Before I went to the movie theater to see The Joker, I was supposed to see another movie…but never did. And so, for Christmas this year, the local library gifted me with the news that a copy of David Crosby: Remember My Name was ready for pickup! (Thank you Ben Franklin for your genius idea of public libraries.)
David Crosby is a fascinating and engaging character, with a life and career to match, thus making him the perfect subject for a documentary that is humorous, heartbreaking, and honest.
The film opens with Crosby’s lively re-telling of seeing John Coltrane perform with the most intensity in a puke-green-tiled bathroom in Chicago. Music is Crosby’s lifeblood: when Crowe poses the choice of having no music in his life for extreme joy in his home and personal life, Crosby does not hesitate to choose a life filled with music. Music, he feels, is the only thing he has to offer. And while his choice may seem selfish, the camera shows how torn Crosby truly is in the next shot: leaving his beautiful home and family, whom he truly loves, for a six-week tour, from which he may not return because of his health issues. “I hate leaving,” Crosby declares.
Crosby lists his single regret as the time he has wasted “being smashed” and wants more time. Time, he declares, is the final currency, and how does one spend it? The film both explores how Crosby has spent his time and chooses to spend whatever remaining time he has left.
Crosby’s childhood was marked by what he describes as a dysfunctional family — a loving mother, a “crusty”, unaffectionate father (award-winning cinematographer Floyd Crosby, who won a Golden Globe for his work on High Noon) who never once told his son that he loved him, and an older brother, Ethan, also a musician who introduced Crosby to ‘50s jazz, sending him “right down the rabbit hole.” (Ethan committed suicide in the late 1990s. His death is not discussed.) Crosby was a disciplinary problem and was kicked out of every school he ever attended (a foreshadowing of his membership in musical groups); in his words, he was a chubby, lonely kid who desperately wanted attention.
With the massive success of The Byrds in the mid-1960s, Crosby finally gained the attention he had always coveted. Yet, Crosby admits, that success coming at such a young age impaired him from realizing how truly lucky he was. Cut to Crosby observing The Beatles answer banal questions in a 1966 press conference. “Who is the young man with the lengthy haircut to your right rear?” a reporter asks, and Crosby immediately hides. “That’s Dave, isn’t it? Dave Crosby, a mate of ours,” John Lennon replies. “Ahoy matey!” Crosby recalls hanging out with and learning from the Beatles—learning how to be a rock star because “they knew how.” The pure joy and admiration in his eyes as he watches them is clear.
Crosby describes his young self as “young, cocky, arrogant…and a total caboose to my dick.” (Quotes like these — uttered so nonchalantly and honestly — are part of what make this film — and Crosby — so entertaining.) Driving along Sunset Boulevard, Crosby and co. pass the Whisky a Go Go, where Crosby recalls the origin of his dislike of The Doors and Jim Morrison. Morrison approached Crosby and pulled down his shades, telling him, “You can’t hide.” Crosby, irritated, was high on LSD and naturally “teleported to the other side of the room” and never forgave Morrison for his brash comment.
After being fired by The Byrds (the scene is creatively re-told in animation form), Crosby retreated to his other love, sailing. He bought a schooner for $25,000 — loaned to him by Peter Tork — and disappeared into the sea. Sailing, for Crosby, is transformative and restorative. While his senses are bombarded by the filtering of information on land, Crosby claims that every sensation is louder, clearer, and brighter while sailing, not to mention more beautiful and magical. “The ocean is totally real,” Crosby observes. “Opposite of Hollywood.”
The film crew then travels up to Laurel Canyon. Crosby recalls being the first musician to move there, promptly followed by other musicians and thus transforming it into the place for musicians to gather and exchange ideas. They go into the Canyon Country Store, where Crowe asks Crosby what he wishes people really knew and understood about this place.
“It’s not like we hung out here,” Crosby replies. “We just got groceries here. Where do you get coffee here?” he then asks — like any other ding dong tourist lost in a grocery store. Uhhh, Croz, I don’t think he was talking specifically about the store.
“Morrison, what a dork,” he says, pointing at the pictures of The Doors (who, to his knowledge, never lived in the Canyon) decorating the walls of the small store.
The film is littered with moments like these — Crosby visiting sites important to his story: the house where he was fired from the Byrds, the Canyon Country Store, and the house that inspired “Our House,” in the kitchen of which Crosby, Stills, and Nash was born in a matter of minutes.
Later, Crosby visits Kent State University, reflecting on the May 4 shootings. Crosby’s anguishing cries in the song’s fading moments — “Why? How many more?” etc — add emotional weight to the powerful protest song (one of the handful songs written by Neil Young that I can admit to really liking). His anger at the Sergeant who swore to have never fired his weapon is palpable. The song—and what it represented—made Crosby proud that he was finally able to stand up for what he believed in. (Crosby’s firing from the Byrds stemmed from, in part, Crosby’s political comments at the Monterey Pop Festival about President Kennedy’s assassination. His bandmates did not feel that it was appropriate for “pop stars” to voice political opinions.)
