything about it. It’s not just each individual track. It’s not just who’s on it. It’s the sequence, it’s a journey. It’s the vibe. It sucks you in. But for most people that listen to it, it’s a very uplifting experience.”
** Although there is one omission – the story of Mr Crosby’s cape. Luckily, this tale was nicely recounted in a great episode of the Word In Your Ear podcast (which I recommended to my good friend Julie Joyce a few years back…).
** This tweet from Envoys for Humanity perfectly describes achievement: “yep, an instant classic. The stars lined up with Steve’s insights and their friendship. And then there is the superb production. The music chosen and contextual introductions of the chosen cuts… they take podcasts somewhere they might not have been before.”
The good folks at Osiris Media were so kind as to tweet me to let me know precisely where credit for Freak Flag Flying is due:
- David Crosby portrait by MJCarty, February 2020.
- David Crosby in 2012 via Wikimedia Commons.
- David Crosby in 1976 via Wikimedia Commons.
Freak Flag Flying
Listen to each episode via the Osiris Media website: