Crosby, Stills & Nash.

Sometimes the ampersand slipped past Nash to embrace Young.

Trio or quartet, the names had resonance.

Always, David Crosby's name led the rest.

And with his Gold Rush mustache, flowing hair framing his round face like a halo, perpetual smile halfway between wise guy and guru, and vivid clothing that was a lot more incidental than his music, Crosby seemed the absolute embodiment of the Happy Hippie, archetype for a counterculture recruiting poster, tout for the benefits of recreational drugs.

After four years as a founding member, he'd flown the Byrds' coop -- against his will, actually -- and in 1968, landed in what would become one of the most popular and influential groups of the '70s. Crosby joined Stephen Stills and Graham Nash, two other singer-songwriters who felt slighted in their respective groups, Buffalo Springfield and the Hollies. The results were magical, particularly the harmonies. Jimi Hendrix called it "Western Sky Music" ("all delicate and ding-ding-ding," he said).

But a year later, shortly after their debut album had created a sensation, clouds began to build.

In 1969, Crosby's girlfriend, Christine Hinton, was killed in a car crash while taking their cats to the vet. "David went to identify the body and he's never been the same since," Nash told the group's biographer, Dave Zimmer. Indeed, the pot and the psychedelics soon gave way to harder drugs, cocaine in particular, and by the early '80s, David Crosby's life story was being played out all too publicly in accident reports, police blotters and magazine cover lines.

Some samples:

"Cocaine Casualty: How Cocaine Ruined the Life of Rocker David Crosby" -- People, August 1983.

"The Tragic Story of David Crosby's Living Death" -- Spin, October 1985.

"How Drugs Destroyed David Crosby" -- Rolling Stone, November 1985.

Fortunately, nobody started chiseling a tombstone, though Graham Nash admits, "There were times when I absolutely thought that he would die."

Instead Crosby was just a long time gone, spending almost a year, from September of 1985 to August of 1986, in Texas prisons for assorted drug, gun possession and bond violations. In April, he was back on the cover of People again, but this time the news was good: The inside headline on the confessional piece called him "The Happy Lazarus of Rock 'n' Roll."

Maybe his next solo tour could be called "David Crosby -- Together Again."

Sitting in his tour bus before a concert earlier this week at the Merriweather Post Pavilion, Crosby, dressed in a denim shirt and jeans, looks less like Lazarus than Paul Bunyan in need of a workout. At 45 there is more of him now than before, and there are gray flecks in those bushy sideburns and that identifying mustache. There is still a softness and a sparkle in his eyes. Mostly, he looks redeemed.

"I'm much better and much happier than I was for a long time," Crosby says, telling himself something he'll need to remember for the rest of his life. He's been out of jail now about as long as he was in -- 11 months -- which means he's been straight for 22 months. Though he choses not to dwell on the prison catharsis, Crosby doesn't seem to mind hearing such updates. He just doesn't want to contribute any more headlines.

"I knew what state of affairs I was in," he explains. "And I didn't like it. But I couldn't get out of it, I couldn't step back from it. I tried. As anybody who's been through this will tell you, it's very difficult to do this by yourself, to quit.

"When I did go to jail, I was finally able to quit because I had no choice. I was able to step back, look at it, be appalled by it, and be incredibly glad to be free of it."

Crosby spent the first four months of his sentence in solitary at Dallas County Jail, dumping his psychochemical dependency cold turkey. "They stick you in a steel box and feed you through a hole and tell you, 'If you don't want to go through this, don't get addicted to the drugs, sonny,' " he recalls. The next seven months were spent at the Texas Department of Correction in Huntsville. Sean Penn would have been horrified by the ambiance.

"State prison in Texas is no joke, it's no summer camp," Crosby says. "It's very violent, and very tough. They're not kidding. They don't have different classifications, they're just 'prisons,' so you're in there with murderers and everybody else, the whole schmear. It was bad, but the result was so good, and it mitigated what I had to go through so much, that I don't regret it at all."

Outside the tour bus, Crosby's 12-year-old daughter, Donovan, is racing up the slope of the Pavilion, blond hair flying behind her, a gleeful expression on her face. Crosby looks at her and his eyes get misty.

"For a long time I wasn't able to be her father," he says. "Now I am and she's my best pal. We just have a great time and she's so happy. She loves me so much for getting straight, because she was so worried about me.

"It was very hard on her," he adds. "It's not easy being a kid in school and having people come up to you saying, 'This magazine says your daddy's a junkie and he's going to die.' Which, given the law of averages, I could well have done. Now she gets to be a proud daughter."