Graham Nash has said that David Crosby went to identify the body of his girlfriend Christine Hinton, who died in a car accident, and returned “never the same.” For Crosby, Christine’s death was debilitating. Her death left an emptiness, a huge hole that he wanted to fill, yet he had no tools to deal with his grief except for drugs and alcohol, an addiction that marred Crosby’s life and career for years.
When Crosby, Stills, and Nash were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997, Crosby’s speech was both heartfelt and simple. He thanked his wife and the two men standing next to him for being “his brothers”, continually offering love and support and enabling him to create the music that he had. (I think Stills was ready to cry at that point.)
“I can’t tell you how great it was to be in that band,” Crosby declares, while also stating that CSNY is a completely separate band that should be inducted into the rock and roll hall of fame on their own, even if “just to make Clapton jealous.” And he is right — CSNY is a completely different band. I think Graham Nash put it best in his autobiography when he said that he, David Crosby, and Stephen Stills watched The Beatles in A Hard Day’s Night and decided, “I want to do that.” That being in a cooperative and charismatic band. Neil Young, on the other hand, watched Bob Dylan be a total, selfish jerk in Don’t Look Back and decided that’s what he wanted to do. He waltzed into CSN’s world when it suited him and then called on “artistic freedom” when he wanted out, with no thought or consideration to how that might affect anyone else. It’s like he’s still sulking about being told his voice wasn’t commercial during the recording of the first Buffalo Springfield album and having his songs sung by other band members. Oy, shocker, Einstein. I digress.
The film shows some home footage of the trio lounging in a backyard somewhere, discussing rehearsals for a tour or an album, I’m not sure. Crosby is relaxing in a hammock when Stephen Stills (bad teeth and all) gets THIS CLOSE to his face and says, “I’m not gonna cop out an inch to fear and he walked out two days in a row you f—ing hypocrite, YOU PISS ME OFF.” Then he storms off. I don’t know what that was all about (Neil Young?????), and I don’t think it was supposed to be funny, but I was laughing out loud–and so was Crosby, ca. 1969. (Maybe not the best idea seeing as Stills was ready to take out some hippies at the Big Sur festival for making fun of his fur coat or something.)
And while these men were once so close, Crosby states that forty years later it changed from a band of brothers with similar creative visions and goals to “just turn on the smoke machine and play the hits” because they could barely stand one another. Crosby’s statements about Neil Young’s girlfriend (gag me) Daryl Hannah (seriously?????) became public (he thought they were “off-the-record” — no excuse — if that’s what you really think, just say it) and seared a rift in the band. The band’s final performance was a dismal rendition of “Silent Night” at the National Christmas Tree Lighting at the White House in 2014.
Crosby admits that his biggest mistake is getting angry. The adrenaline hits his system and bam, instant asshole (hey, his words) — just add water and stir. Yet, there is no real discussion — aside from the passing mention of the fall-out over his comments about Daryl Hannah (for which he belatedly apologized) — of what has inspired such volatile comments about Crosby from his once best friend Graham Nash. (I gather it may be for Crosby’s attitude toward Nash, who like Young, left his wife of decades for a younger woman. Crosby meanwhile has remained faithful to his wife of some thirty-odd years now. I’m not sayin’, I’m just sayin’.) The apparently irreparable break is disheartening.
Crowe reminds Crosby of what he said when they first met in 1974: “My father is 74, he says in the long run the only thing that counts is whether you got any f—ing friends. All the rest is bulls–t. He’s had 74 years to look. I’m inclined to agree with him.”
Crosby admits that he probably made that up–because his father never had any friends.
“What happened to your friends?” Crowe asks.
“That’s really hard,” Crosby answers. “I still have friends. But the main guys I made music with really dislike me.”
Why don’t you make the situation with Neil right and show up on his doorstep? Crowe presses.
“I don’t even know where his doorstep is,” is Crosby’s simple reply.
Yet — back to where the film started — Crosby has chosen to spend his time now making music, even if without these once important men in his life.
The DVD has deleted scenes and extended interviews, some of which I wish had been included in the final film. Chris Hillman tells of what a truly kind friend David Crosby is; Hillman, the scrawny, young kid in The Byrds always felt as if Crosby watched over and looked out for him. McGuinn recalls the joy of meeting Crosby for the first time. Crosby discusses connecting with his first-born son, who was adopted as a baby and now plays with Crosby in his band. Crosby’s wife remembers the agony over Crosby’s liver transplant. Crosby gets on his iMac to tweet in the middle of the night. The man has had such a full and interesting life the film could have gone on for a few hours more and no one would be bored. Remember My Name is an unvarnished and human portrait of one of music’s greatest figures and stories.
And that’s it for 2019, folks. More next year…maybe.