This story begins with the recent overdose death of singer Melissa Etheridge’s son Beckett, at 21. Opioids, we’re told. She and her partner had revealed that the donor/ father was actually musician David Crosby of Crosby, Stills and Nash fame. They’d settled on him because he was a trusted friend, musically talented, and willing not to be overly involved in decision-making about how raise the child. As opposed to their initial choice, their friend Brad Pitt.
With the death, questions arose around Crosby’s own history of addictions, and whether his genes could have contributed to the young man’s own drug problems. It’s understandable enough in an era of commercial enterprises such as 23 and MeTM and AncestryDNATM. But when it comes to addictions, the roots are considered complex and multifactorial. That makes it fertile ground for confusion.
As I see it: Substance addictions clearly do have a strong genetic component. But environment also plays a role. When it comes to an individual, the two influences aren’t always equal. In some, it’ll seem clear that family history is the key variable. In others, it’ll appear to be more about environment.
You could say the same about personality itself — genes and environment are always there, but the ratio can be skewed, one way or the other.
Besides, it’s better described as a vulnerability to addiction rooted in genetics, with the disease as an expression of it. That crosses generations, by the way. Some inheritance studies have traced an increased risk for alcoholism back to a relative five generations removed. The current parent is really just passing on something that was passed on to them. And because addiction has been stigmatized for hundreds of years, it’s not unusual for families to hide that information from their offspring.
It’s something they “just don’t talk about.”
What we know of David Crosby’s background is that it was fairly typical of the era in which he grew up – especially among rock musicians. I’ve worked with a number of those, from similar entertainment subcultures, and I sure don’t see much unique about his story. That was a time when folks were willing, even eager, to experiment, to take risks with drugs and alcohol.
Come to think of it, that’s still true. I’ve wondered why, in the midst of a vast and continuing opioid epidemic, so many people are looking for the answer in the form of some other drug with its own associated risks.
That doesn’t seem odd to you?
Anyway, Crosby’s experience included multiple trips to rehab and ended with a nine month sojourn in a Texas prison. I’ve heard him tell how the guards rarely addressed him by any name other than “rock star”. A lesson in humility, and one he apparently responded to. I’m a little surprised prison worked — it usually doesn’t — and possibly, so is he.
Coincidentally, I just watched his biopic, Remember My Name, on Netflix. I found it informative and very entertaining. He occupied a central position in the world of rock and folk, so there’s plenty of good gossip. Plus I forgot how really good he is when he finally picks up the guitar and sings. A genuine talent.
One thing I did notice: He’s adopted the rigorous self-criticism of a certain type of recovering individual, one who has made a whole lot of bad decisions and now sees himself as lucky to be alive. It’s a reminder to stay humble, I guess. In that respect he has much in common with another recent subject on this site, Mark Lanegan.