A couple of months back, Crosby married his longtime companion, Jan Dance, also a recovering drug addict, who'd been with him during some of the hardest times. "She went with me on the whole trip," Crosby says. "She was seriously addicted herself and now she's this shiny, bright, happy, full-of-life person bouncing around through life ... she's a joy."

At this moment, Jan comes out from the back of the bus ("she's a raving telepath," Crosby laughs). "Hi, sweetheart," he says, and they hug, so fiercely that when the clinch is finally broken, both their faces are flushed.

'A Square Root Relationship' It seems so long ago that David Crosby was in the Byrds, sometimes pushed as America's answer to the Beatles. In that group, Crosby was George Harrison to Gene Clark and Roger McGuinn's Lennon/McCartney. "In the Byrds," he says, "I was only a harmony singer -- and I love singing harmony -- but the more I wrote, the more I sang lead and that was one of the reasons we made this group. We {Nash, Stills and Crosby} were singer-songwriters who wanted to sing our own songs and all three of us were cast into the role of 'The Harmony Singer' in our groups, and that wasn't what we wanted to be."

The Hollies, Buffalo Springfield and the Byrds had all had major successes, but by July of 1968, the threesome gravitated to Joni Mitchell's house in Laurel Canyon, helplessly hoping for some sort of changes. They came in a new, bittersweet harmony uncovered on Stills' "You Don't Have To Cry." If you're of a certain age, you can probably hear it still: A perfect fit, aural alchemy, a blast of fresh air:

"In the morning when you rise

Do you think of me and how you left me cryin'?

Are you thinking of telephones

And managers and where you got to be at noon?"

"It was scary," Crosby told Zimmer. "But once we knew what we had, you could not pry us apart with a crowbar. We knew we'd lucked onto something so special, man. We could hear it plain as day."

So could their friends in the music business, and soon after, the managers and record execs, and eventually, so could the public. When "Crosby, Stills & Nash" came out in 1969, it went through the roof, fueled by the hits "Marrakesh Express" and "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes."

When the trio added Neil Young, a Stills colleague from Buffalo Springfield, they expanded their power -- and their problems. In 18 years, Crosby Stills & Nash have only gotten around to recording three studio albums, plus one with Young, though individually and in various duo combinations, they have more than three dozen albums among them.

According to Crosby, he and the others had always planned to pursue solo, duo, trio and quartet work. "We told everybody that at the beginning, but every time we split up to do it, everybody goes 'They broke up.' Then when we come back together, it's 'Reunion!' We've never been apart."

"We do that on purpose and I think it helps keep our music fresh," he says of the group's split personality, "and it's a very healthy thing."

Still, reading Zimmer's excellent book, one can't help feeling that Crosby, Stills, Nash and particularly Young have put one another through more changes than a dressing room at the Gap, converging and diverging, holding grudges and forgiving trespasses, competing and cooperating. In the mid-'70s, they -- more than the Byrds ever did -- attained near-Beatle stature (though CSN&Y consisted of four equally talented singers and songwriters, not two). And even more than the Beatles, they all seemed to be living in Peyton Place.

"It's very true," says Nash, "our life reads like that. But our base is a deep love for music and the ability to make people feel a little less lonely in this crazy, crazy world."

In any case, says Crosby, the creative and personal tensions were mainly for the best. "We are three -- or four, depending on which combination we're working in -- very disparate people, and that is the reason for the chemistry, and for the explosiveness of the chemistry that makes us interact as well as we do. We love it. We don't want to be like each other. We argue ... we disagree ... we agree ... we love each other ... we go through all the human traits that a family does, but we stay a family."

Still, one can't help noticing that three is more peaceful than four. "The increasing intensity is exponential," Crosby laughs. "Each time we add somebody, it goes up by the square root -- 1 is 1, 2 is 4, 3 is 9; when you add Neil, 4 is 16. It's a square-root relationship."

8 Miles High For Neil Young, who had recovered from his own heroin addiction, it had to be a square relationship as well. As Crosby sank deeper into his trouble, Young laid down the law: He'd never sing with his friend again until he was clean.

Crosby saw that not as a threat, but as "the best kind of encouragement. Those messages got to me," he says. "They were not what made me able to do it, but they certainly reinforced it. I knew Nash was there for me all the time, and I'm sure Stephen was, and I thought Neil would be too. We are now going to make an album with Neil when we go off the road, and I'm looking forward to it because I love the guy. And I want to work with him because the energy is fantastic."

Stills and Nash despaired for Crosby as well, but decided it was better to keep working with him. "We have been accused in the past, Stephen and I, of keeping David on the road for our own selfish ends," Nash says. "What people don't realize is how much Crosby needs music in his life, and it was a dichotomy for us -- keeping him on the road earning money to pay for his drugs, and keeping him on the road making music to keep his life in order. It was a strange one and I've gone through much pain on it."

