There are moments in this revealing documentary about singer/songwriter David Crosby that seem so intimate and personal, you feel the need to look away from the screen, if only to give the man some privacy. But Crosby was never one to hide his feelings, even if it cost him some of his closest relationships, including with (as he puts it) everyone he’s ever made music with. And for Crosby, that’s a list that includes members of The Byrds and Crosby, Stills, Nash & sometimes Young. We also learn he is not a well man. In fact, he has so many stents in his heart, doctors can’t put in any more. But that doesn’t stop him from having a fairly rigorous recording and touring schedule, because he apparently still needs the money for him and his wife to survive.
Directed by first-time feature director A.J. Eaton, and perhaps more importantly, produced by long-time Crosby interviewer, fan and friend Cameron Crowe, David Crosby: Remember My Name is an often brutally honest but appropriately praise-worthy account of the subject’s undeniably inspiring musical contributions, especially in the earliest years of The Byrds, which helped give birth to the first wave of the California sound. But Crosby has that rare gift of screwing up every creative outlet he’s ever been tied to, either because he couldn’t kick whatever drugs he was on at the time or because he wanted to move in a sonic direction that his collaborators simply didn’t like. Strangely, that ability never stopped him from being wildly appealing to women, even if both parties knew that the relationship was doomed from the start.
There are also moments of overwhelming emotion in Crosby’s life, including the death of a female partner, whose body he had to identify after she was hit by a car. According to all who knew him, he was never the same person again after that incident. His current wife, Jan, puts on a brave face about his health conditions, but it’s clear that when he leaves the house for a weeks-long tour, she’s never quite sure if she’ll ever see him alive again. But her eyes light up when hearing or talking about his new music, which he’s still cranking out with a pace and consistency that musicians half his age envy. And the most miraculous thing (other than his still being alive) is that his voice is still gorgeous and unwavering.
In his talks with Crowe, Crosby rarely argues with any negative comments from former friends relayed to him. He has always had the reputation of being a world-class jerk, especially to those closest to him, and he never refutes that. At this point, he isn’t trying to save face or sugarcoat his legacy. He clearly feels horrible about his behavior, but not quite bad enough to attempt to repair the damage, some of which is very recent. There’s a certain amount of forgiving (or ignoring) Crosby’s behavior simply because he’s a musical genius, and not only is that basically what got us to where we are in the world in the first place, but Crosby never lets himself off the hook that easily.
Remember My Name is both an excellently researched and illustrated music history lesson, and a personal journey that Crosby clearly hopes makes him a better person. But his primary goal with this film is to set the record straight about his impact on music, as well as the lives he’s rumored to have ruined with his careless emotional behavior. There’s a great deal going on this this layered profile, and most of it seems to point to the fact that Crosby is a much nicer man (at least today) than he was at the peak of his fame. It’s a fascinating, heartbreaking and a triumphant accomplishment for those of us who simply go to appreciate the musical shifts.
The film opens today at the Landmark Century Centre Cinema.
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