'David Crosby: Remember My Name' reveals a musician trapped in his own kind of hell
David Crosby is reflecting on the day his bandmates tossed him from the Byrds, a dismissal played out to amusing effect as an animated short in A.J. Eaton's "David Crosby: Remember My Name," an otherwise unflinching portrait of the singer's self-destructive journey.
"I was a difficult cat," Crosby says. "And growing leaps and bounds. And not easy. Big ego. No brains. Goofy. Stoned."
That firing went down in 1967. At the time, he was just getting started — in his travels as a twice-inducted Rock and Roll Hall of Famer and the kind of guy who ends up having pushed away his most enduring musical collaborators.
There's Roger McGuinn of the Byrds, who says, "Well, David had become insufferable;" Graham Nash, who says, "You say things in anger and you try to take 'em back and you can't sometimes, you know, 'cause words are very powerful;" Neil Young, who said he'd never play with CSN&Y again after Crosby insulted Young's then-girlfriend, now-wife Daryl Hannah; and Stephen Stills.
"I still have friends, but all the main guys I made music with won't even talk to me," Crosby says toward the end of the film. "McGuinn, Nash, Neil and Stephen all really dislike me. Strongly."
There's a self-awareness to the singer's words that, while refreshing, makes it clear that he is in a hell of his own making, as he frequently admits. But Eaton's film (executive produced by Cameron Crowe, who does the interviewing) manages to paint at least a somewhat sympathetic portrait of a lonely man who loves his wife and kids and doesn't like to leave the house but has to because music, as he sees it, is "the only thing I've got to offer."
What we learn of Crosby's childhood helps explain the aspects of his personality that drove so many of his closest friends away. "My dad never told me he loved me," he says. "And that affects you."
There's an especially poignant scene where Crowe plays him a cassette of an interview he once did with a much younger Crosby in 1974. In that old interview, Crosby talks about his dad telling him in the long run none of it counts — money, glory, fame, chicks. The only thing that counts is whether you've got any friends.
Hearing the tape, Crosby says, "I think I made that up. The reason I think I made it up is my dad didn't have any friends."
The film is also an unflinching portrait of mortality, a fact of life that's clearly weighing heavily on Crosby's mind throughout the documentary. He's 77 now, a diabetic with eight heart stents rapidly nearing the end of a life spent struggling with addiction.
"I'm afraid of dying," Crosby tells us early in the film. "And I'm close. I don't like it. I'd like to have more time. A lot more time."
The last words out of Crosby's mouth are clearly aimed directly at his former bandmates: "I think you should be able to say goodbye and tell them what they meant to you."
It's a heavy ride that takes you deep inside his struggles with addiction, which included prison time. And hearing Crosby talk about the death of girlfriend Christine Hinton is as close as Crosby comes to crying.
As Crowe reminds him, Nash once said that after Crosby went to identify Hinton's body, "you never were the same," to which Crosby responds, "He's right. I never was."
It's not all heartache and regret. The movie also captures the excitement of the high points of a life in music that requires such a documentary, from an impish Crosby hanging with the Beatles at an early press conference to Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young as captured at their second live performance, Woodstock.
We even get a guided tour of significant spots in Crosby history, from Ciro's, the Hollywood nightclub where the Byrds became the band to see while being seen, to the house in Laurel Canyon where Crosby, Stills and Nash first sang together in the kitchen.
It also shows him having good times with the young musicians in his current touring band.
Early in the film, Crowe says, "If I were to come to you and say, 'No music, you don't get any of that. But you get extreme joy in your home life and an incredible family.'"
Would he make that trade?
"That's no world for me," he says.
But watching Crosby share those moments playing music with his latest bandmates, you can see that it's a choice he doesn't really have to make when he's already found extreme joy in his music.
'David Crosby: Remember My Name,' 4 stars
Directed by: A.J. Eaton.
Cast: David Crosby, Cameron Crowe, Graham Nash, Roger McGuinn, Jan Crosby, Neil Young, Stephen Stills.
Rating: R for language, drug material and brief nudity.
Note: At Harkins Camelview at Fashion Square.
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Reach the reporter at email@example.com or 602-444-4495. Follow him on Twitter @EdMasley.
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