Just after the opening credits and an introductory bit of interview, David Crosby is seen leaving for his tour. As his car slowly pulls out of his driveway, the angle switches from a rising crane shot to an overhead drone/helicopter shot. His chauffeured black Cadillac SUV rolls from left to right with the camera following, eventually revealing the words “STOP AHEAD” printed in big white letters on the road. To me, this is the most important shot of David Crosby: Remember My Name.
After a lifetime full of joy, pain, love, regret, sex, drugs, and most definitely rock ‘n’ roll, the legendary Crosby (no, hockey fans, we’re talking about the musician) knows his time’s running out. He’s beaten addiction, but his multiple heart attacks and diabetes – the latter of which he states will kill him in the long run – are catching up to him, and he’s not looking forward to the inevitable. A good number of his close friends have already passed away, and he’s worried he hasn’t done everything he wants to do before he goes. “I’m afraid of death,” Crosby admits woefully, due to the years he wasted on drugs and tumultuous relationships.
In David Crosby: Remember My Name, the man himself sits in front of director A.J. Eaton’s cameras while acclaimed filmmaker Cameron Crowe fires questions at him, with Crowe often getting more than he bargained for with Crosby’s answers. The intimate feel of being ensconced in Crosby’s home or seated next to him during his pre-tour trip through Los Angeles allows us to believe we’re just hanging out with one of rock music’s most polarizing characters. Crosby seems perfectly at ease with Crowe and the cameras, candidly and honestly – at least to his recollection, as the film is very one-sided – telling us about his journey through music stardom, a sordid middle act, and the shaky road which leads to today.
His stories are better heard than summarized; anyone can go to the Wikipedia entry and have a clinical look at the history of Crosby, Stills & Nash (later amended to Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young). But what we get is a naked, painful inside color commentary of his often-negative impact on others, all of which clashes with the loving, generous, hurting person we come to know through this film’s running time. From his political activism to his drug-addled stupors, Crosby is shown to first and foremost live for the music. To hear him talk about it, music is love to him, and he’s been chasing it for more than 50 years without signs of stopping.
He is slowing down, however, and the film finds him taking stock of the friendships he’s made and ruined along the way. For the cameras, he’s a lovable goof; by the same token, he acknowledges how much of a dick he was (his term, not mine) back when his music was getting him the attention he craved. Supported by archival performance and behind-the-scenes footage, he lays out in no uncertain terms what he did wrong and how he pissed people off. His political leanings and rantings. Infidelities. Drugs getting in the way of his performances. Dissolving romantic partnerships and brotherhood for the sake of ego. His arrest and imprisonment.
It’s all here, told to us by a remorseful man staring down the barrel of old age and ill health. We bounce around his old haunts as he wistfully tells us of sharp, clear memories of the whos and hows of his heyday. Very few stories end with any sense of happiness, and Eaton makes sure to capture every last longing glance and every sorrow-filled remembrance. Yet it’s not all gloom and doom – we see Crosby in his element, playing music with dexterous fingers and singing with a voice which has stood up to half a century of strain and abuse.
Like I said, the film is very one-sided. There are three sides to every story – yours, mine, and the truth – and archival interviews with former bandmates Stephen Stills, Graham Nash, and Neil Young provide damning testimony proving Crosby’s tales correct. Through it all, he accepts it as part of his life and looks forward to making it right. David Crosby: Remember My Name is as much a confessional as it is a paean to course correction and amending wrongs. While it’s made plain some of those wrongs will never be righted, it’s heartening to hear his introspection and self-awareness, some of which shocks Crowe into near silence. Crowe never interrupts, intrudes or calls attention to himself (except for one tender bit), allowing Crosby to speak fully and without pressure, his mischievous, impish tone endearing us to him.
The film is as intimate as intimate gets, inviting us into everything from Crosby’s warm-up routines to a personal guided tour of the places which serves as mile markers in his history. It’s uncomfortable to watch, yet his magnetic brio wins us over time and again. The film is shot with love and respect for the good he’s put into the world, even if it comes at a saddening price. If the point of David Crosby: Remember My Name is to make us fall in love with him and his music, it succeeds mightily. You almost wish you’d have more time with him on the couch or walking through his favorite L.A. quickie-mart as he regales us with tales from his heart and the signature twinkle in his eyes.