It didn't start painful, of course, back in the '60s when the harmony was sweet and the "Crosby virus" -- a generally potent cloud of smoke -- seemed just another innocent indulgence of the counterculture. As he used to sing with the Byrds, David Crosby was often eight miles high. But he didn't lightly touch down. And in hindsight, he looks like one more victim of the then-prevalent myth that getting high would make the world a better place.

"We didn't know anything about hard drugs," Crosby says. "We thought drugs was joints and acid and there didn't seem to be much wrong with that."

Crosby has said that Christine Hinton's death pushed him to cocaine and heroin, but he now makes no distinction between hard drugs and what used to be called the "recreational" variety.

"Let me put it to you this way," he says. "When I started out I was just smoking joints and doing psychedelics and I had a lot of fun. I'm not going to try and tell you I didn't because I did. But it's a funny thing -- and it's hard for me to say, because I denied it vehemently -- they used to tell us it will lead to harder stuff. And I'd say you're full of ...

"And it did. What can I tell you? I hate to admit it but they were right and I was wrong. When I wound up strung out, it was awful. There was nothing fun about it in any way. Now I don't get high in any fashion. I don't even drink."

Prison, horrible though it was, was his salvation. "What it did for me was put me in a place where I couldn't get any drugs," Crosby says. "I had put myself in hospitals several times, and been put in hospitals several times by judges, and I always ran away. Being in a place where I couldn't get any drugs, I finally woke up. The change that takes place in your mind is so radical ... addiction to hard drugs takes you over so much that you become not really yourself.

"There are a lot of levels of a person's head that get a vote on your behavior, and not all of them are articulate. When you do a lot of drugs, many of those levels are immature and babyish -- the 'I want it now' gratification -- and they are particularly susceptible to the drug mentality. And they become a large part of your motivating force, so that you have to kind of starve them out."

Crosby's new sobriety has allowed him to get back to what he loves, and what he does best: singing ("I thought for sure I'd blown it, but since I've gotten out I've been singing better than I have in my whole life ... I'm amazed I didn't do some sort of damage to my voice") and writing.

He had stopped writing songs for a few years. "Anybody who tells you drugs enhance creativity," he says, is wrong, "because the longer and more addicted I got, the more it got in the way of my music, until finally it preempted my attention almost completely ... For a singer-songwriter his output is a very clear indicator of the state of his soul and his situation in life."

Crosby started writing again about halfway through his Texas prison term, and also played in the prison band. As a writer, he suggests, "I might be better now. I'm certainly better than when I was addicted. I'm trying not to write so much about myself, though songs like 'Compass' and some of the others are about my experiences, going through that mess and waking up from it. There's one called 'The Monkey and the Underdog' that's about fighting for your life and trying to stay straight, because it's a fight I have to fight every day."

'10 Years in a Blindfold' Solo, duo, trio, quartet -- "I'm going to do them them all," David Crosby promises. "Now that I'm out here and loose, I'm a holy terror. I love to work. I intend to work all the time." He recently signed a deal with A&M, for his first solo album since 1971's "If Only I Could Remember My Name."

"David's playing some of the best music in his life," says Graham Nash. "Which surprises me because, I confess, I looked for brain damage immediately. But he doesn't seem to have lost one cell."

"I have wasted 10 years in a blindfold," Crosby sings in "Compass":

Ten fold more than I've invested now in sight

I have traveled beveled mirrors in a fly crawl

Losing the reflection of a fight

But like a compass seeking north

There lives in me some still sure spirit part

Clouds of doubt are cut asunder

By the searchlight shining to you from my heart.

In concert, Crosby tells the audience they have to figure out their own attitude towards drugs. "If you look at my life, you can figure it out in about two seconds," he tells them.

And sometimes they do.

After last week's Welcome Home concert at Capital Centre, "a guy came up to me, and it was obvious he was very emotionally charged," Crosby recalls. "And he said, 'I have a 19-year-old son and I thought I was going to lose him, but because of what you said in that magazine {People} he quit cocaine. And I now have a 19-year-old son who's clean and sober and back in the family. And let me make this clear: He told me it was what you said in the magazine, that's why he quit. No maybes, ifs.'

"And he had tears in his eyes," Crosby adds, fighting back his own. "You talk about feeling good, about reinforcement? I feel fantastic when something like that happens.

"It seems like everybody's on my side now," he says. "I'm getting help from a lot of quarters in a lot of ways." Of course, the main thing is that David Crosby's finally on his own side, too.

Sometimes, the life you save may be your own.