DAVID CROSBY KNOWS AS WELL AS anyone that beautiful songs are often inspired by heartbreak—but two weeks ago he experienced a moment he would rather have missed. Anxiously awaiting a transplant after being admitted to the UCLA Medical Center with a failing liver on Nov. 2, the 53-year-old singer couldn't believe his luck when, just 16 days later, doctors told him a matching organ had been found. They got Crosby as far as the operating table before they discovered that the liver had tumors—and canceled the procedure at the last moment. "That freaked him out," says friend Dallas Taylor, former drummer with Crosby, Stills and Nash. "Not only had he gone through the trauma of preparing for the ordeal, he woke up and was told, 'Never mind. We'll try again later.' "

Though Crosby had known he would likely have to wait anywhere from six months to a year for a matching liver, he and wife Jan, 43, were hoping a transplant could be performed before the birth of their baby next spring. Two days later, on Nov. 20, Crosby was awakened at 5 a.m. and told another organ—that of a young man killed in a car accident—had been found. "When he heard it was a go, he was delighted," says Dr. Ronald Busuttil, director of the hospital's liver-transplant center. During the seven-hour operation, Busuttil and his eight-person team kept loose by playing Rod Stewart, the Rolling Stones and, yes, the greatest hits of Crosby, Stills and Nash. Meanwhile, Jan waited out the long hours of surgery in her husband's room. "She'd been up all night, worried and scared," says Taylor, who underwent his own liver transplant in 1989. "In many ways this is a lot harder on the spouse who isn't knocked out."

After the operation, Crosby was taken to intensive care—par for this perilous course—but by morning the patient was already off the ventilator, alert—and asking for something to eat. Pals Graham Nash, Jackson Browne and Katey Sagal had already dropped by to visit, while Phil Collins phoned and Jay Leno sent a get-well telegram. Barring rejection or infection, Crosby could be home in two weeks and in a couple of months rejoin his bandmates to launch their second quarter-century of recording and touring. "David's only got two things going against him," says Dallas. "He's old and he's ugly. Otherwise he's a feisty old f—ker."