Music Legend David Crosby Marvels at His Own Survival in Reflective ‘David Crosby: Remember My Name’
The greats are starting to look back at the trail of tears and successes left behind. “David Crosby: Remember My Name” features some timeless songs and colorful history but works best as the intimate testimonial of a man who has lived, loved and lost. Some documentaries where the subject actively participates veer into hagiography, celebrating the myth while brushing aside the more mortal, human angles. Crosby, master of his craft, does not gloss over his failings in this documentary which is full life yet has a melancholy undercurrent. The man knew how to write a great tune, he just wasn’t always the best company.
The project is a collaboration between director A.J. Eaton and renowned director, here servicing as producer, Cameron Crowe. They follow Crosby, now in his late ’70s, as he reflects on his decades-long career, triumphs and tragedies. Crowe does much of the interviewing as Crosby drives around spots in Los Angeles where he witnessed the cultural changes of the 1960s, or as he prepares to once again go on tour despite the hassles of age and health. Rebellious since nearly birth, Crosby always charted his own course in life, discovering music, making a name for himself first with The Byrds then as a member of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young with Stephen Stills, Graham Nash and Neil Young. Crosby interacted with all the greats of his era, from Jimi Hendrix to Jim Morrison, admitting he’s astounded to still be alive when 27 was the typical check out point. Crosby himself flirted with death numerous times, particularly during his years addicted to heroin which led to his arrest and eventual incarceration in 1982. Marriages crumbled, lovers passed away, and through it all Crosby wrote some of the best rock music of the last 50 years (many of them featured in the documentary). And yet, even as he has found love and personal stability, CSNY was the one thing Crosby could not keep together as the group soon disbanded in contentious squabbling.
With the generation of the ’60s truly reaching its twilight, it is typical now to see more documentaries and biopics that feel like commemorations. Director A.J. Eaton recently told Entertainment Voice that, “The movie as I see it is the portrait of an artist, warts and all. David’s been approached dozens of times to make a movie or documentary, I’m honored to have been given this trust. It’s a major responsibility, the music means a lot to a lot of people.”
The times have changed so much since the Summer of Love that the hopes and romanticism of the period threaten to look more and more naïve as the years go on. Consider that Woodstock is as distant to us now as World War I was to the hippies. In “Remember My Name” the life of David Crosby almost seems to embody the very arch of his generation. There’s a bohemian romanticism to the moments where he drives around the Sunset Strip, remembering those early days when he frolicked with notables like Joni Mitchell, who dumped him with a specially-composed song (how many people can make that claim?), hung out with The Beatles, partially inspired Dennis Hopper’s character in “Easy Rider,” found fame in The Byrds and did massive amounts of drugs. Crosby fans will recognize memorable stock footage like Crosby at Monterey Pop using his time on stage to peddle JFK conspiracy theories and his early TV performances, sporting the outdoors look so emblematic of 60s counterculture. These moments are contrasted with new footage of Crosby remembering all this while lounging around his current home with wife Jan Dance, who for a while was also sucked into Crosby’s wild dance with narcotics. Now the singer is facing more natural battles with diabetes, heart problems and simple tiredness.
“This story transcends the man,” said Eaton. “It has ideas about friendship, hope, harmony. David has lived such an epic, extraordinary life that if it were a screenplay that someone gave to me I’d say, ‘this is so far-fetched!” On how they even met Eaton said, “He was 69 in the midst of writing his first solo album after a 20 year hiatus, and I was surprised at how fresh and luscious the music that he was writing is. The lyrics are kind of a window into the past and I was inspired by that. I’m the son of a songwriter, music and movies are in my DNA. I was inspired to make movies when I watched my dad write a song for a little documentary, I’ve been chasing that ever since. I said ‘I have to do this.’ Then I met Cameron Crowe, the movie-music oracle.”
There is a moment in the documentary when Cameron even shows Crosby an old cassette recording of an interview the filmmaker, then a young rock journalist, made with the singer in the 1970s. “Cameron and Crosby have been talking…they’ve had this candid rapport for 40 years. The minute they started talking I said to the cameraman, ‘we better have enough film. Get your batteries charged,’” said Eaton.
“Remember My Name” feels more complete than your average rock documentary in that Crosby hides little. He very honestly discusses his wins and faults. By his own admission he has never been the easiest artist to collaborate with. If Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young produced some of the breeziest, memorable songs of their time like “Carry On,” behind the scenes Crosby could be an egomaniac. You can still hear hints of it when he proposes that “Easy Rider” would have been a better movie if Dennis Hopper had actually cast him. When the documentary deals with Crosby’s relationship with his CSNY bandmates there’s an almost tragicomedy feel. Graham Nash still hates the guy, much more so than Neil Young who also cut off contact with Crosby over some rude overtures to his girlfriend. At one point Graham lost it during a concert and yelled “fuck you” to Crosby mere inches from his face. Their final flop would be an embarrassingly off key performance of “Silent Night” in 2015 for the National Christmas Tree lighting ceremony. Eaton can’t help but cut to a shot of President Obama looking on with courteous expressionlessness. Crosby never makes excuses, he openly admits on camera he has a difficult personality, overbearing, attention-grabbing and all of it enhanced by the toxin of fame. However you also get the sense that outside of a studio or offstage, Crosby is very friendly. We all have our faults.
Much great art is forged out of heartbreak and Crosby has suffered plenty of it. There’s an endearing, naked honesty to when he discusses painful memories like the death of girlfriend Christine Hinton in a car crash in 1969, which led to both a lot of heavy drinking and his haunted solo album “If I Could Only Remember My Name.” Drugs would overtake him and by the 1980s he was a full blown heroin addict, describing the experience as eternally chasing after that first, blissful high. The footage of his second major arrest in 1985 is shocking in how it reveals his physical deterioration. But Crosby would find sobriety again. Impressively enough, his voice remains intact. Crosby will rehearse in front of the camera, showing off a lush range younger singers would envy.
“We had access to so much material,” said Eaton about the music that shimmers on the soundtrack. “What was really cool is that we found that some of these unreleased demos like ‘Guinevere’ worked better on the screen, so that was really fun.”
This is also a strong chronicle of how Crosby was always in tune with the times. He was a songwriter eager to tap into the zeitgeist, insisting on making political statements about Vietnam and other urgent matters even when the other band members resisted the idea. Eaton follows Crosby to Kent State University where four students were gunned down by the National Guard during anti-war protests in 1970. As a result Neil Young wrote the evocative “Ohio.” There is still a fierce rage in Crosby when he looks at a picture of the guardsmen aiming their weapons at protesters.
“Remember My Name” becomes more than mere ’60s nostalgia. It’s an elegiac work of a life looking back on itself. David Crosby has reached immense highs and terrible lows. The way he talks about it all celebrates some great music but also reminds us that everyone is human. Eaton has had first-hand experience with the resonance of this story and its melodies when screening the film. “As we’ve played this movie I’ve had people walk to me and say, ‘that album, that CSNY album was the one me and my dad would listen to together. We have to serve those fans and do justice to the music, but we also need to tell a story that people can watch maybe not knowing who David is and then getting an idea of who the person is.”
“David Crosby: Remember My Name” opens July 19 in select theaters.