Sober, happily married, and working at a near-constant rate, David Crosby should be the happiest he’s ever been, yet his solo albums are the only thing keeping the bills paid. He can’t rest comfortably on his laurels on royalties from his previous work. The feuds with his Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young bandmates never stopped, and family members won’t take his calls. It makes sense; David Crosby is brutally honest about himself and he doesn’t spare others from the same bluntness. His affable appearance a veneer for a roiling storm that lies underneath. His trademark walrus moustache a cover for the stream of obscenities that would fly out of his mouth toward friend and foe alike.
The influence and legacy of David Crosby are without doubt, but few of his contemporaries or even his family would speak highly of him. Crosby is often unflinching in his recollection of milestone achievements: even he admits that of the supergroup, he was the one member to not write a chart-topping hit as a solo act. David Crosby: Remember My Name is no hagiography. The rock legend doesn’t let himself off the hook and brings new meaning to the expression warts and all. In most music documentaries, the abrasive nature of the subject is glossed over in favour of an appreciation of the music created. Here, Crosby is analyzed more personally than for his catalog of work. His 1971 album, If I Could Only Remember My Name, is the inspiration for the film’s title, and the film delves into the making of that album, though more for the high profile musicians on the scene than for the innovation contained therein.Those just getting acclimated to Crosby and his work shouldn’t start here–the film doesn’t lend itself to newcomers. But with CSN (and Y)’s music providing the soundtrack for the film, devotees and casual listeners are sure to enjoy themselves. A surprising piece of information for me was learning that Crosby was a member of the Byrds. The frontman for that group, Roger McGuinn, one of the few people to appear in the film, shares why Crosby wore out his welcome. “David became insufferable,” he sighs, sharing an instance of when Crosby hijacked a performance to share conspiracies regarding John F. Kennedy. Graham Nash notes the sadness of the stonewalling, but doesn’t “know how to undo it.” Why the authors of such peaceful harmonies rock are so rife with discord behind the scenes still befuddles me.
The documentary is made better by the presence of Cameron Crowe, former Rolling Stone writer who interviewed Crosby several times at the height of his career. Crowe is particularly adept at dissecting the grey matter of musicians and he’s able to dig deep into Crosby’s psyche. 76 then and 78 now, Crowe asks Crosby “Do you ever wonder why you are still alive?” He can only reply in a hushed whisper, “I don’t know.” Eight stents (the maximum his heart would allow) are keeping him alive, and even Crosby finds it ironic he should outlive so many other rock and rollers. Given the drug abuse, womanizing, band break-ups, and arrests, it’s easy to see why.
A.J. Eaton’s Remember My Name checks off the typical notes of a music career; the humble beginnings, the ascent, what have you. It’s clear though that the strife holds more interest to the director. Only 30 minutes or so of the documentary pertains to the man’s music. As the trajectory of Crosby’s career starts to plummet, Crosby becomes reluctant to dwell on the dysfunction, rage, and regret that he holds. The musician openly laments “I’m afraid of death,” and it’s plain to see that he fears not being able to make amends before he passes on. Eaton and Crowe press harder than most journalists would be comfortable with, and given Crowe’s stature in the rock and roll community, Crosby is more open about his troubled history.
For all of the photos of the Laurel Canyon scene, Southern California venues, and video of Crosby noting the locations of his milestones, what will stick with viewers is the visage of a man haunted by regret. Despite living 78 years on this Earth, and having a fair share of highlights, Crosby hopes to live long enough to right his wrongs. Let’s not confuse this with Crosby getting soft in his age. When Crowe offer a hypothetical to Crosby “no music, but extreme joy in your home life, would you make that trade?” The sly iconoclast does a double take before answering, “No, not interested. It’s the only thing I got to offer, really.”