Imagine being maybe a couple of years away from the end of the road, having the chance to essentially author your own obituary, and leading with:
It was an amazing journey. Too bad I was an ------- every step of the way.
That’s pretty much how the legendary musician David Crosby sums up his own legacy in the brutally honest, sometimes soaring and painfully bittersweet documentary “David Crosby: Remember My Name.”
Smartly directed in economic, fly-on-the-wall fashion by A.J. Eaton (he knows a great subject when he films one) and produced by rock journalist turned director Cameron Crowe (who also serves as off-screen interviewer and knows just when to prod the aging lion) “Remember My Name” gives Crosby his due as one of the seminal figures in rock history, but never sugarcoats his long history of fracturing relationships beyond repair while nearly killing himself with drugs.
As the 77-year-old Crosby observes, there’s no good reason why he’s still alive while his friends Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Mama Cass, among others, are long, long gone.
A diabetic with somebody else’s liver, a couple of heart attacks in his past and eight stents in his heart, the white-haired Crosby says he fully expects to die sooner rather than later — yet he’s getting ready to go on the road once again, because without music, he might as well be dead.
“Remember My Name” nimbly hops back and forth in time. In present day, we see Crosby with his wife Jan, who has stuck with him for some 32 years, and we ride along with Crosby as he tells stories about his childhood and his days with the Byrds and CSN and CSN&Y. (He’s a wonderful storyteller, even when he’s the monster in the story.)
We’re also treated to a bounty of film clips, TV show highlights and still photos of Crosby making all that great music, becoming friends with the likes of the Beatles — and entering into a series of romances, including a blazing but doomed union with the young Joni Mitchell.
“She was the best [singer-songwriter] of all of us,” says Crosby, who acknowledges he was the one to blame for the breakup with Mitchell, who informed him she was leaving him by playing a song she had just written.
And then playing it again, to make sure he got the message.
Mitchell isn’t the only figure from Crosby’s past who stopped talking to him long ago. Roger McGuinn of the Byrds, Stephen Stills, Neil Young — even Graham Nash, who remained Crosby’s friend and sometimes musical partner long after everyone else had reached their limits … Crosby has burned all those bridges and many more.
“I alienated all of them,” says Crosby, who sounds genuinely pained by that — though he doesn’t seem particularly motivated to try to mend fences this late in the game. (When asked why he doesn’t just knock on Neil Young’s door, Crosby says he wouldn’t even know where to find that door and he leaves it at that.)
Of course, so many of Crosby’s troubles and issues stem from his horrific addictions, which led to him serving nine months in a Texas state prison in 1982 on multiple weapons and drug charges. (In news footage from the time, Crosby, only 41, looks 100 years old.)
Not that “Remember My Name” is all darkness and regret.
In one particularly lovely moment, Crosby shows us the house in Laurel Canyon where he met with Stephen Stills and Graham Nash to talk about forming a band, which was also THE house of “Our House.”
We see the joy on Crosby’s face when he’s singing (his voice is still distinctive and powerful) and we hear the justifiable pride in his voice when he reminisces about the magical two-part harmonies he created with Nash.
And though the film and the subject of the film make it clear time and again Crosby is the one who drove everyone away (and he hardly comes across as a teddy bear even now), he is not alone, thanks to Jan.
It’s nice to see them together. Even a guy who by his own admission was one of the all-time prickly personalities in rock history shouldn’t have to spend his last years playing gigs thousands of miles from home, with no one waiting for him when he finally does come home.