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Vivid documentary looks at David Crosby’s long, winding road

  • David Crosby, the two-time Rock and Rock Hall of fame inductee, looks back at his turbulent life with both regret and humor in the documentary “David Crosby: Remember My Name.” Image from film website

  • A publicity poster for “David Crosby: Remember My Name” reprises a well-known image from Crosby’s hard-living days in the 1970s. Image from film website

  • The music career of David Crosby, now 78,  began when he was a member of The Byrds in the mid 1960s and has covered over five decades and a range of personal ups and downs. “I’d like to have a lot more time” he says in the documentary film about him. Photo by Taylor Jewell/Invision/AP

  • ”David Crosby: Remember My Name” was produced by Cameron Crowe, the longtime screenwriter and rock journalist who gets Crosby to open up about his roller-coaster life. Image from David Crosby website

  • In this photo from a 1976 show in California, Crosby plays as part of duo with Graham Nash, one of his bandmates from Crosby, Stills Nash & Young. Six years later, he would be in prison on charges of possession of heroin and cocaine.  Photo by David Gans/Wikipedia Commons

  • Crosby, at far right, with Byrds singer Gene Clark, center, and band producer Terry Melcher in a recording session of The Byrds, circa 1965. Wikipedia Commons

  • A 1970 publicity photo for Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young shows Crosby second to left. In the new film about him, Crosby says “All the guys I made music with won’t even talk to me — all of them.” Wikipedia Commons



Staff Writer
Thursday, September 05, 2019

There were any number of tributes last month to Woodstock on the 50th anniversary of the famous music festival: its spirit of community, its invocation of peace and love, the sense it spawned that youthful energy and music could overcome the injustice and violence of a country torn over the Vietnam War, civil rights and other issues.

Then there’s “David Crosby: Remember My Name,” the new documentary about the co-founder of The Byrds and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (CSNY), which offers a cautionary tale about the Woodstock era: how one man was almost undone by drugs, booze, free love and other excesses of the times.

The film — largely told in Crosby’s own words — offers an unflinching look at how Crosby, a shy, awkward kid who felt unloved by his distant father, had a meteoric rise to fame as a rock and roller in the 1960s and 1970s, then crashed and burned hard from drug use, eventually landing in prison for almost a year in the 1980s. Along the way, Crosby also burned a lot of bridges, losing friends (including his bandmates) and hurting a number of people, especially the women in his life.

“I still have friends,” he says at one point late in the movie, now playing at the Amherst Cinema. “But all the guys I made music with won’t even talk to me — all of them. All of them.”

The film, directed by A.J. Eaton, is produced by Cameron Crowe, the longtime screenwriter, director and rock journalist who has interviewed Crosby numerous times over the years and also handles many of the interviews in “Remember My Name”; he does a yeoman’s job of getting him to open up about his many ups and downs. The result is a painful but also funny and surprisingly moving film about a man who’s filled with regret and guilt but still finds joy in making music — even if he knows time is not on his side.

Now 78, Crosby looks considerably older, with a mottled face and a fair amount of paunch; he still sports his famous walrus (and now snowy white) mustache and some wispy vestiges of his (also snowy white) long hair. But he’s also pithy and wry, not afraid to poke fun at himself, and often painfully self-lacerating about his mistakes.

Near the start of the film, as he sits on a couch in his home in Santa Barbara, California, he says “People ask me if I’ve got regrets. Yeah, I’ve got huge regrets about the time I wasted being smashed.” He also admits to being afraid of death, explaining he’s had a liver transplant, suffers from diabetes, and has had a couple of heart attacks.

“I’m close to dying,” he says, “and I don’t like it. I’d like to have more time — a lot more time.”

Yet he’s continued to make records, and the documentary follows him as he goes on tour with his new band, much to the regret of his wife, Jan, who confesses she’s afraid he’ll die some day out on the road (Crosby played Northampton’s Academy of Music in 2017). He also makes a bemused visit to Laurel Canyon, the area in Los Angeles where CSNY first got together, even examining the cottage that became the subject of one of the group’s big hits, “Our House.”

