Working on a film about musician David Crosby, director A.J. Eaton and producer Cameron Crowe knew one thing going in: They weren’t going to have to dig up any dirt on their subject.
No, the protean, prickly Crosby has always been an open book in many ways, honest about his triumphs and his tragedies, the drug use that nearly destroyed his life on numerous occasions, the wreckage that always threatened to overshadow the beautiful music he made with the Byrds, with Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young and on his own.
Crosby is a man who lays it all on the line in song and in conversation, and “David Crosby: Remember My Name,” which premiered on Saturday at the Sundance Film Festival, is a reminder of that.
But it is also something more. As much as the film celebrates his creativity and gazes unflinchingly at his failings, it also functions as a valedictory, almost a requiem of sorts. Think of it as the film version of the final albums made by Leonard Cohen and David Bowie, who made wrenching final statements that they likely knew would be their last.
With Crosby, the operative line for years has been, “How is he still alive?” An eager drug user since the ’60s, he developed heroin and cocaine addictions that destroyed his life, took all his money and ended up sending him to jail, where he finally got clean.
Along the way were what he says were “two or three” heart attacks, eight stents in his heart (the maximum), plus diabetes and a liver transplant.
“There will be another heart attack sometime in the next couple of years,” he says in the documentary, making it clear that he expects it to be his last.
So the extended interviews that Crowe did with Crosby for the film seem in one way to be his chance to say things for the record while he still can. What comes across is enormous regret for the years he lost to drugs and the people he hurt along the way, and a conviction that he continues to make music because it’s all he has to offer.
“What happened to your friends?” asks Crowe at one point, and Crosby struggles to answer.
“That’s really hard,” he says, looking down. “All the main guys I made music with hate my guts. All of them.”
Some of the musicians from whom Crosby is now estranged, including Neil Young and Graham Nash, are seen in interviews taped years ago. Others are absent, except in vintage footage and in the memories that Crosby shares with good humor tinged with sadness.
Of course, the film has plenty of footage of Crosby at his height, and priceless stories of Joni Mitchell (who broke up with him by singing a devastating new song at him, twice), Jim Morrison (who Crosby hates for pulling off his sunglasses at the Whisky a Go Go) and even John Coltrane (who figures prominently in the quintessentially Crosby-esque story that opens the movie and also features a 4-foot-2-inch German hooker, a lot of drugs and a green-tiled bathroom).
Back in 1988, I interviewed Crosby a couple of years after his release from prison and on the heels of the publication of his memoir. “It’s not worth telling the story,” he said quietly, sitting in a darkened, sparsely furnished living room, “unless it has a happy ending.”
The regrets that course through “David Crosby: Remember My Name” make it hard to consider it a truly happy ending. But it’s an affectionate and moving chronicle of a story well worth telling — and a story, surprisingly enough, that is not over yet.