He still writes songs and plays agile fingerstyle guitar, and his voice has remained strong over the years. One of the film’s funniest moments is a clip of his appearance a few years ago on TV’s “Morning Joe” show with Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, in which the immaculately groomed hosts essentially ask him how he’s still alive and how he hasn’t lost his voice after those past years of drug abuse.

“Maybe I’m just lucky,” says Crosby.

The glory years

“Remember My Name” features lots of vintage film footage and photos from Crosby’s days with The Byrds and Crosby, Stills & Nash (CSN) and CSNY, including shots of some of the other musicians who moved through the same orbits. There’s a young Joni Mitchell, for instance; she had an affair with Crosby, then broke up with him via a new song she played in front of him and a roomful of other people.

As part of The Byrds, Crosby, who looked almost impish in those days, before he grew his hair long and added a mustache, played a key role in developing the band’s distinctive harmonies; he wrote and co-wrote some of their songs as well. But he began to irk other members with demands about the band’s future direction, and with his political speeches from stage.

One clip shows him telling the audience at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival in California that former President John Kennedy had been killed by several gunmen, a conspiracy that he claims was then covered up by the government.

That same year, fellow Byrds Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman went to Crosby’s L.A. home and fired him (that moment is recalled in the film in a funny bit of animation). In the movie, McGuinn says bluntly that Crosby had become “insufferable.”

“I was a difficult cat,” Crosby admits. “Big ego — no brains, really.”

His relationship with Graham Nash, Stephen Stills and Neil Young also had many ups and downs, from best-selling albums and sold-out shows in major arenas to bickering, breakups and several subsequent reunions (at least for CSN). His bandmates tried to support him when he became completely engulfed by drugs (heroin and cocaine in particular), Crosby says, but in the end his blunt talk and selfishness drove friends away: “I let people down repeatedly.”

Perhaps his biggest regrets are about the way he treated the women in his life, in some cases even dragging them into drug addiction with him (he says, in an embarrassed tone, that he “slept with hundreds of girls” but “wasn’t a good lover”). And he’s still visibly grief-stricken as he recalls the death of his first real adult love, Christine Hinton, who died in a traffic accident in 1969; his descent into hard drugs began after that.

The film doesn’t get into the nitty gritty of Crosby’s relationships with women or his bandmates, or what exactly Crosby did to provoke the anger of, say, Graham Nash, his closest musical partner. Nash is not interviewed for the film, but in a clip from a separate TV interview a few years ago, he says “David single-handedly tore the heart out of CSNY and CSN.” You’re left with the impression that beneath his generally buoyant public face, Crosby was filled with considerable anger when he was younger.

Indeed, Crosby flares up occasionally in the movie, especially about the fact that National Guard troops who killed and wounded 13 students at Kent State University in Ohio in 1970 during an anti-war protest were never criminally convicted (“Ohio,” the CSNY song about the shootings, became one of the group’s most well-known numbers). And don’t get him started about Jim Morrison of The Doors: “What a dork!” he says.

Perhaps it goes all the way back to his childhood. Crosby refers to his father, Floyd Crosby, a famous Hollywood cinematographer, as a “crusty old guy … [who] never once told me he loved me.”

Through all this, though, Crosby remains an engaging raconteur, alternately passionate, self-deprecating and pensive, driven by a sense that he has many loose ends and unpaid emotional debts still to deal with, and maybe not enough time to fix them.

Or perhaps he just doesn’t know how to fix them. Near the end of the film, when he’s asked why he can’t just show up on Neil Young’s doorstep and say he’s sorry for what he’s done, he says “I don’t even know where Neil Young’s doorstep is.”

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.

“David Crosby: Remember My Name” plays at the Amherst Cinema Sept. 5 at 1:50 and 9:30 p.m., Sept. 6 at 4:25 p.m. and Sept. 7-12 at 4:25 and 9:35 p.m. For more information, visit amherstcinema.org.